HE’S been long regarded as an enfant terrible, hugely talented and with an attitude to match, but Islam Feruz wants to be judged on what he does now rather than his past.
Hibernian manager Alan Stubbs sprang a major surprise in snapping up the striker – who turns 20 tomorrow – from Chelsea, signing him on a season-long loan, a deal which brought its own “handle with care” warning from former SFA performance director Mark Wotte, who warned Stubbs that the Somalia-born player would present him with a challenge.
However, while admitting he’d done things that had got him into trouble in earlier years, Feruz was adamant he had returned to Scotland older, wiser and looking forward to working under Stubbs whom he described as “a brilliant manager who knows how to work with young players”.
Feruz does, though, have a chequered past. Spotted by Celtic at the age of ten, he played his first match for them when he was just 14, coming on as a substitute in the Tommy Burns tribute match, a game in whichformer Celtic defender Stubbs was for a few minutes a team-mate of Feruz. But the teenager would later turn his back on the Glasgow club, moving to Chelsea four years ago.
Although he scored twice within a few months as the London club won the FA Youth Cup, Feruz has struggled to make an impact at Stamford Bridge. A handful of loan deals last season failed to work out with one, at the Russian second division club Krylia Sovetov, lasting just two days.
Spells at OFI Crete and Blackpool also ended badly and Feruz now admits that, as a player from Chelsea, he found it difficult to comprehend why he wasn’t playing every week.
No such guarantee has been offered by Stubbs but Feruz, one of 33 Chelsea players currently out on loan, believes the coming months at Easter Road will see him return south better equipped to force his way into Jose Mourinho’s thoughts.
He said: “I have always believed in myself and my ability as a footballer, even in the past couple of years. I know that I can do a job with Chelsea.
“I have a long-term contract with Chelsea and it’s up to me to do well with my loan spells and help me get back on that path. I got a phone call rom my agent and he told me how good this move would be to get my football up and running again.”
Feruz says it took just one chat with Stubbs to convince him that Hibs would be the right move. He said: “I think the manager knows how to work with young players, just from the way he speaks to you. When I spoke to him on the phone he just gave me that feeling he was exactly what I needed.
“He gave me that boost to come here and the feeling I can do well. He obviously knows how good a player I am, he told me to come here, work hard and that he would get me back to playing my best football.
“He said he would give me games but that is not to say I will start every game as I need to work for it.”
Feruz has memories of Hibs as a Premiership club but has no reservations about playing in the Championship where he can expect to get more game time.
“Before I went out on loan I was told it would be difficult not to expect to play in every game because I came from Chelsea. I didn’t know that then but I learned a few things as I went along and got more experienced.
“It’s difficult and as a young player; you do not know how to handle most things. There’s more to it than just playing first team football. My target here is to help the team and score as many goals as I can. That’s my main priority as a striker so that I can enjoy my football.”
Feruz has found it easy to settle into his new surroundings at East Mains where he has come across some familiar faces both from his time with Celtic and from playing with Scotland through the various youth levels where he impressed from under-16s through to under-21s.
He said: “The boys have been brilliant. I know most of them, so I have been comfortable. I played with Dylan McGeouch for Scotland and Celtic, in fact I’ve played with plenty of them with either Celtic or Scotland. I knew of Liam Henderson, I probably had a couple of training sessions with him when I was at Celtic.
“They haven’t changed. They were all friendly, everything I remembered from the past. It will help me that they are here, it is good to get comfortable around the place quickly and thanks to those boys I have.”
However, as much as he pleads to be judged on what he does from now on in, Feruz knows he can’t escape the past, although he was quick to disabuse anyone of the notion that, as had been widely thought, he’d turned his back on further involvement with Scotland.
He said: “I like Scotland and I enjoy playing for Scotland, so I’d like the opportunity if it comes in the future as long as I do well here.
“I think I’ve got wiser. I know what I want and I am determined to make the most of this chance and to do well. I’ve made a few mistakes but I’ve learned from them. As I grew up, I learned to ignore always being in the spotlight. When I was younger, I didn’t know how to ignore the attention and I did things that I shouldn’t have and got into trouble.
“If it was not for the mistakes, then I wouldn’t be the man I am today. It’s something that comes from being young. I want people to judge me on what I do now. A lot of people want to judge me based on what I’ve done in the past rather than who I am now. It would be nice to be judged on what I do at Hibs and how I behave in Scotland.”
And as far as Wotte’s warning to his new boss goes… “Maybe he found it a challenge to manage me,” said Feruz, “Alan Stubbs won’t. He is a brilliant manager and he knows how to work with young players and is comfortable with that. I listen to him and I want to do well for him.”