By Tony Mogan.
12 months ago, Ravel Morrison was largely an unknown quantity. The mention of his name in a typical pub conversation over the football would have had you met with a puzzled look. Amongst Manchester United fans in particular, you would eventually find an honest bunch that had admittedly never seen him play before. A year later and Ravel Morrison has been the subject of as much media conjecture and forum chatter as Wayne Rooney, and his recent contract negotiations were arguably the most emphasised dispute at the club this season. Above all, he became recognized as the most technically gifted footballer to emerge from United’s prestigious youth ranks since Paul Scholes sheepishly emerged on the scene 18 years ago.
It’s hard to fathom that an 18-year-old has managed all this, having played just over an hour of first team football spread over three League Cup games.
But following last Tuesday’s transfer window deadline, the protracted saga has ended, and Ravel Morrison is now a West Ham United player, leaving Manchester for a fee of £650k, rising to £2 million, based on an array of performance-related targets. United fans have been left with mixed feelings of bemusement, concern and perhaps relief, now that a line has finally been drawn under the entire fiasco. The nominal transfer fee is perhaps the clearest aspect of Ravel’s multi-faceted United chronicle, but the salient conclusion is that he is gone, and has perhaps blown the chance of a lifetime.
The immensely talented but troubled youngster had been regarded ‘as the next big thing’ to emerge at United. Morrison was the heartbeat of the exuberant U18 Man United side that lifted the FA Youth Cup last season. Morrison snatched a brace in a 3-2 victory over Liverpool at Anfield at the quarter final stage, claiming a last minute winner with a superb volley before greeting the Kop with a spot of badge kissing. Another goal in the semi-final against Chelsea, before adding two more in the second leg of the final against Sheffield United had fans bubbling with elation of what was to come from the Wythenshawe-born superstar in the making. But had Ravel already become a victim of his own hype?
The rumbling contract negotiations towards the end of 2011 between the club and Ravel’s seemingly odious agent were concerning, exacerbated to no end by Morrison’s equivocal ramblings on Twitter, with rash tweets confusing and in some cases enraging his army of United followers. It appears that the 18-year-old, or perhaps more accurately, his representatives, believed they can hold Manchester United to ransom. For a lesser talented player, this surely wouldn’t have been tolerated. Ravel’s criminal past, which includes two appearances in court for assault and witness intimidation, and a 12 month referral order had been quietly tolerated by United, with the club’s coaching contingent in addition to a number of established first teamers (namely Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand) seeking to guide the volatile youngster instead of giving up on him.
The sheer amount of patience and second chances that have been accommodated for Ravel really portrays how highly he was rated at Carrington. The leniency that has been given to Morrison for his misdemeanours on and off the pitch is the sort that only a very select few have been privy to at Old Trafford. George Best, Eric Cantona and Wayne Rooney have all had their moments of madness, but were subsequently given a second, and even a third and fourth chance because of their footballing prowess and devotion to the club on the pitch. It can be argued that Morrison was given similar treatment following his criminal transgressions and waning professionalism towards the club, and it was only a matter of time before Sir Alex Ferguson and the coaches who toiled so ardently with Morrison ran out of patience.
Morrison wanted to be playing first team football on a consistent basis, and grew frustrated upon seeing other stars from the academy featured on the bench ahead of him. And yet if rumours are to be believed the 18-year-old sometimes couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed in the morning and show up for training, and consequently missed out on games at reserve level. He was reportedly told earlier on in the season by Sir Alex Ferguson that if he showed up on time for training for a three month period and continued to impress, he would find himself in the first team, something he couldn’t manage.
His exorbitant demands (which Ferguson himself described as ‘unrealistic’ in a pre-match press conference) were those of a professional established within the first team, and yet he could seldom conduct himself in a professional manner befitting of such demands. And perhaps what was the most distressing aspect of it all; Ravel Morrison sought to be treated with respect, but could not give it back to his coaches, his team mates and most decisively, to Manchester United Football Club as a whole. The fact that his transfer to West Ham was completed in a swift and hassle-free fashion for such a paltry transfer fee suggests that everyone at the club had simply given up on him. And for a club that has prided itself on its close management of young stars, this has to be seen as a measure of just how strained the relationship between Ravel Morrison and Manchester United had become.
A move down south brings yet another opportunity for Ravel. Being way from Manchester and his mates who were so often linked with his unprofessional behaviour can only benefit him, and in Sam Allardyce, he will be working with one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s closest associates in the game. As he starts a new adventure at Upton Park, United will, as ever, move swiftly on from the debacle. Paul Pogba’s impressive cameo in the 2-0 victory over Stoke City midweek indicates that this process is already underway. But whatever happens in the career of Ravel Morrison, a watchful eye from Manchester will always be cast over him, the inexplicable prodigy who was finished at United before it all started.
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