Chelsea's 'Controversial One': How Islam Feruz went from Mourinho protege to selling hats

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Islam Feruz Jose Mourinho Chelsea GFX
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The 'Special One' gave the Somalia-born striker his Chelsea debut in a pre-season friendly but that was to be as good as it got for Feruz

At the age of 12, Islam Feruz was already turning heads at Celtic's academy and being touted as one of the most exciting prospects Scottish football had seen in years.

Unfortunately for the Hoops, the youngster's prodigious talent quickly caught the attention of other clubs and Chelsea swooped to sign the speedy attacker in September 2011.

Even though he was still only 15 and had yet to make a competitive senior appearance for Celtic, the Blues were more than happy to hand over £300,000 ($390,000) in compensation for Feruz, believing the fee would ultimately prove a bargain.

Considering Celtic had recruited Feruz as a 10-year-old and even reportedly played a role in ensuring his family weren't deported back to Somalia, first-team manager Neil Lennon was bitterly frustrated by the loss of a potential star.

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"We have done everything we can to keep the player and done more than enough to make him feel at home here," the Irishman told reporters.

"He does have other people in the background who are advising him. My take on it is that they are advising him wrongly, but we seem to be powerless in that situation.

"He's only 15, so there are other people in the background who I'd rather point the finger at than the player himself."

Lennon's stark warning would prove prophetic, as Feruz got lost in Chelsea's loan system and never managed to make a name for himself at senior level.

Things had started so well for Feruz, though. His rapid rise had initially shown no signs of slowing at Stamford Bridge, as he scored a superb brace in the first leg of the 2012 FA Youth Cup final.

One year later, he was handed a first-team debut by then-manager Jose Mourinho during Chelsea's pre-season tour of Asia, making two appearances in total, against the Indonesia All-Stars and a Malaysia XI.

Islam Feruz Manchester City v Chelsea Barclays U21 Premier League

Despite still being some way off a regular spot in the senior squad, Chelsea rewarded the the promising attacker with a long-term contract extension in early 2014 and began paving the way for the Scotland youth international to secure some regular game time at senior level by sending him out on loan.

Feruz's first port of call was Russian side FC Krylia Sovetov, whom he joined in August 2014. However, his loan spell ended after just two days.

"I am very sorry that this happened, I cannot imagine the disappointment of the fans, who had hoped that I could help the team get back to the Premier League," Feruz wrote on social media. "But I want to explain the reasons for his action, and hope that you will understand.

"After a few days in Russia, I realised that I was not yet ready for such a dramatic turn in my life. I have no complaints with any employees of the club, who surrounded me with care and were extremely hospitable, nor to the fans, with whom I had a chance to talk.

"But I still do not feel very comfortable and I think this feeling would not allow me to express myself properly on the football field.

"At one time, it was very difficult for me to get used to English life, and I do not feel the strength I now need to go through that again in another country.

"Maybe I’ll regret the decision I've taken but I’m doing the right thing."

Bizarrely, Feruz would agree to move to another country just days later, joining Greece's OFI Crete, who were coached by Gennaro Gattuso at the time.

However, he made just one league appearance during his six-month loan stay before being farmed out to Blackpool in January 2015.

Feruz fared even worse in the Championship, with the underwhelming nature of two substitute appearances compounded by an ill-advised tweet he sent after a heavy loss at Brentford.

"This team takes more kick-offs than corners," Feruz allegedly posted.

Those remarks unsurprisingly brought a swift end to his time at Blackpool and Feruz was sent back to Scotland in September 2015 in an attempt to kickstart a career that had stalled badly.

Hibernian certainly seemed the perfect fit for the attacker, who was desperate to dispel mounting doubts over his character.

"Can I still be a first-team player at Chelsea? Of course I can – I know I can do a job there," he told reporters after arriving at Easter Road. "I played in the first-team in pre-season two seasons ago under Jose Mourinho.

"I have a long term-contract and it's up to me to do well during my loan spell here and get back on that path. I've always believed in myself and my ability as footballer even during the past couple of years...

"It would be nice to be judged on what I do at Hibs and how I behave in Scotland. I’ve got wiser. I’ve made mistakes, got into trouble, but I’ve learned from them."

A day later, he was stopped by police in Glasgow and charged with driving while banned, driving without insurance, and perverting the course of justice.

Things didn't go any better on the field for Feruz in Edinburgh and six fleeting substitute appearances without a goal saw his loan terminated early the following January.

A trial with FC Aktobe in February 2016 ended after a day, with Feruz disappearing from the Kazakhistani club's training camp in Turkey, before he popped up at Royal Excel Mouscron later in the same year.

The youngest ever player to score for Scotland's Under-21s made a career-high eight appearances for the Belgians, but yet another loan deal was ultimately cut short midway through the season.

At the age of 22, Feruz had developed a reputation as a problem player and, consequently, was very quickly running out of options.

He did secure one final chance in January 2017, with League One outfit Swindon Town, but four goal-less appearances followed, as Feruz once again failed to prove that he could cut it in senior football.

After a near 18-month limbo, he was finally released by Chelsea in January 2019 having neither made a competitive appearance for the first team nor scored a senior goal while out on loan.

With his football career never taking off, the former Celtic prodigy has reportedly now turned his attention to selling hats branded with the logo 'Controversial One'.

It's a remarkable development for a player once so highly rated by the 'Special One'...

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