It says a lot about how far Lewis Ferguson has come in Italy over the past 18 months that recent links with Juventus and Lazio come as no surprise.
Rumors of a €20m deal being considered in Turin coincided with reports claiming the former Aberdeen star had caught the eye of Maurizio Sarri in Rome.
In reality, almost every club in Serie A would now like to have the 24-year-old midfielder from Bologna and Scotland in their ranks.
An excellent start to the 2023-2024 season has made Ferguson one of the most sought-after players in Italy and made speculation inevitable – despite the best efforts of his club coach Thiago Motta.
Motta last month implored journalists to keep their excitement over the player in check after his eye-catching performance in a 2-2 draw against Inter.
Lewis Ferguson has quickly become one of the most sought-after players in Italian football
The Scotland international has had a sparkling start to the 2023/2024 season with Bologna
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“We have to keep him hidden because he is a top-level player,” the manager said.
‘He knows how to play, how to defend, he has a good mentality and he can score goals. But from today on I don’t want to talk about him anymore. I’d like to keep him here for a long time…’
That could prove to be a difficult task. With each passing week, Ferguson’s contribution to a talented Bologna side becomes increasingly difficult to ignore.
As one headline in the Italian press put it: ‘Half of Europe wants him.’
The numbers alone are impressive. From his position in midfield, Ferguson has already registered three goals and three assists this season.
His final goal put him level with Denis Law as the highest-scoring Scot in Serie A history with a total of ten goals – the same number the legendary Law Man produced during his 1961-62 season with Turin. Decent company to be in.
There have been plenty of highlights in the big games too. There was a well-packed winner against Lazio, a goal against Juventus, a series of assists against Inter.
But it is those who have been there in person – watching him week in, week out – who have been most impressed by his progress since arriving from Pittodrie in July 2022.
Ferguson has become an important player for Motta, earning more minutes than any other outfield player in the squad.
The 24-year-old has three goals and two assists in his 12 Serie A appearances this season
His tactical intelligence, work-rate, link-up play and impact in the final third helped Bologna to a remarkable ten-match unbeaten run at the start of this season. Eventually, even Motta will have to give up trying to hide his rising star from greedy eyes.
“Lewis works day and night, he is recovering well, he deserves everything for the work he puts in,” Motta said in November.
That incredible work ethic has defined Ferguson’s success. Empoli’s Nicolas Haas is the only player in Serie A to have covered more ground than the Scot this season.
However, a good engine alone is not enough to excel. Tactical knowledge is king in Italy and Ferguson’s ability to embrace the nuances of the game has helped him to thrive.
His debut season came during a difficult year for the club. Sinisa Mihajlovic, a coach known for promoting young players – and who brought in Ferguson after propelling compatriot Aaron Hickey into the spotlight – was sacked five games into the 2022/2023 season.
The Serb had been battling leukemia and his death at the age of 53 last December was a devastating blow in Bologna and beyond.
Motta was installed in September 2022, tasked with steadying the ship in his third attempt at Serie A management after spells with Genoa and Spezia.
The former Italy international quickly began to build a fluid, tactical and complex side that showcased Ferguson’s versatility as he was deployed in midfield, on the wing and even up front.
Three goals in three games to end the campaign with a total of seven was emphatic evidence of how he had improved in his first year. That has continued this season.
Off the field, Ferguson has embraced life in Italy. He signed a new deal this summer that will take him until 2027 and has spoken about loving the lifestyle.
He has also mastered the language and had the confidence to do a post-match live TV interview in Italian following his winner against Lazio.
The former Aberdeen midfielder has been praised for the way he ‘works day and night’
His agent, Bill McMurdo, told Sport Italia this month: ‘He has an extraordinary relationship with Motta. Lewis has confidence in the coach and helps him grow as a player.
‘Bologna is the right club for him, he was convinced from the first day we talked about it… he is very happy.’
So what about the speculation surrounding him now?
Of the two clubs that could test Bologna’s resolve, Juventus is the team most in need of midfield reinforcements. Lazio have already signed three central midfielders this summer.
The club from Turin has had a few difficult months, to say the least. Firstly, they were expelled from Europe for a year by UEFA following a capital gains case, which saw them deducted ten points in Serie A last season.
Subsequently, midfielders Paul Pogba and Nicolo Fagioli were given doping and gambling bans respectively to rule them out for the rest of the season.
Nevertheless, Massimiliano Allegri has gone back to basics to turn his Bianconeri side into a brutally efficient force.
The defensive football may be difficult to watch, but Juventus is delivering results.
Allegri has pushed his team into second place ahead of Sunday’s Derby d’Italia clash with league leaders Inter after conceding just once in seven games.
This old-fashioned calcio wouldn’t necessarily suit Ferguson. He has excelled for a Bologna side that boasts the fifth highest possession average and third most passes in Serie A. Juve, by contrast, rank twelfth and eleventh respectively in these disciplines.
Massimiliano Allegri’s Juventus is in great need of reinforcements in midfield in January
Ferguson recently told The Athletic that he likes how Bologna play “really fluidly,” with “everyone always moving… getting as high up the pitch as possible.”
He wouldn’t have that kind of license to be around Juventus, so a new adjustment to his game would certainly be necessary.
However, it’s easy to see why one of the league’s hardest-working players caught Allegri’s attention.
If and when Bologna starts making money, a big reward is expected. Ferguson was bought from Aberdeen for £3m, but it would now likely cost six to seven times that amount to entice Rossoblu to sell a player whose value has more than tripled in the past year, according to Transfermarkt.
One thing is certain. Motta may not be able to ‘hide’ him anymore, but Bologna will still put up a big fight to keep a player now considered one of the star players at the Stadio Renato Dall’Ara.