Duncan Ferguson’s new path
WHEN I first saw Big Dunc in the flesh, he was even bigger and brawnier than I had imagined. A Scouser mate had waxed lyrical to me about this six foot four lump of granite as we once made a slightly hazy journey through the drinking holes of Wavertree.
I didn’t remember much from that night but his love for Duncan Ferguson stayed with me.
To be fair, I saw him in the early noughties, after his second coming to Goodison, and so Big Dunc’s back-story was already writ large: his record breaking transfer fee when he joined Rangers, his subsequent failure, his many off-field scrapes but the most infamous, and shameful being an on-field one involving Jock McStay, and his own subsequent stay at her Majesty’s pleasure.
Ferguson was like a throw-back to the days when Joe Jordan’s toothless snarl would be the pervading image from Match of the Day.
Dunc wasn’t just big; he was big and tough. We’ve all watched great, strapping strikers who would crash dramatically to the ground when brushed against by wingers with all the physicality of Charles Hawtrey. But that wasn’t really Dunc’s style.
When I finally saw him live Ferguson was just on the wane; for a start he was injured more often than he was fit. He was strong yet his body was increasingly brittle.
On his day, though, he was a world-class forward; combative, direct and a terrible handful for any centre-back. The memory of Big Dunc aggressively wrestling United’s Jaap Stam (a fearsome looking fella himself) to the ground remains vivid to this day. Premier League defenders earned their salaries the day Duncan came to town.
Injuries, coupled with his £34,000-a-week salary, marked him out as a pretty mixed signing for Everton the second time around.
Dunc’s disciplinary record was also wretched, yet there is a fine line between becoming a cult hero, as he did at Everton, and whatever status the likes of Joey Barton occupy at most of their ex-clubs.
His career petered out and he disappeared to Majorca for years of self-imposed exile. At some point, perhaps with toes dipped in a pool, Dunc seems to have had an epiphany.
He made approaches to Everton, started working at the club’s academy and slowly began accumulating his coaching badges.
Now, several years later, Big Dunc finds himself part of the Everton establishment as first team coach. This private, even taciturn, figure has been transformed into an effective mentor and motivator.
Romelu Lukaku, now banging them in for Manchester United after his lucrative move away from Goodison Park this summer, openly praised the part Ferguson played in spurring him on and helping him add extra elements to his game.
Of course Lukaku’s departure came the day after another notable second coming – that of Wayne Rooney back to his boyhood club. Big Dunc’s role in this transfer shouldn’t be
underestimated. Rooney could easily have followed Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard to the MLS or Carlos Tevez to the Chinese Super League, picking up a mind-boggling salary but, to his credit, he instead went home to the team where it all began and demonstrated that, at just 31, he still has unfinished business.
Rooney had been off the boil for a while prior to his departure from United and perhaps his sensational emergence at just 16 years of age has caught up with him. This season will determine that. Everton are taking quite a gamble not only on how they utilise Rooney’s abilities but also whether he can truly rekindle his former greatness.
Almost inevitably, Wayne’s Everton return started in classic Roy of the Rovers style with a goal in his Premier League opener against Stoke before his much relished strike at the Etihad against perennial foes Man City.
Likewise, Everton started the season promisingly enough, going unbeaten in their first six competitive fixtures.
But since then both Rooney, on and off the pitch, and the Toffees have rather lost their way.
Everton dipped into the bottom three following their September thumping at Old Trafford, while Rooney’s performance in the 3-0 home defeat to Atalanta in the Europa League was erratic at best.
As things stand, the debate about where Everton play him remains unresolved and the worry will be that the likes of the rejuvenated Oumar Niasse, along with the return of longterm injury casualties like Yannick Bolasie and, of course, the unsettled Ross Barkley, will only make it harder to accommodate a belowpar Rooney.
But if anyone can get Wayne’s mojo firing again, then surely it’s a former striker who, as a young schoolboy, he idolised. Duncan Ferguson’s finest years in an Everton shirt coincided with Rooney being an impressionable 11-12 year-old.
Of course, they even played together a few times, forming a front three with Tomasz Radzinski in a goalless Merseyside derby at Anfield towards the end of Dunc’s career, but they never struck up a meaningful partnership up front - Ferguson’s injuries and Rooney’s imminent transfer saw to that.
Wayne was born an Evertonian and Big Dunc has developed such an attachment to the club, he has tattooed that allegiance upon his person.
Rooney’s considerable respect for Ferguson meant that he donned the blue shirt for the first time in many years, when still Manchester United captain, to take part in Dunc’s testimonial in 2015 and it was here the seed was surely sown for Wayne’s eventual move home. Rumour has it Ferguson had been eyeing Rooney’s return for many a month before it finally happened this past summer.
Ronald Koeman has recently, and deftly, managed to pledge his loyalty to Everton at the same time as alert the footballing world of his considerable ambition to one day manage on a loftier stage.
Clearly, Koeman does not plan on being at Goodison Park for the long-term. However, if Everton continue to flirt with the bottom three, his tenure might be even shorter than he envisaged.
In the meantime, Big Dunc continues to grow in stature, and in influence, as part of the management team.
As a player who had truly been around the block and experienced all manner of highs and lows in his career, he has much to offer seasoned pros and prodigiously talented tyros alike.
The late Howard Kendall apparently saw future manager material in him.
So one day, perhaps, Ferguson might get the chance to emulate his illustrious namesake who ran the show for so many years down the M62 at Old Trafford.
There can’t be too many coaches whose “hair dryer” treatment might outdo Sir Alex’s, but Big Dunc’s might be one.
Things seldom work out perfectly but if they do, then Duncan Ferguson might yet become Everton’s very own Fergie.
ON HIS DAY, HE WAS A WORLD-CLASS FORWARD; COMBATIVE, DIRECT AND A TERRIBLE HANDFUL FOR ANY CENTRE-BACK
Double act: Duncan Ferguson, left, and Wayne Rooney
Jump start: Duncan Ferguson celebrates scoring for Everton against Man Utd