He’s been long regarded as an enfant terrible, hugely talented and with an attitude to match, but today Islam Feruz pleaded to be judged on what he does now rather than his past.
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 Marc Wotte who warned the Hibs boss the Somalia-born player would present him with a challenge.
However, while admitting he had done things that had got him into trouble in earlier years, Feruz was adamant he has 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”.
He does, though, have a chequered past, spotted by Celtic at the age of ten and playing his first match for them at the age of just 14 when he featured in Tommy Burns’ testimonial match, a game in which, coincidentally, former Hoops defender Stubbs was, for a few minutes, a team-mate, only to turn his back on the Glasgow club as he moved to Chelsea four years ago.
Although he scored twice within a few months as the London club won the FA Youth Cup for the second time in three years, Feruz has struggled to make an impact at Stamford Bridge with a string of loan deals last season failing to work out. One, at Russian Second Division club Krylia Sovetov, lasted just two days.
Spells at OFI Crete and then Blackpool also didn’t work out, Feruz now admitting 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 enable him to return south better equipped to force his way into Chelsea manager 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 from my agent and he told me how good this move would be to get my football up and running again.”
Feruz revealed that after one chat with Stubbs he was convinced 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 need.
“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 he insisted he had no reservations about playing in the Championship having discussed a switch to Edinburgh with Chelsea’s head of youth development who helped broker the move. He said: “I discussed it with Neil (Bath) who also told me it was a great opportunity rather than risk going higher where there was a chance of me not playing.
“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.”
Feruz has found it easy to settle into his new surroundings at East Mains having come across a host of familiar faces both from his time with Celtic and from playing with Scotland through the various youth levels. He made his debut for the Under-21s at just 16 and once scored a hat-trick for them.
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.”
Though he pleads to be judged on what he does from now on, 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 had 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.”