“I’m determined to succeed – I’m not trouble, I’m just misunderstood.”
The wonderkid from Wythenshawe, once bigger than Paul Pogba. From Manchester to Middlesbrough, with layovers in Italy, Mexico and Sweden, Ravel Morrison has well and truly become a global sportsman, but not in the way he would’ve hoped for.
Football fans will forever dwell on the player that never made it. The youngsters who promised to be the future of their team but couldn’t live up to it and Ravel Morrison is certainly that case. Turning professional on his 17th birthday, Morrison appeared destined for greatness. Sir Alex Ferguson even wrote in his book, Leading, that he “possessed as much natural talent as any youngster we ever signed”.
“It makes you a bit upset as well, because I could have gone a bit further. I should have gone a bit further and I’m still hoping to go further,” stated Morrison earlier this year. Morrison has not given up when so many in the game feel there is no chance of recovery. Whilst Morrison may not reach the heights he promised as he stormed through Manchester United’s youth ten years ago, his return to England leaves a glimmer of hope for the end of this, thus far, sad tale.
Left to right: Ryan Tunnicliffe, Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison after their FA Youth Cup victory in 2011
Morrison was spotted by United when playing for Fletcher Moss Rangers, known for producing top Mancunian talents, and shone brightest in a Manchester United youth team that dominated the 2010/11 FA Youth Cup, pulling the strings and becoming the focal point of the Red Devils’ youth. In a team with the likes of Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Michael Keane, Morrison, as Gary Neville told Four Four Two, “was the principal game changer”. Nine years on and Pogba is a four time Serie A winner and has experienced both a mild renaissance at the start of Solskjaer's tenure and a mesmerising disappearance act this season at United. Meanwhile Morrison only managed the latter, in a more drawn out fashion. Now finding himself at his tenth club in just eight years, he is a world away from the young starlet that rose to fame in 2010. So where did it all go wrong?
Gary Neville outlined that challenges away from the football pitch had a major impact on the Mancunian’s progression in the football world. “Ravel had some significant complexities and challenges in his life that any of us would have found difficult to deal with”, Neville told Sky Sports. The signs were there from an early age. Just three months before Morrison’s notable performance in that Youth Cup final he had been at Trafford Court admitting to two charges of witness intimidation. There was never any doubt about his ability with a football but for Morrison the merging of the mental and the physical game appeared to take its toll.
Many question his attitude and note this to be a contributing factor in his decline. The Manchester-born midfielder certainly made the headlines for both good and bad reasons. His growth as a footballer was inhibited by outside issues that directly targeted his attitude and motivation. There came the inevitable moment at Manchester United where the club had felt they had done everything to support Morrison but to no avail. Following his charges for witness intimidation, Morrison was later referred to Salford’s youth offending team for domestic violence counselling, following admitting to criminal damage in throwing his partner’s phone from her parents’ window. Enough was enough and after Sir Alex Ferguson had invested so much time into Morrison, he realised there was little more he could do and Morrison was sold to West Ham in January 2012. For Ferguson this is what he felt was best, a fresh start. The Scot hoped that this would ignite a sense of independence in a teenager that had so far steered off course. Those that knew Morrison knew he was not the thug like character that many made him out to be. Outside influences had continually troubled the midfielder in Manchester and Ferguson stood firm in his belief that he would become, as he told Sam Allardyce, a “brilliant footballer. (with) Brilliant ability. Top class ability.”
However the sad tale continues. Morrison made only 24 appearances in three years at West Ham, scoring five goals. This ‘fresh start’ appeared more of a stagnation. A month in, Morrison was fined £7,000 and warned by the FA after his use of abusive language on social media. As Pogba moved to Juventus in 2012, Allardyce sent Morrison on loan to Championship side Birmingham City, intending to kick some sense into him, but troublemaking problems struck again. Lee Clark came close to terminating the loan but ultimately Morrison stayed put and appeared to be back on course.
Morrison, on loan at Birmingham City in the 2012/13 season, battles against Leicester's Jamie Vardy
His brilliance began to shine through that media-instilled tough boy image and his return to West Ham saw glimmers of hope as he slithered through Tottenham’s defence to secure a 3-0 away victory in October 2013. With ‘Ravel’ now on the back of his number 15 shirt , instead of Morrison, change and progression seemed inevitable. Encouraging performances continued at England under 21 level where he scored a brace against Lithuania and shock rumours emerged of the youngster being looked at as an option for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Morrison glides past Tottenham's Kyle Naughton in a game that saw the Hammers triumph 3-0 at White Hart Lane
Suddenly everything went south. One of the brightest Hammers at the club in recent years appeared to be driven off his path of progression. Rumours emerged that Morrison had been frozen out due to his refusal to sign with the agent Mark Curtis, who had connections with many of Allardyce’s players. Allardyce denied the claims but ultimately they resurfaced in the scandal that led to his cameo role as England manager coming crashing down.
Following another unsuccessful loan spell at Cardiff City, Morrison moved abroad, hoping to reignite his career at Lazio. Once again he started promisingly, scoring two and assisting two in a resounding 14-0 friendly win against C.S. Auronzo. His performance, as ESPN reported, “sending the fans into ecstasy”. Morrison’s motivation or lack of was a constant factor to him never living up to ‘the hype’, as he scarcely appeared and coach Stefano Pioli criticized his training, performances and his inability to immerse himself in a different culture where he rarely engaged in learning Italian.
From Old Trafford to Östersunds' Jämtkraft Arena
A loan move in Mexico and a 6 month spell in Sweden plagued with injuries saw Morrison return to the Premier League last summer with Sheffield United on a one year deal. Despite not playing more than 20 games for a single team since his loan spell at Birmingham CIty in 2012, Morrison rose from the ashes and Sheffield United brought one of the games forgotten talents back to the foreground. He is currently on loan at Middlesbrough, but in the midst of a global pandemic, the cancellation of the Championship season and his deal with Sheffield United coming close to an end, is there any chance that Ravel Morrison can become a household name for more than just his lost potential?