Chelsea outcast Islam Feruz has admitted he wishes he had stayed with childhood club Celtic, after his move to west London triggered a catalogue of misbehaviour that has left his career spiralling towards obscurity. The 21-year-old moved to Stamford Bridge in 2011 but is yet to make a senior appearance having not properly applied himself during a series of loan spells.
The forward joined the Hoops aged 10, spending six years at the club where he learned his trade and stood on the brink of making his professional debut. But after being approached by several third party agents his head was turned and he joined the Blues for a compensation fee of £300,000, according to The Daily Telegraph.
Feruz made an impressive start to life at Chelsea, winning the Under-21 Premier League and the FA Youth Cup while helping the club reach the final of the NextGen Series alongside an impressive batch of youngsters from the club's Cobham academy. The Scot quickly outgrew the youth ranks however and was sent out on loan to gain first team experience. That was when the problems began.
He joined second tier Russian outfit FC Krylia Sovetov in 2014 on a season-long loan, but the deal was cancelled just 48 hours later after Feruz complained of being homesick. Days later he moved to Greek Superleague club OFI Crete for the remainder of the campaign, but made just two appearances before the agreement was cut short.
Despite training with Cardiff City, Feruz moved to Championship strugglers Blackpool where he played just twice, before being shipped back to Chelsea after writing on Twitter of the eventually relegated Tangerines: "This team take more kick-offs than corners."
Though his move to Scottish Championship side Hibernian the followed season lasted a little longer, with six outings coming in the first half of the campaign, his 12-month deal was cancelled in January after he failed to make an impact. An opportunity to train with Kazakhstan side FC Aktobe at their warm-weather training camp the following February then ended after one day.
Now the Scotland Under-21 international, who is yet to declare his international allegiance, has moved to Excel Mouscron for the whole of 2016-17. He appears relatively settled with the Belgian side but has only made two appearances since joining in September.
Speaking in a rare interview with the Daily Mail, Feruz says he allowed mediators and agents to distract him from his football career and convince him to swap his humble upbringing at Celtic for the lights of London. He admits his tale should act as a warning to any youngster – with Bhoys' 13-year-old protégé Karamoko Dembele the target for his advice.
"I'm not going into every detail but if I could turn the clock back then I would definitely have stayed at Celtic for longer," he said. "That would have given me more experience and a better chance of playing first-team football. Listen, I had my head turned at 15 years of age. I didn't realise there was money involved in football. I just played football for the love of the game.
"There is no doubting my ability as a footballer. I'm only 21. What I have to do is show everyone that I have matured. There are many things in my life I'd do differently. Yes, I've done things I'm not proud of. The only thing that keeps you happy is playing football. I am wiser and doing things differently.
"Thankfully, I have a few very good people around me, two of whom are Amadou Anglade and Brian Wilson. They are wise men and they have different life experiences. I am learning from them and moving in the right direction."
He added on Dembele, who played nine minutes for Celtic's Under-20s against Hearts recently: "I've been told he has a genuine chance to go all the way. It takes me back to the situation I was in seven or eight years ago. The main thing is to stay focused and concentrate on football. If he keeps doing what he has been doing then he will continue to improve. He has been recognised by the Celtic under-20 team. That will have boosted him.
"If he keeps progressing at this speed then who knows what he will be ready to achieve at 16? I hope he stays with Celtic, plays for their first team and score lots of goals. Never forget that playing football makes you happy. If he does that, the next step of his career will be a natural progression. He will not need to chase anything or rush into anything. He just has to keep his head down, stay focused and not allow himself to be distracted. That's the best advice I can give him."