Roberto De Zerbi believes Brighton star Evan Ferguson can develop into one of Europe’s leading strikers after he became only the fourth teenager to hit a Premier League hat-trick.
The 18-year-old joined late former Sheffield Wednesday midfielder Chris Bart-Williams and ex-Liverpool strikers Robbie Fowler and Michael Owen on an exclusive list with a match-winning treble in Saturday evening’s thumping 3-1 success over Newcastle.
Republic of Ireland striker Ferguson slotted home on the rebound to give Albion a first-half lead before bending home a superb second and then claiming the match ball with a deflected finish five minutes later.
Seagulls boss De Zerbi feels the Republic of Ireland international offers far more than just a threat in front of goal and has potential to rival the game’s elite marksmen.
“His improvement is important for him, for us, for his career because he’s working to complete his qualities, not only score, because he can become big, big, big,” said the Italian coach.
“His qualities are enough to become a great player, one of the top scorers in Europe.
“He’s (born in) 2004. I don’t know how many young players like Evan they score these goals in their careers.”
Ferguson, who made his professional debut for Bohemians aged just 14, now has 10 top-flight goals in just 12 starts following a standout display at the Amex Stadium.
His heroics capped a memorable week for Brighton in which they were drawn to face Ajax, Marseille and AEK Athens in their maiden Europa League campaign and signed Ansu Fati on loan from Barcelona.
With the summer transfer window closing on Friday, the Seagulls are not in imminent danger of Ferguson being poached by a bigger club.
Yet De Zerbi has no concerns about that eventually happening.
“It’s normal for Brighton to sell players,” he said.
“The most important thing for Brighton is not to keep the most important players but to find their replacement. This is the right work we have to do.
“About Ferguson, I’m really delighted today but not for the goals.
“OK, with his goals we can be happy now because we won the game but I’m really pleased for the performance, especially in the first half.
“He played very well, he found the right position between the lines. Newcastle defended 4-4-1-1 and with 4-4 there is the open space to receive the ball for the striker.
“He understood very well that position.”
Substitute Callum Wilson claimed a late consolation but Newcastle suffered a third consecutive defeat, having surrendered a lead to lose 2-1 to 10-man Liverpool last weekend following a 1-0 reverse at Manchester City.
Striker Alexander Isak wasted two early opportunities before the Magpies were blown away by Ferguson to temper the excitement of Thursday’s Champions League draw which pitted them against AC Milan, Paris St Germain and Borussia Dortmund.
Manager Eddie Howe rued the missed chances and some sloppy mistakes leading to Brighton’s 27th-minute opener.
“It’s a tough result for us,” he said. “It could have been very different.
“In the early stages of the game we had some chances, we also had some other good chances.
“The first goal is always a key moment in any Premier League game and that probably dented our confidence, especially after last week.
“Not just the goal but the manner of the goal, it was messy from our perspective and from then on the game was probably not the game we wanted it to be.”