It is accepted certainty that Evan Ferguson will leave Brighton at some point in the next few years, potentially as soon as this summer’s transfer window. But for Chelsea? He would have to be mad to swap the American Express Stadium for Stamford Bridge.
And if his fledgling career so far has shown us anything, it is that Ferguson is not mad. Far from it. He is an older, wiser head on young shoulders. He makes remarkably sensible decisions based on what is good for his career rather than his bank balance.
Ferguson wants to develop into the best player he can. To that end, he appears to have a good team around him, as opposed to the sort of money-obsessed agents whose self-interest can often damage the careers of the promising young talents they profess to support. Hence why negotiations over a new Brighton contract running through to 2029 which Ferguson signed in November were said to be so straightforward.
It also explains why Ferguson moved to the Albion in the first place. Having first come to prominence when playing as a 14-year-old for League of Ireland side Bohemians in a pre-season friendly against Chelsea in July 2019, every top club in England and Scotland were interested in securing Ferguson’s services.
He had trials with Manchester United, Everton, Celtic and Liverpool. The Reds were particularly eager to take Ferguson to Anfield and he spent several weeks training on Merseyside. All of those clubs would have offered more money than Brighton, and yet Ferguson opted to sign for the Seagulls in January 2021.
Talking about the decision in an interview with The Athletic, Ferguson said: “I went to Liverpool a few times. It’s a good club, but you see so many boys at Liverpool just fading away and there’s no chance to get in the first team. I was thinking, ‘Do I just want to play two years of under-18s and then go to the 23s and go from there to where?’ Brighton is a good club. The people working around are always there to help.
“It came down to the fact that if you come to Brighton it’s a pathway through. If you go to a team such as Liverpool, then they can buy a striker for £60m to £70m. At Brighton, they like to bring their academy players through and give them a chance. I’d say that was the reason, looking long term rather than short term. So I’d say that this was the final reason.”
Ferguson elaborated when speaking to Sussex Live a month later: “I used to come over to all the clubs with my dad. He had a clue about what was going on so I think he was key. I had been on a trial to a few clubs but Liverpool was the main one other than Brighton.
“I think from the outside it was obvious to see the pathway [at Brighton] and most of the managers here have given chances to young players. When I came over it was different from all the other clubs, they were definitely the team I wanted to join.”
That brings us nicely to Chelsea. The Blues have been linked with a summer bid for Ferguson in excess of the £115m they paid to break the British transfer record last summer for Moises Caicedo. The past 18 months shows us money is no object to Todd Boehly and whilst the promise of riches has lured £1bn worth of talent to Stamford Bridge since the haphazard American took over, would it be enough to tempt Ferguson?
Not if the decision making which saw Ferguson turn down Liverpool, United and the rest in favour of Brighton is anything go by. Nobody who has moved to Chelsea in the Boehly Era has seen their stock rise; a move to Stamford Bridge these days is tantamount to career suicide. Ferguson has seen that first-hand through the procession of individuals he worked with at Brighton who left Sussex seeking greener grass (and a much healthier bank balance) in West London.
Marc Cucurella, Robert Sanchez and Caicedo have all gone backwards after joining Chelsea. Graham Potter went from the next big managerial thing to sacked inside seven months. It is almost as if Brighton create an environment where individuals thrive while Chelsea fosters a toxic, self-entitlement that puts money above all else.
Move to Stamford Bridge, fail to live up to expectations and Ferguson will see his rise stalled. The Republic of Ireland would be at risk of not getting the best of a generational talent a nation seems to have pinned its footballing hopes on. It would be a travesty for a player who has earned comparisons to everyone from Duncan Edwards to Marco van Basten to Wayne Rooney to Erling Haaland. Gary Lineker, Robbie Keane and Kylian Mbappe have all spoken publicly in praise of Ferguson since he broke into the Brighton first team squad in December 2022.
Chelsea might want Ferguson, but he knows Brighton is the best place to grow and improve at this stage in his career. Where player development trumps instant success and winning trophies. As talented as Ferguson already is, he still has much to learn. It is frightening to think how good he can become in five to 10 years, providing he has the right coaching and a stable environment to help him get there. Edwards, Van Basten, Rooney and Haaland levels of good, according to the experts.
Right now, that environment is playing for Roberto De Zerbi at Brighton. In the not-too-distant future, it might be Liverpool, Manchester City or one of the giants of European football. But a move this summer to the black hole for talented young players that is Chelsea? It would be a mad career move for a footballer with the world at his feet.