Newcastle boss Alan Pardew today tied up the future of one of his most promising prospects as Shane Ferguson signed a new five-year contract.
Just days after it was revealed that key midfielder Joey Barton will not be offered an extension, the 19-year-old Northern Irishman has committed his future to the club.
Ferguson said: “I’m really happy. 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 have 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 follows in the footsteps of the likes of Cheick Tiote, Steven Taylor, Mike Williamson and Nile Ranger in putting pen to paper on a long-term deal.
However, with Barton seemingly on his way out of St James’ Park either this summer or when his existing deal expires in 12 months’ time, and skipper Kevin Nolan and full-back Jose Enrique yet to agree extended stays, Pardew’s plans for the new campaign remain shrouded in doubt.
In the circumstances, securing Ferguson’s signature will come as a boost with the teenager having impressed in his nine senior appearances during the second half of last season.
Ostensibly a left-back – he made his debut there in the Carling Cup second round clash with Accrington Stanley in August – he performed admirably in a wide midfield role in the final two games of the Barclays Premier League campaign, and Pardew admits he is yet to decide to which role the player is best suited.
With Enrique heavily tipped to leave Newcastle this summer, there could well be a vacancy at full-back next season, although Ferguson’s inexperience and size - he has been put on a milk and steak diet to help build him up – mean he is unlikely to be considered as first-choice just yet.
The Magpies have been linked with a series of potential targets in that position with Toulouse’s Cheik M’Bengue among those mentioned most frequently.
Derry-born Ferguson’s talent has already been noticed at international level with a substitute appearance in a friendly against Italy in Pisa as a 17-year-old.
However, he is also eligible to represent the Republic of Ireland as he has not yet figured in a competitive game for the North, and he is the latest player to find himself at the centre of a tug of love between the two nations.
That has come as no surprise to his club manager, who is confident he has a real prospect on his hands.
Asked about the defender’s international pedigree, Pardew said: “If I were the two national managers, I would be courting that boy because I think he has got a bright future.”