Author: Herzog’s Child
Follow Herzog’s Child on Twitter
Last week, various media reports shone light on Ravel Morrison’s recent court-case. As a result, the player has now become more notorious for a troubled life off the field, than for the magical performances he continuously supplies on the pitch for the academy and reserves. Painted as Manchester United’s greatest emerging talent since Paul Scholes, these latest reports have cast doubt amongst many over whether 18 year old Morrison has the attitude and determination to fulfill his undeniable talent. United, for the time being, are sticking by their young wayward star. Delightfully skilled, with a honed gift unlike any other young English talent, Morrison has already become an enigma and a source of debate for many United supporters alike. Should he be binned, or should United stick by a player who has the potential to be one of the club’s true greats? And is the hype justified?
His name, sprouting up now and then on United-related message-boards for all the wrong reasons, had not been seen in a while. All the same rumours, all circling the same theme, reared their sorry heads once more. He was gone, finally expelled. He was suspended, and on the verge of expulsion. He had been granted leave of absence for events that instilled disharmony in many who’ve witnessed him at work. And then, one day, to the surprise of many, his name arose again, in an early squad announcement. Sub’s bench. The opposition were a terribly mediocre Rochdale, and not long into the second half, he emerged. When a player is displaced from the squad for weeks, you expect a slow return. At 18, it’s a significantly more difficult proposition, especially when – it’s been rumoured – the player has been suspended by his club. Often, the player’s touch is heavy; he trounces around the pitch as though weighed down by lead boots; tackles are mistimed, and the player blows empty quickly. What followed this player’s comeback was a breathtaking display, one that came – to most who have witnessed him regularly – as little surprise. Already, this is what is expected; already, we’ve come with the expectation that something special – a rarefied brilliance – will be on show. Securing his return to the team with a beautifully placed low finish, he confirmed, emphatically, precisely why past misdemeanours have, until now, been entertained by the biggest club in the world. Quite simply, there was more at stake in losing him then there was in retaining his services. His name is Ravel Morrison, he has just turned 18 years old, and the amassed hype – for once – is unquestionably justified.
A week after waltzing past Rochdale, United’s academy entertained Newcastle at Altrincham. Playing in only his third game in months, Morrison, spear-heading a promising trio of midfield prospects, again tore the Geordies apart. It was his goal that sent United through, further enriching a masterful display with a net-buster only few could produce. Turning two defenders inside out, before swivelling past another, Morrison, on his weaker left foot, smashed a thunderous high drive off the crossbar and into the net. It was a goal reminiscent of that other divine talent, George Best; a passage of play which left the opposing defence in ruination, the sorry victims left helpless with twisted blood. It was enough to secure United’s place in the quarter-final at Anfield against the old enemy, an apt opportunity for Morrison to once again showcase his illimitable talent, and to crush the scousers on their home turf. Already possessing a remarkable maturity to his game, Morrison glides through games with a grace unseen in English football since Paul Scholes emerged as one of the world’s finest. Already noises are ringing the air that Morrison, a diminutive roamer like Scholes, will be United’s next great talent; a plucky would-be genius, and, importantly, a local lad about to do good.
Morrison, however, who has just reached adulthood, has already become an enigma – a rare occurrence for one so young, unproven and – on the face of it – relatively enclosed. His upbringing has been located in a notoriously rough area of Manchester, and worryingly stories of his verge into criminality have come to fruition. A recent admission of guilt staved off a jail-term; the judge issued a 12 month court referral, and told Morrison further trouble would lead to his incarceration in a young offender’s institute for a year. Other stories, from credible sources, have thrown light on a player whose off-field troubles couldn’t possibly be more paradoxical to the way in which he represents himself on the field. Shrouded in controversy, United’s rough diamond was recently thought to be on the precipice, with the club seriously considering cutting their losses with its troubled star. If incarceration had been issued, it would, presumably, have resulted in endgame for one of football’s finest young talents. They decided to stick with him; for any observers of Morrison’s ability, it’s not difficult to see why. Recent progress, it would appear, has come about. It should be noted that all documented past misdemeanours have not been recent. The crime – which Morrison paid a hefty fine for – occurred last year; the stories which followed, before that again. Since his court appearance, early word is positive. His head is down, he’s turning up for and taking part in regular training, and – most critically – he’s concentrating solely on his football. It’s imperative to United’s future – to its engrained ethos – that this works out. For Morrison, it’s the opportunity to realise that a talent inherent within him can bring about everything every young player could only dare to dream of.
