Islam Feruz’s Scottish link on shaky ground

Hopes were high Islam Feruz would be an ambassador for Scottish football. Picture: Greg Macvean
Hopes were high Islam Feruz would be an ambassador for Scottish football. Picture: Greg Macvean
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WHEN a 14-year-old Islam Feruz made his debut for the Scotland Under-17 side three years ago, it was noted that nothing, including his loyalty, could be guaranteed.

Earlier this week, the striker reminded Scotland of the ephemeral nature of his link with the country where he was educated with the teasing declaration, made via his now deleted Twitter account, that he would “love to play in the Africa Nation Cup”. As best as is known, Feruz was born in Somalia and could still turn out for that country, which is ranked 191st – 142 places below Scotland.

It has been reported that he could also play for Tanzania and Zanzibar due to family connections, as yet unverified.

Zanzibar, while able to play in the Africa Cup of Nations, is not affiliated to Fifa. Feruz himself noted that he was “eligible to play for 2 African countries other than Som”, before adding: “MyDream!!!”

Like Eden Hazard, the 20-year old Belgian who has apparently finally agreed to join Feruz at Chelsea, he appears to enjoy being the centre of attention, while displaying a coquettishness designed only to antagonise those who have invested so much faith, time and money in him.

It is surely no coincidence that he decided to broadcast this view after returning home from an Under 20 tournament in the Netherlands, one which, by all accounts, did not go well for him.

Feruz, who became Scotland’s youngest Under 21 player yet when he appeared as a substitute for last month’s friendly with Italy, started only one of the Under 20 side’s first four games last week, and turned in an underwhelming performance in the third-fourth play-off against Cruzeiro.

The coaching staff were said to have been left distinctly unimpressed by the striker, who was described as being “stroppy” and “surly”.

We don’t need to take the word of anonymous sources, either. Feruz tweeted about how much he hadn’t enjoyed the trip to the Netherlands, which was “too hot” and “boring”.

He added that he couldn’t wait to be home, with “home” now a plush base in Surrey rather than a block of flats in Castlemilk, where he and his family were housed after seeking asylum from what is routinely described as “war-torn” Somalia.

Tommy Burns, the late head of Celtic youth development, lobbied for Feruz and his family to be given a British passport, while then SFA chief executive Gordon Smith sought a change to Fifa legislation to accommodate those such as Feruz.

Scotland was the driving force behind the rule tweak, which meant any holder of a British passport who had been educated for at least five years in one of the home nations could then represent that country in international football.

Smith expressed the hope that Feruz would go on and inspire a generation of immigrant talent to pledge their allegiance to Scotland.

Feruz hasn’t seemed too interested in keeping his side of the bargain, moving on from dismissing his former club Celtic’s role in his development to questioning his own international football future, in what has to be interpreted as a slap in the face for Scotland.

As of yesterday afternoon, Feruz’s Twitter account has been deleted, following encouragement for him to do so from Chelsea.

There will be no complaint from the SFA, where the news will have been greeted with delight, one imagines, by performance director Mark Wotte, among others.

The Dutchman has regarded Feruz as his own pet project, and while careful not to leave himself open to accusations of favouritism, has made a number of trips to Chelsea to monitor both his form and, just as crucially, his attitude.

Performance-wise, Feruz has probably exceeded expectations at Chelsea, for whom he scored one of the goals in the club’s FA Youth Cup victory over Manchester United.

His behaviour, however, continues to cause alarm. “His recent actions have been disappointing, because he has the opportunity to be the ambassador for a modern and inclusive Scotland,” said one SFA source. It’s fair to say few within the Hampden walls, including coaches at all levels, believe he is making the most of this chance.

The conduct of the SFA will also be scrutinised in this matter, with Craig Levein’s treatment of Steven Fletcher having been backed by the governing body. Why should one malcontent be treated differently from another?

According to one SFA source, Feruz might be closer to exhausting the patience of those who hold his talent in high esteem than he thinks. There is, though, still room for clemency, with the most compelling reason for such indulgence remaining his youth. It is sometimes forgotten that he is not yet 17.

It’s typical, perhaps, of Scotland’s luck. Reared in Glasgow, it is Feruz’s very gallusness that threatens to destroy a relationship which was hoped would lead to the international side being able to boast a world-class talent.