Alex McLeish believes Barry Ferguson can play for another three or four years, despite having previously questioned whether he still had the legs for the Barclays Premier League.
Ferguson made the move to St Andrew's last summer after an unhappy end to his time with Rangers and in the aftermath of not being selected for Scotland because of much-publicised off-field incidents. But former Scotland boss McLeish admits Ferguson has exceeded expectations and has excelled in a deeper role in the same way as Aston Villa captain Stiliyan Petrov has been converted into a holding midfielder since moving from Celtic.
McLeish, who signed Ferguson during his spell in charge at Ibrox, told Press Association Sport: "I suppose Barry has done better than I expected. I spoke to him last summer and said I wasn't sure whether he still had the legs for the Premier League."
He added: "He said 'I will come in and train with you, prove to you that I still have.' He was desperate to come and link up with us again - myself, Roy Aitken and Andy Watson.
"To be honest he was the type of player I really needed, someone who could take the ball and he's a guy who plays with his heart and soul.
"Has he repaid me? Absolutely. The season we have had has been amazing and Ferguson has made a big impact. It was probably easier for him to come to work with me again. We had such a good relationship.
"At some stage the legs go and players themselves have to acknowledge it and realise that. But somebody of Barry's quality is capable of playing three or four more years even if their legs do go a little bit."
McLeish, whose side face Blackburn at Ewood Park on Wednesday, admits Ferguson has adapted successfully to his more restrained role.
He said: "It's a bit similar to what has happened with Petrov. He was known in Scotland as a runner, a bit like Lee Bowyer, getting goals from deep, and he's now modified his game.
"Ferguson has done the same but still chooses the correct moment to move forward and gets the odd goal. Obviously, you can't have two midfielders running forward all the time as the counter attack would hurt us. So we have asked the boys just to temper their runs forward and just do it at the big moment."
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