ALAN Pardew has hailed Shane Ferguson as an unexpected “bonus” after making the Ulsterman his first signing of the transfer window.
While the attention has been on contract negotiations with Joey Barton, José Enrique and Kevin Nolan, Newcastle United have quietly signed the left-sider up for another five years.
Ferguson made nine first-team appearances last season, three of them Premier League starts, and greatly impressed Pardew.
“We’ve had a little bonus with Shane Ferguson towards the end of the season,” he said. “He produced a couple of really good performances and they certainly suggest he’s going to be in and around the team next season. That’s great news for us, because there’s nothing better than producing a player yourself and watching him grow and progress in the first team.
“Of all the young players, Shane has been the one that’s surprised me in terms of the speed of his development. It’s all very well catching the eye in training, but he’s actually done it out there in the cut and thrust of a Premier League game.
“We’ve got a lot of good young players at the training ground, but to actually go out and play amongst men is what it’s about.
“It’s a really good sign that he’s been able to do that at such an early stage of his career. He’s got good pace and athleticism, and that’s a good start for any player wanting to play in the position he plays.”
If, as seems likely, Enrique does leave this summer, Ferguson will be the nearest thing the Magpies have to a specialist left-back.
Were that to happen, Pardew might still search for a replacement, but Ferguson’s versatility at least adds to the depth of his squad.
The Derry-born 19-year-old is a full Northern Ireland international, but manager Nigel Worthington revealed this month he expects Ferguson to go on to represent the Republic of Ireland.
Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, Northern Irish players are able to switch their allegiance to the Republic before they make their competitive international debuts.
Ferguson’s only cap was earned in a friendly with Italy.
Long-term contracts are all the rage at St James’ Park, with Mike Williamson, Cheik Tioté, Steven Taylor, Nile Ranger and even Pardew committing to five or more years since the start of last season.
Newcastle fans will realise Ferguson’s new contract guarantees nothing more than a bigger fee if he is sold. Andy Carroll joined Liverpool just months into a five-year deal.
Ferguson (pictured right) had worn his country’s colours before being in Newcastle’s first team, the latter coming during a League Cup match against Accrington Stanley in August.
He played at the back that day, but impressed in midfield in the 4-3 win at Chelsea in the next round.
Ferguson made his Premier League debut as a substitute in January’s 5-0 win over West Ham United, but it was not until March that he really made the breakthrough.
With the season nearing its conclusion, and Enrique suffering injury problems, Ferguson has been involved in most games since the start of March, if only as an unused substitute sometimes.
“I’m really happy,” said Ferguson. “I’ve enjoyed this season so much and the new contract has just been the icing on the cake for me.
“It’s a great thrill to play for the club and the support I’ve had from the fans since making my debut really means a lot, so I’m just delighted to be with Newcastle for the next five years now.”
Ferguson joined Newcastle from his hometown club in July 2007.
Meanwhile, Cameroon midfielder Achille Emana is the latest player linked to United.
The 28-year-old plays for Segunda Liga champions Real Betis. Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, Birmingham City, West Ham United and Wigan Athletic have all been linked to the £7m former Tolouse player.