For a young man clouded by troubles, it’s difficult to process it to the one who takes to the field for United’s academy and reserves. Reports of his off field antics would suggest, to the casual observer, a player fuelled by an inherent fury burning inside. A robust, combative, dirty destroyer – too easily susceptible to losing the rag, and already on the road to ruin on the field. Morrison, in truth, juxtaposes all the aforementioned preconceptions, and offers a unique grace too little seen in English football. There are no foul-mouthed tirades; there are no high challenges and chasing after opposition players; and there are no sly elbows, off the ball incidents and moments of deception to fool officials. Away from individual talent on the ball, Morrison’s most precious gift is that he’s an already well trained visionary; a trait too often lost in English football. It’s a gift harboured and manipulated by the greats who have, in their time, embodied the true beauty of the game: Xavi, Zidane, Messi and Paul Scholes. Players who seem able to suspend time, before levelling a pass off to devastate the opposition. Morrison, for the time being, remains precisely what he is now: a prospect; one who could make it in time, given luck. One who has the talent, but remains to be fully tested at the level which will ultimately determine how large an impact he will have over the game.
Morrison is part of an exciting all action trio emerging from United’s young battalion, flanked by Ryan Tunnicliffe and Paul Pogba. Tunnicliffe, if given time, will become a fan’s favourite. A steely box to boxer, the young midfielder plays the game in the way it should be played: with pure heart. Parallels have been drawn with Roy Keane; a player’s whose ability could be replaced, but whose leadership has not thus far. As a result, United – especially now – are suffering for it. A voice, a robust leader; someone who can lead his team into battle, and play with the desire of a supporter. Not as technically gifted as his two team-mates, Tunnicliffe does, however, possess a key ingredient that will help him on his way: attitude, and a burning desire to succeed at all costs. He will, in all probability, be the first of the trio to be granted his chance -and rightly so, too, given his performances and steady progression since making the grade with United’s academy. Pogba, just 17, is a ferocious talent. Nicked from an indignant Le Havre 18 months ago, his progression through the academy, earning him regular stints in the reserves, has come at a frightening pace. A giant amongst his peers, Pogba already has all the attributes needed to succeed at the highest level safely garnered within his locker: the ability to dominate, a deft and long-range passer, a goalscorer as well as a mature defensive outlet, a wonderful striker of the ball and an attitude which gives off the impression that he’s not playing on a field with fellow pros, but in a park with close friends. United’s youth has not been anywhere strong as this since the class of 92’s main stars emerged and took the world apart.
But it is Morrison, in possession of something deeply special, who provokes the most excitement. At 15, the bells were already beginning to ring. Enveloping a player at such a young age in heavy praise puts the prospect in a precarious position; the media encircle, and the player, still honing the basics, is subjected to intense scrutiny, forced into mass pressure as baying tongues wag. Freddy Adu, labelled as the new Pele at 15, is currently plying his trade in Turkey’s second division with lowly Çaykur Rizespo, having hopped around a number of clubs to no success. The game is rife with aged wonder-kids; players who suffered under the heaped hopes of those who burdened them with premature tags. The new Pele. The new Maradonna. The new Ronaldo. The new Zidane. Rarely do any of them live up to their early promise. With Morrison, however, one senses something different. Thus far, his praise has been justified. Henry Winter – an opportunist when it comes to overinflating unjustified praise – was for once admirably observant when he wrote: “There is also a wonderfully skilful but wayward youngster at United’s academy who could grace England’s midfield for years to come – but only if he responds to Ferguson’s intelligent guidance. If Ferguson can rein him in, United and England have a gem.” More praise duly followed, following more devastating performances. Morrison, unlike many who’ve been subjected to early pressure, has, as Winter points out, a guardian who is best equipped to deal with a young, ‘wayward’, talent. A belief persists amongst many that before Ferguson bows out – sooner, rather than later – he will do so after he has integrated the young talents which should, with luck, shape United’s future model. An archetypal United mode: blending youth, attacking football, experience and a built-in culture – a mentality – to never give in. Danny Welbeck and Tom Cleverely – superb throughout their loan spells – will return, more experienced and physically adapted to the rigors of top-flight football. All have earned their place to be given a chance.
Spearheading a revived United should be Ravel Morrison. Provided, that is, that he himself disrobes the worrying outside influences, and decides that his opportunity is life-changing. Newcomers to Morrison will see a player astutely un-English in a footballing sense; able to retain the ball over long areas, Morrison’s style is utterly devoid of hustle and bustle, and not reliant – as so many young English talents are – on industry and patchwork. Jack Wilshere – a tremendous talent – is the other exception to the rule; players who’d look more at home waltzing in time with the opportunism of a Spanish national side, than the frenetic, and flagrant, current England shambles. Morrison, like so many naturally gifted players, can stroll through a game with an ease that suggests disinterest; it’s the type of lazy conclusion issued to the likes of Dimitar Berbatov, borne out of a collective’s hunger to witness players running about at full steam, even when they’re not doing much. There’s a tightly honed maturity to Morrison’s game – a cleverness to reduce a match to the speed with which he carries the ball; an ability to receive and give in the same movement; an eye to spot where players are trailing, and a range of passing which cuts defences apart and finds his roaming team-mate with ease. In short, his style of play encompasses what United’s 1st team are so nakedly in dire need of: a clever player, a linker, someone who can carry the ball and help dominate midfield.
