Evan Ferguson: Brighton's wonderkid striker who turned down Liverpool move

Evan Ferguson NXGN GFX
The 18-year-old has exploded onto the Premier League scene in recent weeks but does the Irishman have what it takes to become an elite striker?

There are two types of Premier League wonderkid strikers. There are your Michael Owens, who burst onto the scene as teenagers and reach a level where their careers match the hype that came with their breakthroughs.

And then there are your Federico Machedas, who come from almost nowhere to suddenly make match-winning contributions, only to disappear from the public consciousness almost as quickly as they arrived.

The latest player to find themselves at such a crossroads is Brighton striker Evan Ferguson.

Having netted in both of the Seagulls' last two Premier League games, he became the youngest Premier League player to net in consecutive games since Macheda for Manchester United in 2009.

The second of those goals, against Everton, was backed up with an assist, making him the youngest Premier League player to both score and assist in the same game since Owen for Liverpool in 1997.

So, which direction will Ferguson's career path take? Let NXGN break down the 18-year-old's prospects for you...

  1. Where it all began

    Born in Bettystown, County Meath, football was in Ferguson's blood. His father, Barry, was part of Coventry City's Premier League squad in the early 2000s before eventually carving out a professional career in the Football League and League of Ireland.

    Evan's talent was clear from an early age, and the Fergusons were encouraged to enrol their son at the prestigious St. Kevin's Boys club in Dublin that has produced numerous Premier League and international players, including Liam Brady and Damien Duff. They agreed, and though it was a 60-mile round trip each time he needed to train or play matches, the effort (and cost of petrol) proved worthwhile.

    Even at just 12 years of age, his talent was obvious.

    "He was big, fast, two-footed; his range of passing for a kid was incredible," Alan Mathews, an ex-League of Ireland player and manager who is also a friend of the Ferguson family, told the Irish Mirror.

    "He reminded me of [Marco] Van Basten in terms of style, because he was not just a goalscoring machine but tactically mature. He had everything.”

    Ferguson's name was soon being spoken about around Ireland, so it came as no surprise to see him enter the Bohemians academy as he entered his teenage years.

  2. The big break
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    The big break

    Ferguson made headlines when, as a 14-year-old, he came off the bench for Bohemians' first team when they took on Chelsea in a pre-season friendly during the summer of 2019.

    "He was exceptional against Chelsea," recalled Trevor Croly, the Bohemians assistant coach at the time, when talking to Second Captains. "It was Frank Lampard's first game in charge and I'm sure the Chelsea players were keen to do really, really well.

    "Evan was exceptional. I was surprised they didn't go in for him straight away because Chelsea have a lot of resources."

    In reality, Chelsea did make an enquiry, but they were not the only Premier League club to do so. Liverpool and Everton both took him on trial, while he regularly travelled across the Irish Sea to train with Brighton's youth teams.

    All the while, he would make sporadic appearances for Bohemians' first team, where he continued to catch the eye as a player whose size belied his lack of years.

    "He had an aggressiveness in the box – a snap to his finish, a ruthlessness," Croly explained. "I remember he scored his first goal – it was disallowed – against St Patrick's Athletic at Richmond Park. It was deemed a foul, but it was never a foul – it was through his aggression that he nearly put the goalkeeper in the net as well!"

  3. How it's going

    As Ferguson turned 16 in October 2020, it was clear that the time had come to make a permanent move to England, with Liverpool and Brighton having emerged as the two main options for the teenager to consider.

    "I went to Liverpool a few times,” he told The Athletic. “It’s a good club, but you see so many boys at Liverpool just fading away and there’s no chance to get in the first team. I was thinking, ‘Do I just want to play two years of Under-18s and then go to the U23s and go from there to where?’"

    He instead opted for Brighton, and his decision has paid dividends so far.

    Since arriving in January 2021, he has scored 16 goals in 34 Premier League 2 appearances for the team's reserves, and made his first-team debut in August 2021 as a late substitute against Cardiff City in the Carabao Cup.

    Ferguson scored his first senior goal for the Seagulls in the same competition 12 months' later, netting against Forest Green Rovers, and made his international debut for Republic of Ireland during the November international break.

    It is since the World Cup break, though, that he has begun to show just why there is so much excitement surrounding him at the Amex Stadium, as well as back in his homeland.

    Stepping off the bench on New Year's Eve for just his second league appearance of the season against Brighton, Ferguson shrugged off William Saliba before netting his first top-flight goal, becoming Brighton's youngest-ever Premier League goalscorer in the process.

    The 18-year-old backed that up with a match-winning performance at Everton four days later, leading to team-mate Solly March hailing his impact at such a young age as "phenomenal".

  4. Biggest strengths
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    Biggest strengths

    Though by no means a giant at 6'2'' (188cm), Ferguson's physical presence has always been his main strength, even from a young age.

    Generally the biggest player on the pitch when coming up against those his own age, Ferguson was always able to use his power to his advantage, and the early signs are that he will be able to carry that into the men's game as his career continues to progress.

    He also has decent pace and has shown an ability to time his runs in behind opposition defences, while he also possesses excellent shooting ability across a range of finishing styles.

    Off the ball, he has displayed competency when it comes to pressing those with the ball, which perhaps should come as no surprise given the modern coaching style that Brighton look to promote throughout their teams.

  5. Room for improvement

    Though clearly a good all-round forward, Ferguson still has plenty to learn, particularly when it comes to his decision-making when he gets in and around the penalty area.

    He has a tendency to shoot, particularly from long range, when there are other options available to him, and Brighton boss Roberto De Zerbi is the man tasked with coaching him to take better options over the next few years.

  6. The next... Robbie Keane?
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    The next... Robbie Keane?

    Ireland have been crying out for a prolific striker since the international retirement of their all-time top scorer Keane in 2016, and there is hope that in Ferguson, they have found the answer to their prayers.

    As a player, Ferguson has similar shooting ability to Keane, but their all-round games could barely be more different. Keane is far more diminutive than the teenager, and used pace rather than power to get the better of defenders during his illustrious career.

    Ferguson's actual playing style is more akin to the new breed of striker that has emerged over the past five years, with Erling Haaland the undoubted poster boy for the pacey and powerful No.9s who are looking to take the global game by storm.

    It would take a lot for Ferguson to reach the level of Haaland, but don't be surprised if comparisons with the Manchester City man are made over the course of the next few weeks and months.

  7. What comes next?

    The next step for Ferguson is to lock down a regular role in the Brighton first team, and having signed a new contract in October that keeps him at the club until 2026, they are clearly keen for him to continue developing on the south coast.

    There were reports of loan interest from a number of Championship and League One clubs heading into the January transfer window, but Brighton look set to rebuff any interest given the way Ferguson has started 2023.

    From an international point of view, Ferguson would be eligible to play for England despite having made his Ireland debut, though there is a confidence that he will not follow Declan Rice and Jack Grealish in switching allegiance to the Three Lions.

    Both Irish football and the Premier League, then, could have a new potent goalscorer to start getting excited about over the next couple of years.

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