Born and raised in Wythenshawe, Manchester, if Ravel Morrison had shown any small amount of footballing talent he was always going to play for Manchester United, and Morrison had much more than just a little. Morrison joined the club in 2009 and signed his first professional contract on his seventeenth birthday in 2010. Later that year Morrison made his first team debut, and by the end of 2011 had featured in several cup games and played a starring role in the side that went on to win the FA Youth Cup.
Also playing for England at youth level, Morrison was held in huge regard at Manchester United, with Sir Alex Ferguson touting him as amongst the best to come through the United academy since Paul Scholes. So why then is such a talented player not shining in the United first team? Why is Morrison instead set to drop down a division with a loan from West Ham to Queens Park Rangers?
One factor is certainly Morrison’s attitude and personal, off the pitch issues. It has been widely publicised that Morrison knows where to find trouble, often frequenting parties, affiliating with the wrong people, and generally putting his career at United second. Even more concerning was an assault charge, with Morrison’s then girlfriend the alleged victim. The charge was dropped after the girlfriend refused to testify, but Morrison was convicted of criminal damage and witness intimidation. If there is one manager famous for not accepting poor behaviour and a bad attitude, its Sir Alex Ferguson. Morrison’s days at Manchester United were numbered, and on deadline day of January, 2012, he signed for another United, West Ham.
Morrison only made one appearance for West Ham that season, but even so his quality shone through, and the next season he was sent on loan to Birmingham for first team football. Initially it looked as if history might repeat itself with poor attitude in training threatening to prematurely end the loan deal. However, Morrison buckled down, putting in a series of excellent performances and becoming a key and influential figure in an otherwise struggling Birmingham City side. His goal return was low, but those he did score tended towards the spectacular.
In form and seemingly with a changed, more professional outlook, Morrison was promoted to the West Ham first team for the current season. Making his full debut for the Hammers in August, Morrison really began to impress in the first team in October. Once again shining in a struggling team, by Christmas Morrison was West Ham’s top goal scorer with five. Morrison was at the heart of everything good West Ham were doing in those difficult months, and showed versatility, with one of his best performances coming against rivals Tottenham. The previously troubled teen put in a mature performance operating as a false nine, and scored a goal which Allardyce labelled “genius”, to help the Hammers to a 3-0 victory, their first at White Hart Lane since 1999.
Come January though, Morrison was once again the centre of controversy, being linked to a move to fellow London strugglers Fulham. With former Manchester United coach claiming that Morrison was keen to join Fulham, and West Ham accusing their rivals of an illegal approach, Morrison found himself out of the first team, and now looks to be out of the club with an impending loan move to QPR. Given his past and reputation, it is easy to assume then that this affair is another case of Morrison being unprofessional and causing trouble, but that point of view may be unfair.
A much more simple explanation would be that he has simply fallen out of favour. Morrison, for all his talent and good performances, is not an Allardyce player. Whilst Andy Carroll was injured and Big Sam had to adjust, Morrison was an excellent option. Nolan wasn’t contributing anything to the side without his big partner in crime, and so Morrison’s maverick ability to pull something out of nothing and grab a goal to win a game became vital. But now, the Big Geordie is back, and predictably, Nolan has returned to form. Throw in two wingers to provide the balls for Carroll to knock down, and two holding players to win the ball back, and very quickly there is no room for Morrison in the West Ham midfield. That is the way Allardyce plays and always will, as long as injuries allow, Morrison will not be first choice at West Ham.
Other rumours are that Allardyce and Nolan putting have been putting pressure on Morrison to hire another agent, one with numerous West Ham players on his books, Mark Curtis. With no game time and an unwanted agent being thrust upon him, it is no surprise that perhaps Morrison finds himself disillusioned with life at West Ham. Such talent is wasted in the reserves, and it would not be surprising at all if the loan to QPR is as much to put Morrison in the shop window as anything else. With figures in excess of £10 million being floated around, West Ham may well see such a healthy return on their investment as very good business for a player that does not fit the Allardyce mould.
So what does this latest twist in the career of Ravel Morrison mean for his England career? His superb performance before Christmas had fans of the attacker clamouring for an England call up, and many even proposing Morrison be on the flight to the World Cup this summer. The drop down to the Championship means that Morrison’s outside chance of making the England squad for Brazil is in all likelihood now gone. However, although he may already be being forced out the door of yet another club at only 21 years old, this time it would seem it is not Morrison’s fault.
Certainly still a difficult personality; Morrison is even so much more mature than the 17 year old who got in to so much trouble in Manchester. Furthermore, in joining QPR, Morrison is about to get a manager who knows all about managing difficult personalities. Harry Redknapp knows what he is getting too, pointing out that “If we didn’t have a problem somewhere he wouldn’t be here, he would still be playing at Manchester United.” Redknapp also knows that he is getting a special talent; “I’ve always had someone in my teams who can change a game. I had Paolo Di Canio at West Ham and [Paul] Merson at Portsmouth.” They don’t come much more difficult than Merson or Di Canio, and Morrison has already shown an improved level of maturity.
The former Tottenham gaffer also has an excellent record with youth. A key part of making the West Ham academy so famous, Redknapp has helped nurture the likes of Joe Cole, Rio Ferdinand and Michael Carrick. It is unfortunate that under Allardyce, West Ham no longer seem to hold the values of promoting youth from within with an attacking passing style, but at QPR could be the best place for Morrison to continue to develop.
Three months in the Championship to impress, then who knows what the future holds for Morrison? Fire QPR to the Premier League and maybe a permanent deal can be arranged. A great career at West Ham is also still a definite possibility. If not, there are a host of other Premier League clubs interested; it is known he is still held in high regard at Manchester United, attitude really was the only issue, “A brilliant footballer, brilliant ability, top class ability, needs to get away from Manchester and start a new life.” (Ferguson) As Moyes looks to rebuild at Old Trafford, just maybe Morrison may find himself returning home.
Whether at West Ham or elsewhere, Morrison will have a great club career, how good is up to him – just ask his soon to be team-mate Joey Barton what could have been. But Morrison’s problems do seem behind him, and a glittering international career should yet await. Brazil probably won’t be his tournament, but having progressed and shone at every youth level, Morrison’s first team debut can only be a matter of time. He already has the most important key to success, the talent, the rest will follow.