Inside the managerial mind of 'Big Dunc' – and why Everton's players should be afraid

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·9-min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
 Duncan Ferguson celebrates his side's third goal during the Premier League match between Everton FC and Chelsea FC at Goodison Park on December 07, 2019 in Liverpool, - GETTY IMAGES
Duncan Ferguson celebrates his side's third goal during the Premier League match between Everton FC and Chelsea FC at Goodison Park on December 07, 2019 in Liverpool, - GETTY IMAGES

These days, the pigeons in Duncan Ferguson’s back garden have been joined by budgerigars. It remains the one of the great contrasts in the Premier League that one its most fearsome former strikers loves his birds, but Ferguson has always been more nuanced than his popular images might suggest.

As his old Rangers team-mate Ally McCoist says, “he stood out more than the average footballer”, which is to suggest he was somewhat different. In a football landscape with little loyalty, Everton genuinely mattered to Ferguson and still does. He is an employee at the club but, according to those close to him, he has taken their slide down the Premier League table personally, which makes his first game in charge against Aston Villa - managed by the former Liverpool midfielder Steven Gerrard, and featuring recent Goodison Park malcontent Lucas Digne - all the more pointed.

“The biggest thing for him at the moment is that Everton fans need someone to care and bring pride back to the club,” added McCoist. “It’s the one thing that is missing. People say he’s not tactical, or he’s not Thomas Tuchel, or this or that. The argument is that they’ve had managers like that and they are still in this situation.”

To understand Ferguson’s relationship with Everton is to go back to 1994 when he was signed from Rangers in the wake of his headbutt on Raith Rovers defender John McStay, which led to an assault conviction, jail and a ban from the Scottish Football Association.

Duncan Ferguson celebrates scoring at Goodison Park - ACTION IMAGES
Duncan Ferguson celebrates scoring at Goodison Park - ACTION IMAGES

He had not visited Merseyside before his loan, but an affinity was quickly established, helped by scoring his first goal for the club in a derby.

“He found a bit of respect and love that maybe he wasn’t getting up the road,” said McCoist. “The lad was not treated well by the football authorities up here. Everton fans saw someone totally committed to the club. That is a heck of a start right away.”

Joe Royle, who signed him permanently, started to get wind that teams were making special plans for Ferguson but he, too, saw a different side to his striker’s hardman reputation - thanks in part to his wife, Janine, who he married in 1998.

Ferguson married his wife Janine in 1998 - SHUTTERSTOCK
Ferguson married his wife Janine in 1998 - SHUTTERSTOCK

“Yes, he was passionate and you’ll see all the photographs with him being aggressive with somebody because they are good photographs,” he said. “But he came out of those early days when he was getting booked and sent off occasionally. His wife had a big influence on him but the big fella is what you see. There is no pretence about him.”

Ferguson has been back at Goodison Park in some capacity since the David Moyes era, before recently working with Carlo Ancelotti. While birds are his hobby - his racing pigeons were a quirk of his early days in England - his life is football, agonising over it until the late hours. Before the first game of his previous spell as caretaker manager in the wake of Marco Silva's sacking in 2019, he took two sleeping pills to help avoid a night of tossing and turning.

Judging by that brief previous spell - where he emerged from games against Chelsea, Manchester United and Arsenal, he will play 4-4-2 but his style is not simply blood and thunder. He is a deep thinker about football, bordering on obsessive. He was working for Ancelotti but also learning from him, with ambitions of being manager himself eventually.

Everton will be more direct and possibly more physical. When he was in charge last they set records for their amount of tackling, and Ferguson’s theory is that his two strikers screen the opposition midfield as the team’s first defenders.

“He clearly, clearly loves his football and has an obsession with it,” said McCoist. “People undersell him as only being a character but that is not the case. You don’t work with these managers and not pick things up. He’s a smart man.”

 Duncan Ferguson during the Everton training session at USM Finch Farm on January 12, 2022 in Halewood, England. - GETTY IMAGES
Duncan Ferguson during the Everton training session at USM Finch Farm on January 12, 2022 in Halewood, England. - GETTY IMAGES

Players will have been told some home truths this week following Rafael Benitez’s dismissal, which would be expected after a run of just one Premier League win since September. During his last spell as caretaker he brought on Moise Kean and subbed him off again. He does not suffer fools gladly.

