Scotland’s door open for Islam Feruz

Islam Feruz played for Scotland under-21s at the age of 16 but has dropped out of the international reckoning after tweeting of his 'dream' to play in the Africa Cup of Nations. Picture: SNS
Islam Feruz played for Scotland under-21s at the age of 16 but has dropped out of the international reckoning after tweeting of his 'dream' to play in the Africa Cup of Nations. Picture: SNS
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Troubled Chelsea striker who turned his back on Celtic and Scotland would be welcomed back by SFA

CHELSEA could wrap up the Premier League title this week. Wins against Arsenal today and Leicester in midweek will confirm Jose Mourinho’s men as champions. In all likelihood they will add the FA Youth Cup to their honours haul, with their youngsters taking a 3-1 lead into tomorrow night’s home second leg of the final. An injury crisis among the club’s senior strikers, meanwhile, gives rise to the possibility the Stamford Bridge side could turn to a promising teenager to help them over the line. Dominic Solanke, a 17-year-old who scored in the youth cup match, is a serious contender to be part of the first-team squad at the Emirates today.

‘He has the time and the ability to get his football back on track’

If this set of circumstances had presented itself two seasons ago, the player pushing for a breakthrough might well have been Scotland Under-21 international Islam Feruz. Following an acrimonious move from Celtic to the London club in late 2011, he scored twice in a triumphant 2012 FA Youth Cup final and then seemed set to make the step up in a story that could only have tugged at the heart strings.

Now, though, after three failed loan deals in the past eight months, and a host of incidents that paint him in a less than endearing light, the 19-year-old seems far removed from the boy whose backstory used to will observers that he would succeed; that, in the words of one SFA insider, he would become “the poster boy for an inclusive Scotland”.

However uncomfortable the contention may be, Feruz was a diffident child. Given his background and prodigious footballing talent it’s tempting to be believe he was over-indulged. His upbringing was tough, to say the least. With his family, he was forced to leave behind a violent situation in his Somalian homeland at the age of five. He sought sanctuary in Scotland, with Celtic’s Tommy Burns petitioning the Home Office to ensure he was not later deported. He impressed as part of the Celtic youth set-up and won age-grade honours with Scotland, becoming the first player to benefit from a change to the FIFA rules that allow a player to represent the nation of his upbringing if he was educated there for five years.

Things began to unravel, however. And Feruz, all too frequently, has betrayed his personality and motivation through his Twitter feed. His most recent message of any note, two months ago, spoke of the crossroads he finds his career. “Time 2 work hard, get fit and get up and running again. Made some bad decisions this year but can only come back STRONG!” it said.

The bad “decisions” to which Feruz refers have led to him disappearing back into Chelsea’s development system.

He was originally meant to gain a season’s experience with Russian second division side Krylia Sovetov. He lasted 24 hours. He then was supposed to spend the season with Greek top-flight side OFI Crete. He played one game. After an unsuccessful training stint with Cardiff City, Blackpool was to be his port for the rest of the campaign. He was sent packing after two brief substitute appearances.

Questions have inevitably been raised over his attitude, particularly after he signed a new contract with Chelsea last year which is believed to have put him on his way to millionaire status. Certainly, his Twitter form has hardly given the impression of a humble young man.

Following his absence from a number of international squads following his elevation to the Scotland under-21s at the age of 16, a belief he was less than committed to his adopted homeland was strengthened by a tweet that said it was his “dream” to play in the Africa Cup of Nations. Nevertheless, the SFA would welcome him back to the fold.

“We’re always very much interested in him for an international recall,” a Hampden source revealed. “With his talent, if he got himself playing regularly at a good level we’d hope to be selecting him.”

In 2012, he had to close down his Twitter account after he was pictured in what one newspaper called “three in a bed images”, with a mystery paramour wearing nothing more than a Scotland top. That same year he launched “a foul-mouth tirade” in response to supporters saying he had showed little gratitude to Celtic and Burns in leaving for Chelsea. “CELTIC did f*** all with me staying in this country, get your f****** facts right and stop going with the story u read in the daily record!!” he said.

Feruz is perhaps now waking up to the fact that he won’t be given unlimited chances by Chelsea. Former Scotland Under-21 coach Billy Stark believes the striker has the talent to become a first-team performer at a decent level. Feruz was once described by former SFA director of football Mark Wotte as “the new Romario” and Stark doesn’t pretend the player was easy to manage. He did not “integrate” with the group and did not always seem fully engaged.

Yet Stark points out Feruz is hardly rare in being a young player on which too much pressure was heaped, too much publicity was given, and too much money was paid to be positive for his development.

“How many next big things have found themselves on the front or inside pages instead of the back pages? It has always happened, and will always happen,” said Stark. “But he has time to get back on track. And I don’t think there is any question he possesses the ability to change the direction of travel for his career in the past year.

“I remember first seeing him when he was only 14, scoring for Scotland under-16s in the Victory Shield against Wales. He dinked it over the keeper and it was a top class finish. He got about the pitch well that night, and looked the part.

“As he stepped up levels, he was always capable of scoring goals because he was a true instinctive finisher, but like many of these types, he didn’t always contribute otherwise as much as was the requirement. He was small but so strong, and his body shape at times seemed as if it was making him muscle bound and restricting his ability to cover the ground.

“What he went through at an early age certainly made him a special case, in some respects, but you cannot allow sentiment to cloud judgment. And the boy certainly appeared to show that with his less than gracious comments about what Tommy [had done for him]. Look, we all make mistakes and you hope that, as he seems to be saying, he can learn from his, add elements to his game and mature into a fine footballer.”

Maturing off the pitch would also appear crucial for his development.