Ross County chief executive Steven Ferguson believes Ross Stewart’s Scotland call-up is further evidence of the Staggies’ track record for developing players.
Attacker Stewart, who left County to join Sunderland last January, was last week handed his maiden call-up to Steve Clarke’s national team squad.
Although Stewart was an unused substitute in Thursday’s 1-1 draw with Poland, he could make his debut in tonight’s friendly away to Austria.
A haul of 22 goals for the Black Cats this season has earned Stewart international recognition, however, his two-and-a-half-year spell in Dingwall has been widely credited in his rise to prominence.
In his previous role as co-manager alongside Stuart Kettlewell, Ferguson was instrumental in signing Stewart from St Mirren in 2018.
Ferguson says Stewart – along with the likes of Liam Boyce, Jackson Irvine and Jamie Lindsay in recent years – has shown the pathway the Staggies can provide young players.
Ferguson said: “With the role I’m in at the moment, and knowing Ross County for a lot of years, we have always prided ourselves on being that opportunity and platform for young, hungry players.
“Ross has been the one that has done well recently in getting into the Scotland squad.
“If you look at the last few years, we have had Liam Boyce playing for Northern Ireland, Jackson Irvine for Australia.
“Jamie Lindsay has played up to Scotland under-21s, but he’s been given a platform to go down and play games in England.
“As a club, we have a really good track record of giving players a platform.
“That’s only good if the player has the ability but also has the attitude to grasp the opportunity.
“From a club point of view, it really opens it up for us to become an attractive proposition for them.
“If they do well, there’s definitely a stepping stone.”
Attacker played pivotal role in County’s promotion success
Stewart netted 28 goals in 82 appearances during his time at Victoria Park, which prompted Sunderland to sign him for an undisclosed fee last year.
Having started his career in junior football with Ardeer Thistle and Kilwinning Rangers, Ferguson has been thrilled with the way the 25-year-old’s career has blossomed.
He added: “I’m delighted to see him get the call-up. The way he has performed for Sunderland this season is what has pushed it.
“He deserves it. As far as modern players go, Ross is a good role model. He looks after himself, he’s very low maintenance and he’s very willing to learn and listen.
“As far as Stuart and I were concerned, he was always one of the first names on the team-sheet through what he brought to the group both on and off the pitch.
“When Stuart and I brought him to Ross County, it was very much on potential. All the things were there, but he was relatively untested at that level.
“He was such a big part of us winning the Championship, and he was really pivotal to what Stuart and I were trying to do at that time.
“It was always with a view that, if he did what we knew he was capable of doing, there was always that possibility Ross would move on.
“I genuinely believe he has got another couple of levels in him. He’s definitely capable of that.
“He didn’t get on the pitch on Thursday, which he will be disappointed about. But the fact he has had that experience, knowing Ross, he will be going all out to make sure he keeps in Steve Clarke’s thoughts.”
Staggies keen to put faith in young talent
County have recently tied homegrown products Matthew Wright, Adam Mackinnon, Logan Ross and Ross Munro down on new contracts.
Ferguson says the Staggies are intent on opening up a pathway for young talent.
He added: “It takes so many different elements for a player to become an international. So many people have a hand in it.
“Not one person could provide that on their own, everybody can play their part within it.
“There’s no easy way to that success. You are always gambling on everything you do, because nobody is that finished article at that stage of their development.
“There is a lot of work that goes in behind the scenes to allow young players to flourish.
“Ross saw it as an opportunity which he grasped with both hands, and he’s now reaping the reward of that.
“There have been players in the past that have done the same, and I’ve no doubt there will be players in the future that will do that again.”