The £17m bargain midfielder who can thrive at Fulham, Forest or Wolves - if they can win transfer battle

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A Scottish midfielder making waves in Italy has attracted Premier League attention - we look at what he offers his suitors.

Lewis Ferguson’s rise has been rapid, but it has mostly happened away from the eyes of the British public – but now the Scotland international’s form at Bologna has caught the eye of a wide range of clubs, which is reported to include Premier League outfits like Fulham, Nottingham Forest, Brentford and Wolverhampton Wanderers. They aren’t alone in their interest, however, and the 24-year-old midfielder is set to be at the heart of a substantial transfer tussle this summer.

According to Sky Sports, Napoli and Juventus are among the Italian clubs keen on signing Ferguson – the son of former Scotland striker Derek and nephew of Rangers and Blackburn Rovers midfielder Barry – after he consistently impressive performances in Bologna over the last two seasons which have seen him bag 13 goals and be elevated to the club captaincy. The chances of him remaining in Emilia-Romagna next season seem slim. But what kind of player is he, and what can he offers his long list of suitors?

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Ferguson was released from the Rangers academy at the age of 14 but has made the Glaswegian giant rue that decision ever since. After finishing his academy development at Hamilton Academical, he moved to Aberdeen and established himself as a regular in the Scottish Premier League from the age of 19, eventually earning a move to Italy reported to be worth up to £3m. It looks like quite the bargain at this point.

Ferguson is nominally an attacking midfielder and team sheets typically present him as a number ten, but his role under manager Thiago Motta is much more fluid than that. In possession, he often drifts wide and cuts back in near the box, effectively playing as an inside forward, while off the ball he uses his impressive stamina and endless willingness to chase lost causes to get back into deeper areas and operate as a defensive midfield shield.

In other words, he pops up just about everywhere, can operate in a wide variety of roles according to his side’s needs, and his heat maps show red blots all of the field of play. He’s a genuine do-it-all midfielder and has the endurance to keep it up for the full 90 minutes, even though he doesn’t have top-tier speed.

He’s also an extremely intelligent player and his off-the-ball movement is superb. He’s brilliant at finding half-spaces to collect passes and seems to know precisely when to go wide and when to drop back into the middle to offer the best passing option – and his versatility, quality and approach have clearly impressed former Barcelona and Inter Milan midfielder Motta.

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“He knows what positions to take up. He’s not selfish,” Motta told the media. “He scores and gets into the box. He’s very disciplined in the defensive side of the game. He’s always looking at what his team-mates are doing and adapting. He’s exemplary.”

High praise from a man who was a first-rate midfielder in his own right in his playing days, and praise which seems justified. In attack, he offers accurate, quick, vertical passes and generates a healthy number of chances, as well as good movement to create space, and he’s a goalscorer too – he bagged 20 SPL goals in his last two seasons at Aberdeen as well as the 13 he’s managed in the better part of two years in Serie A, already making him the most prolific Scotsman ever to play in the Italian top flight, surpassing Denis Law.

A lot of those goals come from cutting inside and working room, but he has a dangerous long shot on him too – as rather neatly summed up by this brilliant strike which gave Bologna a 2-1 away win at Atalanta earlier in the season:

He’s also struck up an excellent understanding with former Bayern Munich striker Joshua Zirkzee, another player linked heavily with a Premier League move in the summer, and works extremely well getting close to the Dutchman and playing quick interchanges while they draw defenders away from each other. Any club signing him should be looking to pair him up with a deeper-lying forward of some kind in the same way to get the most out of him.

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He’s more than an attacking midfielder, however, and his defensive work isn’t just hard yards and bluster – he generates just under five turnovers per game on average in Italy with solid numbers for tackles, interceptions and clearances from his own box.

So there are few weaknesses to his game other than a relative lack of top-end speed. His ball-carrying skills aren’t the best, either, and his technique and control aren’t up there with the best, but he’s smart enough to know to avoid taking his man on one-on-one too often, and he usually looks to pass rather than dribble. He covers his few deficits well.

According to Italian outlet Calciomercato, who recently published a report specifically linking him with Fulham and Forest (the links to Wolves and Brentford come from different Italian outlets) it would take €20m (£17m) to sign him, although the sheer volume of interest may well drive that price up. Ferguson has three more years on his current £12,000 per week contract, so Bologna are scarcely over a barrel and have time and space to play hardball with the fee.

But Ferguson is coming into his prime in impressive fashion and looks like the kind of dynamic, aggressive and hard-working midfielder that a lot of Premier League clubs would prize – and that’s why some of Italy’s biggest teams are interested as well. Whether he would prefer to remain in Italy or head back to the Anglosphere is unknown, but he will have plenty of options. An apparent love for tortellini, which cropped up in an in-depth interview with The Athletic, may play a part.

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Other comments in that interview tell us more about the man, however, and in particular his attitude towards his role as a player: “I’m a fit boy. I like to get around the park. In modern football, if you don’t run, you don’t win.”

“[Motta] really helped me kick on and become a better player,” he added. “We’re really fluid. Everyone’s always moving, trying to shift the opponents, make space for ourselves and get as high up the pitch as possible… If you want to improve as a footballer, you need to come out of your comfort zone.”

He may have another chance to come out of his comfort zone with a move this summer – and whoever signs him will get an intelligent, eloquent and determined player who knows how to get the best out of his game.

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