IN a list of Duncan Ferguson's career possibilities after his playing days were over, becoming a top-level coach was more likely than becoming a UN peacekeeper or a prison officer.
But only just. Those who don't know Ferguson still have some difficulty getting their heads around the fact he has ascended to one of the main coaching roles at Everton.
"Duncan Disorderly", former Barlinnie resident, the bane of the football authorities, occasionally a one-man instruction class on how footballers shouldn't behave, now has daily authority over a batch of leading English Premier League players. And those he now bosses around on a daily basis? They say he's outstanding.
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Ferguson spent almost five years sunning himself in Majorca, apparently having divorced himself from the game which made him a millionaire. It was surprising when it emerged he had taken on a role coaching Everton's youth players, and far more so when his enthusiasm and appetite for training ground knowledge resulted in him signing up for Scottish Football Association coaching courses at Largs.
Ferguson's relationship with the SFA became irreparably toxic when he was given a 12-game ban for butting Raith Rovers' John McStay, a punishment he regarded as callous and excessive given he had already spent 44 days in jail for assault. To see him appearing at Largs years later, and by definition endorsing the SFA's courses, demonstrated a dramatic thawing in his mood and also his unexpected enthusiasm for coaching. When Roberto Martinez, the Everton manager, confirmed Ferguson had been promoted from the under-18s to first-team coach last month he described the 42-year-old as an exciting and innovative operator who would become a "special part" of their backroom team.
Steven Naismith is 27. He was still a teenager when Ferguson retired and does not have strong memories of the latter's eventful career which took in Dundee United, Rangers, Newcastle and seven appearances for Scotland. His second spell at Everton did leave an impression on Naismith but he sees Ferguson the coach every day.
"Duncan is a massive figure at the club with the fans," Naismith said. "He brings a lot of passion and has worked well with me. I've enjoyed the small things he does. We do shooting drills with him. He takes a lot of them and has been good to work with. He was always someone I looked up to. I vaguely remember him at Rangers, but more so his Everton career.
"The fans love him. Everybody talks about 'big Dunc this' and 'big Dunc that'. Everton's most recent success came when he was in the team [he came on as a substitute in their 1995 FA Cup final defeat of Manchester United] and the Evertonians still remember that.
"You hear a lot of stories about him, so it was good to have a chat! He's actually a really quiet guy and he doesn't give much away until you sit down with him and have a good talk. He chucked football for a while. It's amazing: he just went and lived in Majorca for five years. Duncan just went there to enjoy life but eventually he missed the game and wanted back in. I spoke to him about it. He said he started to miss football and that shows what the game is like. You start to get the bug back.
"When we've talked we haven't gone into too much detail about the Scotland stuff. It's been more general chats about his life. There's a different side to him. The time he spent working with the Everton youths has given him a good start. Now he's working with us you see him as a coach, not as a young guy trying to be a coach. He's good and I don't think there's a better club for him to be at. The whole set-up is fantastic."
Naismith has been at Everton for 20 months (he signed a four-year deal as a free agent after refusing to have his contract transferred from oldco to newco Rangers). He has often been a substitute but has made himself a valuable part of the Goodison Park squad. He is in fine recent form, scoring four times over the last five weeks, and has been inspired by Martinez.
"He's totally different to any manager I've worked with in terms of his methods, philosophies and the way he wants us to play," Naismith said. "It's been a big learning curve, but more down to the fact that he sees it as a squad game. He doesn't have players he thinks will play every week. We were due to play Crystal Palace recently and the game got called off. There were three of us who were in the team that night but then didn't play against Swansea a few days later.
"That sums up the way he works. He treats every game differently and has a game plan. For me, he's been great. I've learned more this season than I did under any manager previously. Every day there is something new. Normally, in pre-season, you run and then get the footballs out. He's a different type of manager. It intrigues me and I'm really interested in the way he works.
"With Scotland I think I've put my case forward to be considered for the main striking role but one thing I've learned from Roberto Martinez this season is that a team needs everybody. It's not a case of the manager picking one striker to go with in every game. In my international career, this is as hard a squad to get into as there has ever been."