BY ALAN TEMPLE – Capital City Press
Even by the standards of Hibernian, who seem to specialise in giving enfant terrible attackers a platform to shine, Islam Feruz arrives at Easter Road with a disconcerting reputation.
Garry O’Connor, Derek Riordan, Leigh Griffiths, Jason Cummings and, now, Feruz. The Hibs faithful have a new figure to fill the role of precocious, if sometimes wayward, talent.
Tipped for greatness from the moment Celtic scout John Simpson spotted him during a kick-about in Castlemilk at the age of ten, Feruz has seldom been out of the limelight; something which, he acknowledges, has been troublesome.
Given the role Celtic – in particular, the late Tommy Burns – played in securing Scottish residency for the youngster and his family after they fled Somalia, his decision to quit Parkhead for Chelsea in 2011 was met with scorn in many quarters.
High-profile social media spats and off-the-field indiscretions followed, while his burgeoning international career has been no less chequered following his decision to reject a call-up for Scotland’s under-19 squad in 2014.
Feruz is still a teenager, just 19, but recently welcomed his first child into the world – a baby girl named Kayla – and he is man enough to acknowledge the mistakes he made as he grew up in the full glare of the media.
However, he has one desire: to be judged on his deeds at Hibs, rather than errors of the past.
“I’ve made a few mistakes but I’ve learned from them,” he explained. “If it was not for the mistakes, then I wouldn’t be the man I am today. It’s something that comes with being young.
“As I grew up, I learned to ignore [the attention]. When I was younger, I didn’t know how to do that and I did things that I shouldn’t have. I got into trouble.
“I think I’ve got wiser and more mature. I know what I want and I am determined to make the most of this chance and do well.
“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 if people look at what I do at Hibs and how I behave in Scotland.”
While Feruz was certainly making all the right noises as he was unveiled at Hibs’ East Lothian training base yesterday, the feeling of wariness regarding his signing is exacerbated by several unsuccessful loan spells from Chelsea.
He lasted three days in Russia after agreeing to join Krylia Sovetov, citing “homesickness”, before making three appearances for OFI Crete in Greece under former Rangers midfielder Rino Gattuso.
Feruz subsequently played just 16 minutes for Blackpool during a stint at Bloomfield Road, but returned to Chelsea after tweeting: “This team takes more kick-offs than corners.”
He admits his own naivety was a factor in those failures, but is ready to excel at Hibs after joining on loan from Chelsea on deadline day.
“I think I maybe thought I would play most games because I was coming from Chelsea,” he admitted. “You just want to play as much as you can so it is a disappointment when you don’t.
“As a young player you do not know how to handle most things. I learned a few things as I went along and got more experienced.”
Former SFA performance director Mark Wotte – never one to shy away from proffering an opinion – articulated the fears of many Hibs fans by suggesting Alan Stubbs would find Feruz difficult to manage.
However, outlining an evident respect for Stubbs, Feruz has promised not to be a burden or a disruptive influence as the Hibees target promotion.
“Maybe he [Wotte] found it a challenge to manage me,” he continued pointedly. “But 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.
“When I spoke to him on the phone he just gave me that feeling that he was exactly what I need. He gave me that boost to come here and the feeling that I can do well.”
As one of 33 different players Chelsea have out on loan, Feruz, who is contracted to the Blues until 2018, could be forgiven for seeing his time at Easter Road as a stepping stone to first-team football elsewhere.
However, he retains the lofty aspiration of standing out from the crowd of Stamford Bridge hopefuls and carving a career at Chelsea.
Asked whether he could make the grade at Chelsea, he added: “Of course I can. I have always believed in myself and my ability as footballer even in the past couple of years. I know that I can do a job with Chelsea.”