West Brom's Nathan Ferguson: EFL future star
Higginbottom: "I think he's got the intelligence, defensively, to be able to cope in the Premier League."
Last Updated: 19/05/20 10:45am
Nathan Ferguson is set to be a future star in English football after impressing for West Brom.
Here, Sky Sports' EFL pundits Don Goodman and Danny Higginbotham assess the 19-year-old's attributes and tell us why he is such a special talent...
What have you made of a player who started the season as a centre-back excelling at right-back?
Goodman: Having spoken to some of the academy coaches, I know they will hold their hands up and say they questioned whether he was a player capable of playing at Championship level as a centre-half. That day in pre-season when Slaven Bilic first saw him, he thought he was comfortable on the ball, gave him a chance at right-back, played him throughout pre-season and was impressed enough to start him ahead of Darnell Furlong who they paid decent money for in that right-back berth.
I think that speaks volumes because he hasn't looked back since. There's versatility to him as well. Sometimes he's gone over to the left-hand side and it's another string to his bow. Although it perhaps happened by accident, I think they have found a real good one here.
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Higginbotham: There was one specific game when Furlong was playing right-back, so Ferguson went over to left-back and I'm not kidding you, Furlong was playing as a winger. I think he got a goal and an assist - it was when they beat Huddersfield 4-2. Don't get me wrong it was a fantastic performance from Furlong, but the reason he was able to play as a right winger for the majority of the game was because Ferguson had the know-how of playing as a centre-back as well.
Every time West Brom went forward, he would just come in nice and central and become that third centre-back, so at all times they had three defenders behind the ball. It just gave them that extra outlet, which enabled them to get the better of a Huddersfield team who were then under new management and making life a little bit more difficult.
How much of an impression has he made in Slaven Bilic's team this season?
Goodman: I think the fact that I gave him man of the match [on his debut vs Nottingham Forest] from right-back tells you what I thought about him to be honest! I was blown away and I'd never even heard of him. To be coming in and making your debut away at the City Ground, against Joe Lolley - one of the best, most difficult, tricky wingers to face - daunting you would have thought, but what quickly became evident was that this was a young man who was very confident, has got a lot of self-belief and had all the attributes.
Every time I saw Lolley or Albert Adomah trying to take him on, they just couldn't get past him and that trend continued throughout the rest of the games that I watched him play before he got that knee injury. He very much reminded me of Aaron Wan-Bissaka. While he's got great ability on the ball and going forward gets plenty of quality crosses into the area, there's no question - a bit like Wan-Bissaka - that his strength is defending. I think forwards find it a real struggle to get past him and that's what really struck me that afternoon.
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Higginbotham: I think we can say that his main strength is the defensive side of his game but the thing that was really interesting was that he's made his first-team debut this season, he's got his first senior goal this season and the fact Bilic thought he was a central midfielder when he first saw him because he was so good on the ball instead of being a centre-back so he transformed him, made him into a right-back.
There was a lot of talk when Craig Dawson went that they were going to bring in two right-backs. They brought in Furlong and then, after they'd seen him for a small while, they decided that he [Ferguson] was going to be good enough. I also think he brings a different dynamic to the West Brom team in the attacking sense of the game, how he allows them to go forward and do what they want to do higher up the pitch as well.
Could he cope with a move to the Premier League?
Goodman: When you are talking about young players and speculating on their future, it is very important for them and the people around them to make sure they go to the right club. Make sure they go to a club where they are going to play regularly, have a coach that can get the best of out of them. You talk about defensive coaches and being organised and structured and there aren't any that fall into that category more than Roy Hodgson.
With Roy having worked with Wan-Bissaka, I'm sure that is one of the reasons Crystal Palace are one of the teams in for him. The comparisons and the similarities are absolutely fantastic so I don't doubt he can make that next step up and that is provided that he needs to recover from that knee injury first. That is really important that they get the rehab right and they get it strong so it doesn't give him any problems further down the line.
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Higginbotham: Let's not forget Wan-Bissaka was a winger for the large majority of his fledgling career and Hodgson decided that he wanted to move him into the right-back position and the rest is history. I think with somebody like Ferguson going to a club like Palace, if he was to leave West Brom, I think it would be a win-win, because he's only going to improve defensively. I think he's got the mindset; I think he's got the intelligence defensively to be able to cope in the Premier League.
He's shown that this season against some top-class players that could play in the Premier League themselves but it's all dependent on how far down the line are they with West Brom? Can it be retrieved? I think there was talk of him being offered a five-year contract at some point but whenever the transfer window opens or this season ends, that's when we'll be able to tell. But I would be very surprised if Palace didn't come back in for him.