As Manchester United ready themselves to write a world record cheque to reacquire the services of their former youth player Paul Pogba, spare a thought for Ravel Morrison. The Englishman was a teammate of Pogba's in the youth ranks at Old Trafford and, according to practically everyone who monitored his development at United, Morrison was one of the most prodigious talents to represent the club in generations. So why didn't it work out for the player who, according to Rio Ferdinand, Pogba used to try and emulate?
Though he is still just 23 years old, Ravel Morrison's football career appears to be on the verge of disappearing into a black hole of wasted talent. Growing up in the youth ranks at Manchester United, it was immediately apparent that there was something different about Morrison. He was a cornerstone of the United team who won the FA Youth Cup in 2011, outshining Pogba and Jesse Lingard throughout the tournament but as effortless his talents were on the pitch, he couldn't stay out of trouble off it.
In Alex Ferguson's recent book Leading, the Scot described Ravel Morrison as "possess[ing] as much natural talent as any youngster we ever signed" but even the guidance of the Scot, with his exemplary record for developing youth and integrating them to the first team, wasn't enough to fulfill the potential of a player who should have been one of the finest talents of his generation.
As with so many nearly-men in various sports, Morrison's career was stunted by off the field problems. He admitted two charges of witness intimidation in 2011 and was also convicted of criminal damage after an argument with his girlfriend. A year after that he found himself in hot water with the Football Association after posting a homophobic tweet.
Rio Ferdinand was one of the senior figures at Manchester United who tried to make Morrison understand what was required of him if he was to make the grade at Old Trafford. In an interview with Copa90, the defender pointed out Morrison's deficiencies.
Mentality, for me, outweighs talent. Look at Ravel Morrison. This guy was the best young kid that I've ever seen in my life. Better than Joe Cole was when he was a kid. Ravel Morrison, I've never seen a guy look so comfortable on a football pitch, but you can't just have one of them without the other, you've got to have everything.
Morrison is attempting to rebuild his career in Serie A with Lazio. He has made just a handful of appearances in the Italian capital and has yet to make any real impact and now finally seems to be aware of the mistakes he made earlier in his career. He told The Sun:
Manchester United and Alex Ferguson gave me too many chances. I can only blame myself and not look for excuses. A lot of the things I did wrong at United was sily stuff. It wasn't because I was involved in robberies. It was more messing about playing computer games and hanging out too much with my friends when I should have been more dedicated to training.
Rio Ferdinand took me to one side and said: 'You need to get out there 15 minutes before the session starts and stay later as well. He was right, of course. But I had concentration and focus issues at the time.
Morrison's United career ended in unspectacular fashion when West Ham took advantage of Ferguson's ever-dwindling patience in the player and took him to London, against the wishes of United's then-coach Rene Meulensteen. As you might have guessed, that move didn't work out either and he was subsequently shipped out on loan to Birmingham, Cardiff and QPR as various clubs took a punt on Morrison's unique talents only to be disappointed each time.
It might seem unusual to count out a player who is still so young it speaks to the vastly divergent paths which Morrison and Pogba have walked since their time together as cornerstones of the Manchester United youth team. Both were tipped to be global stars of the sport, both are 23 years old, both are currently playing in Italy - one is valued somewhere in the region of £100 million, while the other can't get the wheels rolling on his career.
This all could have been so different. But as Rio Ferdinand implies, Ravel Morrison's story is a cautionary tale to young footballers everywhere. Talent alone isn't enough, you have to work hard on the training ground too.
The kid was just different. Pogba, Januzaj, Lingard... they used to look up to this boy. People don't realise how good he was. Those boys used to look up to him like, 'wow, Ravel Morrison'.