The sold-out notices for Monday’s game sprang up across the FAI’s various social media accounts shortly after 11am yesterday morning. Front and centre on the posts, his face a picture of joy after scoring against Latvia last Wednesday night, was Evan Ferguson.
The giddiness over the 18-year old’s emergence with club and country is as palpable as it has been understandable but fears that it may be too much too soon have been tempered by his preternatural post-match calm in interviews and, maybe, by some perspective ahead of the French visit for Ireland’s Euro 2024 opener.
Ferguson is valued at roughly £10m on the back of his recent exploits in England. There are a dozen players at Brighton & Hove Albion alone who could probably command a larger fee right now. Kylian Mbappé, on the other hand, cost Paris Saint-Germain close to €200m when he made the switch from Monaco when he was more or less the same age.
Mbappé’s star is so bright that, as long as he is fit, it will sentence pretty much everyone else, including Ferguson, to the shadows the closer it comes to Monday’s Euro qualifier. There have been signs of it already this week as Kenny’s players faced a succession of queries about the man from Bondy.
It may be that Didier Deschamps opts to play him through the middle and not in the slightly deeper and wider role that he prefers but, either way, it was instructive to hear Dara O’Shea, Jayson Molumby, Chiedozie Ogbene and Nathan Collins answer so many questions about him last night.
“He's incredible,” said Molumby. “There's no other word you can use to describe him. Unbelievable player. He has achieved so much so far in his career at such a young age, I’m looking forward to that, playing against him.”
The pair will more than likely enter each other’s orbits should the West Bromwich Albion midfielder be selected, as expected, as one-third of a three-man central midfield, but the slavish devotion to all things Mbappé ignores a herd of elephants in the room.
Hugo Lloris and Raphael Varane have both called time on their international careers since France lost to Argentina in last November’s World Cup final and yet this remains a side dripping in riches borrowed from Europe’s four major leagues.
The starting midfield trio that lined up against the Netherlands at the Stade de France last night comprised of Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann, Aurelien Tchouameni of Real Madrid and Adrien Rabiot who lines out for Juventus.
“We know these players are playing at the very top level in world football,” said Molumby.
“They got to the final of the World Cup, (they are) playing at massive clubs. I haven't personally looked at them individually, as an actual player and what their strengths are.
“The next few days we will do individual clips with the manager and with the assistant Keith (Andrews) to identify what their strengths are, their weaknesses, as every player has a weakness. Just looking forward to analysing them a bit more.”
The educated guess is that Molumby, Jason Cullen and maybe Jason Knight will be the three holding the first for Ireland in the centre of a five-man midfield. Three good players, but two play in the Championship and the third in League One.
Molumby’s qualities are varied and improving but his calling card is a hustle and an energy that can discommode the opposition. Witness his lunge that won the ball and set up the Republic’s opening goal against Latvia this week.
How that translates against a slick and elite-level French team will make for interesting viewing and he concedes himself that this enthusiasm and aggressiveness may have to be tempered a touch lest he spend the evening chasing shadows.
“That’s something I’ve definitely had to work on, I’ve come on in leaps and bounds in. I’m way more disciplined in my game. You can’t take that out of me or I’d be half the player, but I feel that comes with maturity and I feel like I’m getting there.”
He’s 18 caps into his senior Ireland career now. Ask him to compare the player he is now with the one who made his debut against Finland in the Aviva back in September of 2020 and he will say the difference is night and day.
He is comfortable in an Ireland shirt now, as so many are after moving into the double-digit range of caps, and he was pleased enough with how he adapted to a slightly alien, more defensive, role last Wednesday night in the absence of Cullen.
Monday is a whole other level. Regardless of any interactions with Mbappé.