The reaction to last week’s court report was disappointingly sensationalist. Those who had already heard rumblings of the case had their worst suspicions confirmed, whilst those who hadn’t recoiled in disgust. The facts – relayed elsewhere – shone a grim light on United’s finest talent. Many, however, felt obliged to go one further, proffering condemnation and calls of expulsion for our jilted star. The Internet is a terrific medium, but it has supplied a platform for many to garner fake expertises on all manner of subjects. One blog writer wrote at length on Morrison’s talent, on how he would be the future of the club, but concluded with the simplistic result that he should be binned, primarily on the grounds that United is a ‘family club,’ which is a misguided and relatively untrue notion. If such an ethos was enforced as strenuously as the blogger suggested, Wayne Rooney would no longer be a Manchester United footballer, and the premiership would be devoid of many of its player. A sad indictment, perhaps, but one stemmed from a slew of pathetic stories that have come to fruition in recent times. Morrison’s act was a shameful one, but it was not as recent as some have portrayed. United, as they stated after the story was confirmed, owe it to themselves and the player to ensure his rejuvenation is looked after; to dump him would have been wrong, and moreover costly should another club have picked him up and put him right. Ferguson will know the scale of the battle he needs to endure to successfully promote Morrison to the level his talent merits. Reports suggest players – namely Rio Ferdinand and Gary Neville – have extended their hands in support. The manner in which United are doing their utmost to protect the player is telling – he’s simply that good.
On Sunday March 13th, United’s youth team will thread enemy lines and infiltrate Anfield’s pitch, aiming to secure a semi-final berth against Chelsea or Watford. Ravel Morrison, at 15, was given a taste of football at Old Trafford three years ago, and promptly scored with a fine finish. Now, at 18, he will be given the opportunity to play at a ground where, with hope, he’ll score at some day for the 1st team. The task, to fend off the scouse on their home turf, will be a tough encounter, but United, with Tunnicliffe, Pogba and Morrison, have ample weaponry for any battlement they wish to win. For those keeping an eye on United’s crystal ball, it will again be another opportunity to witness what could be in time. All 3, along with a number of other future stars, remain nothing but prospects for the time being. Talent is only half of it. Attitude, and coping with the biggest stage, is what will either establish them or shatter their chances of making an imprint in United’s history. But resisting excitement is particularly tough now, enforced further by the current first team’s plundering midfield. Speculation around Jack Rodwell and Jordan Henderson persist; two good players, but United already have players who can go on and be superior to the names they’re continuously linked with. Tasters, in the form of cup runs and run outs against already crushed league sides, should prevail next season. Supporters love new faces, but when they’ve emerged from within, they’re embraced even further. If United’s questionable transfer movements – or lack thereof – continue, a trust in its oncoming youth would be a more admirable exercise than spoiling loose change on unknown risks. Opportunities should always be granted on merit, and their performances have ensured their time is due soon.
So, what of Ravel Morrison? A player on the verge of greatness, or one who’s about to crush both his dreams and United’s hopes for a local genius? Given the drama that has trailed the youngster, it’s immensely difficult to call it. Cynicism, when it persists on creeping up, is hard to demolish. The advent of something happening, something distasteful, will remain until a continued spell of quiet comes about. The time for Morrison – 18 a few short weeks ago – is now, not after more chances. Early word, as touched upon, is positive. If it doesn’t work out now, it would appear it never will. Amongst those who’ve followed him closely, it’s hoped that the threat of imprisonment has enforced a sense of perspective into Morrison’s outlook. The worry is his attitude. The source of comfort is that United – from the manager, to the staff, to its current and ex players – are on the case. Good people trying to force a modicum of sense into a young man who has, by all accounts, lost his way. Whichever way it turns out, United will move on, either with a potential great or one who had everything but the will to realise what’s at hand. For now, the hope, the thought United’s next great, is about to come forward, remains, and to Morrison’s credit recent performances suggest there’s a hunger there. The right manager is there, and so are the players to guide him through. Only the future will bear the results we wish to know now. United, in their youth, have a wealth of quality. To see them flourish in future seasons to come would be more rewarding than any potential signings, and to see Ravel Morrison gliding through teams with the same grace he does now, would be the most rewarding sight of all. A potential star, destined to be a great, awaits, provided he sees the light.