His coaching has been influenced most significantly by the late Howard Kendall after working with him during the 1997-98 season. Kendall’s daughter Lily gave him her father’s watch to wear as Ferguson masterminded victory over Chelsea, and he still has it.

There could be symbolism in Kendall’s stopped watch helping inspire Everton out of their slump. After that win against Chelsea, he went to see owner Farhad Moshiri and chairman Bill Kenwright and the pair were crying tears of joy. At the moment they are trying to navigate their way out of a mess after Benitez’s brief reign.

In Ferguson they have a man in charge with charisma and genuine passion for the club. During lockdown he recorded messages for Evertonians who were struggling or suffering illness, each with a personal touch. One included a tour of his pigeon loft for a young supporter with cancer.

There was also the video message that went viral when he told a fan, in no uncertain terms, to pull his socks up at school. It was delivered with a look that would send any pupil back to the books. Everton's players might need to get used to that for as long as he is in charge.

Carlo Ancelotti backs 'ready' Duncan Ferguson to be successful Everton manager

By Chris Bascombe

Former Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti has backed Duncan Ferguson to take over as the club’s full-time manager, telling his ex-assistant coach: “You’re ready.”

Ferguson revealed the high level endorsement as he prepared to embark on his quest to prove the answer to the Merseyside club’s problems is staring them in the face, beginning with Saturday’s Premier League meeting with Aston Villa.

The Scot was typically modest about his chances of getting the job permanently. But his appetite to lead is obvious, and a couple of wins - allied to vastly improved performances - will give the Goodison hierarchy much to ponder.

“Carlo said to me: ‘Be yourself. You're ready’,” said Ferguson.

“That gave me a bit of a boost to be honest with you, hearing it from a guy like that who has done it all. That was good.

“I worked with Carlo for a couple of seasons and he told me to go for it, to be myself, you know what you're doing and you've got the experience on the training ground.”

Ferguson accepts that majority shareholder Farhad Moshiri - who yesterday increased his stake to 94.1 per cent in order to inject £100 million into the club - has numerous candidates to consider.

“The club’s looking for experience, aren't they?” he said.

“I believe in myself and I believe one day I'll become a great manager. I know I can do the coaching. Hopefully one day, whenever that day is, I'll become the permanent Everton manager. Of course they are always going to be looking out for the top boys, the guys with the big CVs and the guys who have done a lot of winning and won trophies. And so they should. At the end of the day we are one of the greatest clubs in the world. Why not look for one of the greatest managers in the world?"

Everton's manager Carlo Ancelotti (R) reacts with Duncan Ferguson during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Everton - Rex
Everton's manager Carlo Ancelotti (R) reacts with Duncan Ferguson during the English Premier League soccer match between Manchester City and Everton - Rex

Asked if he thought the time had come for him to be given a chance to lead the club long-term, Ferguson added: “I don’t think that is the way the club is looking at it, to be honest with you. This is my time to take the next couple of games. But the club's out there looking for a candidate, aren’t they? They are looking for a new manager to come in. I am here and I will always be here to support the manager. That is my job.

“There will be many, many managers who are qualified to manage Everton. But right now - because we have lost a manager such a short period of time ago - right now I would probably be the best man to take it on (for the upcoming games/). I am sure the club, down the line, will find the right man for this position.”

What Ferguson will bring is honesty and application to a team which has lost its identity, and an emotional connection to the fanbase.

“People have to be told a few home truths,” said Ferguson. “The form has not been good enough and the fans expect much, much more. You just need reminding sometimes don't you?

“It's been a long time losing, losing and losing and not getting results. So really the gloves are off now. So I've got right into them over that.

“Absolutely I trust the players. One hundred percent I trust them. Because I work with them and I know they are good players. It is like anything. When you have a lack of confidence and you are losing games, you start to get down about yourself. Getting into them a wee bit and digging them out a little bit, I believe I have them on board and that is why I trust them.”

Before his last stint as caretaker manager, Ferguson was presented with legendary manager Howard Kendall’s watch as a personal memento. He will wear it again this weekend.

“I will,” he said. “It is mine now, absolutely That’s mine forever.”

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting