The heir to Paul Gascoigne’s football throne is now nothing more than a premature journeyman.
Rio Ferdinand most accurately summed up the hype around Ravel Morrison. “This guy was the best young kid I’ve ever seen in my life”, before elaborating with an air of frustration, “Pogba… Januzaj… Lingard – they used to look up to this boy.”
The ex-England defender was referring to Manchester United’s superb FA Youth Cup-winning side of 2011 which thumped Sheffield United 6-3 on aggregate in the final.
This squad of supreme upstarts contained future Premier League stalwarts like Michael Keane, Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba but it was Morrison, an outrageously gifted playmaker, who shone brightest. Skillful, tough, technical, brave, a passer, a finisher and tall. Morrison had it all and cut through that Blades team at will. He did similar damage to Chelsea in the semi-final.
There was a reason Alex Ferguson joined Ferdinand in calling him the best he had seen at that age. They were not alone.
Less than seven years later and the wonderkid from Wythenshawe is just a journeyman, fittingly playing for a side called Club Atlas in an increasingly nomadic career rivalling that of poor Freddy Adu’s.
Morrison is only the second Englishman to ply his trade in Mexico and soon, from a footballing perspective at least, he will be English by birth alone as he aims to switch international allegiance to Jamaica.
Quite simply, the 25-year-old shouldn’t have such an option. He should have half a century of England caps to his name by now in an era when Gareth Southgate can scarcely look beyond a half-fit Jack Wilshere as a creative midfield spark.
Pogba may have commanded a £90million transfer fee just five years after the aforementioned final but it was Morrison, to the surprise of precisely nobody at Manchester United, who became the first player from the class of ’11 to graduate to the senior setup at Old Trafford.
The joy, unfortunately, started and ended right there.
Morrison managed just three substitute appearances in total – all in the League Cup – and, in January 2012, Ferguson reluctantly sold the prodigal son to West Ham United. The Scot told then Hammers boss Sam Allardyce,
I hope you can sort him out, because if you can he will be a genius. Brilliant ability, top-class ability. He needs to get away from Manchester – start a new life.
And therein lay the problem; such diamond talent often comes with a hefty cost. Morrison’s vices were not the George Best-coined booze, betting and babes but rather an appalling attitude and serious off-field violence, leading to common assault, domestic abuse, and witness intimidation accusations. The former character trait was reportedly so apparent that had his talent been any less, Morrison would have been permanently exiled from professional football at 16.
This kid was an exception worth fighting for but in the end, Fergie could only defend his corner for less than half a season. He simply had to leave United and his career since has followed a tired combination towards a never-ending cul-de-sac; brief glimpses of genius interrupted by long stretches of gradual deconstruction, bordering on self-destruction.
Take England under-21s’ 5-0 win over their Lithuanian counterparts in a Euro 2015 qualifier. Morrison scored two of the five goals on the night, one of which showcased his exuberant guile and composure yet, in the same game, he started fighting with teammate Wilfried Zaha and had to be separated by colleagues, despite the game being as good as dead.
There was always a nasty turn to follow a calming corner.
Remarkably, Italian giants Lazio, presumably inspired by their risky venture for another English maverick twenty-five years prior, took a gamble on Morrison in January 2015. Remarkable only for the fact that Morrison had spent the previous two-and-a-half years on largely unsuccessful loan spells to Championship sides Birmingham City, Queens Park Rangers and Cardiff City.
No manager, including his principle boss Allardyce at West Ham, could conjure consistency from this part-time magician.
Again, there were fleeting reminders of what Gary Neville once described as Morrison’s scandalous ability.
For instance, despite a tempestuous relationship with Birmingham boss Lee Clark, Morrison played well enough at St. Andrew’s for West Ham to give him his chance the following season in the Premier League. Morrison initially delivered, scoring a goal-of-the-season contender away to Tottenham Hotspur and outperforming all opponents in a wonderful midfield display at Upton Park against would-be champions Manchester City.
Sustained it was not, however. West Ham even cut Morrison’s contract short in early 2015 so he could commence training with Lazio but, despite a fresh start in a new country and a top league, the same old problems persisted.
Morrison played admirably in pre-season and impressed fans. However, a perceived absence of effort along with an unwillingness to learn the language or ingratiate himself in Italian culture led to the Lazio director Igli Tare label Morrison as “a little mad”, regardless of his clear talent.
To this day, Morrison remains a contracted Lazio player (fitting in a second, wholly unsuccessful, loan spell at QPR along the way).
On a more positive note, he is playing arguably his best football in years – scoring some beautiful goals in the process – and is reportedly developing a rapidly-maturing attitude away from the media glare on loan in Mexico with Club Atlas.
Meanwhile, Jamaica are on the cusp of bagging themselves a potentially world-class international talent. While redemption and a return to the elite for a player who Ferguson recently called his “saddest case” might be unrealistic, Morrison continues to play. He has not, unlike enigmas before him in Robin Friday and David Bentley, walked away from the game, just yet.
At 25, time is on his side. But is the world of football?