Rotherham United new boy Shane Ferguson: substance over style

Shane FergusonShane Ferguson
Shane Ferguson
ONE sock was a little higher than the other and he scurried rather than ran.

The shorts were a touch too long, the jersey not super-sleek, as if he’d borrowed it from a slightly larger teammate.

He doesn’t look much like a footballer, I thought to myself, as Shane Ferguson ran — sorry, scurried — on for his Rotherham United debut.

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The pre-season friendly at Rochdale was approaching its final stages and the Millers were 2-0 down.

Twenty minutes later when the final whistle sounded it was 2-2 and Ferguson had played a leading role in the fightback.

The man from Derry has pedigree: the Premier League with Newcastle United, the Championship with Millwall, nearly 50 caps for Northern Ireland.

League One Rotherham is the 30-year-old’s latest destination after he parted company with the Lions at the end of last season and his first intention is to set up home here.

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“I’m moving to the area,” he said. “The club have been brilliant with helping me to look around for somewhere. I’m looking to get the family together.

“I’ve got a missus and a little girl. They’re from Newcastle which is not too far away.

“When I was with Millwall, having to travel from London to Newcastle, it was hard to get home, then the Covid situation made it worse.

“You don’t have that family support. It’s nice to have my missus’s family helping me now. Rotherham is only two hours down the road. My own family are all in Ireland.”

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Competition was keen for a left-sided player with close to 200 league appearances with Millwall to his name but the Paul Warne factor helped to seal the deal.

“I heard there was Rotherham interest a few weeks ago from my agent and then I had a Zoom call from the manager,” Ferguson said. “All the staff were there as well.

“They were telling me all about the club and how much they wanted me. It was really nice to have that feeling. Once I’d spoken to them, I really wanted to come here.

“My agent was on the call as well and the manager was making us both laugh. We had a really good chat. He spoke really highly of the club and talked about the ambition to get back into the Championship.

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“I’m really looking forward to it. It’s a great squad and there are a lot of players still here from last season who have experience of the Championship. It’s a young team as well.”

At Rochdale, he capped a promising cameo with a sweet free-kick delivery that created a last-gasp headed leveller for Michael Ihiekwe.

“I really enjoyed it.” he said. “I’m just happy to be back playing again. The lads were disappointed how the game went, the first half especially. I thought we were a lot better in the second and it was nice to come on and be involved.

“Aye, it was good to set up the equaliser. It makes it easier when you have so many big lads in the team!

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“I’m quite fit. I’ve been doing a lot of stuff in the off-season. I just need matches now to get the sharpness back. It will take a bit of time but I’ve got two or three weeks before the season starts. I’ll be working hard between now and then.”

There wasn’t a great deal of muscle definition about him, fleshy limbs so Irish white that it was hard to tell where the shorts stopped and his legs started.

His sandy, ginger-ish hair was worn in a neat, primary-school style, making him look like a boy seeking a game with the bigger kids.

But things were happening.

He set up another goal for Ihiekwe in his next outing, at Harrogate Town 24 hours later, this time with a pinpoint corner and was a regular attacking threat in a 3-1 triumph.

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Although Ferguson says he is comfortable in any position on the left flank, he’s been brought in by Warne to play more as a forward than as a full-back.

His close control allows him to accept the ball in tight areas, he does the right thing with it and he delivers a telling ball from out wide. A lot of experience and a bit of craft isn’t a bad combination.

“What do I bring?” he said. “I’ll be working as hard as I can in games and putting crosses into the box is one of my main things.

“I’ve been around a bit and it’s a young team as well so hopefully I can help any of the young lads if they need that.

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“I can play in a few positions. I don’t have a preference because I’ve played that many times in different roles.

“I’ve never really had a settled position. It’s nice to have that versatility to play in different positions in case you have to change formation.”

We talked for a while after the Dale clash. The handshake was firm, the eye contact good and he was warm and friendly. It didn’t feel like a first meeting.

Saturday’s opening day could see his competitive Millers bow when Plymouth Argyle come calling and Ferguson is delighted that he won’t be viewing AESSEAL New York Stadium as a visitor anymore.

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“There was other interest in me,” he said. “But as soon as I came off the Zoom call I said to my agent: ‘I want to go there.’ How much the manager wanted me was really appealing to me.

“I came down and saw the stadium. I’ve been there before and always had tough games there. It’s never an easy place to go to so it’s nice to think I’ll be part of the home side there.

“I just want to be playing again. Last season I didn’t play so much but in the years before that I played regularly. I want to help the team as much as I can and hopefully push on as we try to get promotion.

“I was at Millwall for six years and I have some great memories, like winning promotion and then becoming a stabilised team in the Championship. I had great times there and met great people.

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“Last year I wasn’t playing and I didn’t want to be sitting around doing nothing. I just want to get out and play. It was definitely the right time to leave.”

His last outing for Northern Ireland came as recently as June and he plans to keep wearing the green shirt of his country.

“One-hundred per cent I want to carry on,” he said.

“That was one of the main factors in me leaving Millwall. If you’re not playing for your club it’s going to be harder to be selected for the national team.”

So, Rotherham have a regular, current international on their hands.

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At Rochdale, he ambled off towards the waiting coach, his black tracksuit in need of a good press and maybe taking in a little here and there.

He doesn’t look much like a footballer, I thought.

Appearances can be deceptive.