“I’m prone to a leftfield signing, it doesn’t scare or bother me. We have to take little punts now and again.”
These were Chris Wilder’s words after Sheffield United committed themselves to a one-year deal with midfielder Ravel Morrison following a successful trial period with the club and the Blades boss’ take on the transfer contains two distinct truths.
The first of which is that it is commonplace for promoted sides to take chances in the transfer market simply because they have no other choice but to. The established stars head to the top six. The emerging talent that still have lingering doubts attached to them are snapped up by the mid-table outfits. The brilliant but fundamentally flawed players – who have all the ability in the world ‘on their day’ but are too often undone by inconsistency or temperament – head to clubs who by necessity must be creative in their recruitment as they enter the fantasia of the Premier League. That’s how it works. That’s how it’s always worked.
The latter truth is that Wilder has indeed been prone to ‘leftfield’ targets in the past and encouragingly he is really rather good at picking them. Last summer he scoured the bargain bins for discarded gemstones – spending just £6m in the process – and emerged with enough of them to forge a promotion winning squad against all expectations.
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Ravel Morrison though? There are risks and then there are risks who have already been gambled on so many times that placing faith in them feels like a pipedream.
Since he first broke through at Manchester United to much hype – in the same class of 2011 that contained Paul Pogba incidentally – the Wythenshawe-born prodigy has been reluctantly released by Sir Alex Ferguson to West Ham where his immense promise once again was usurped by off-the-pitch problems and a questionable attitude as illustrated by former team-mate and captain Kevin Nolan’s recollections here. Loan spells followed: to Birmingham, QPR and Cardiff, before a permanent switch to Lazio saw Morrison make just eight outings amidst further short-term stints in Mexico and Sweden.
No matter how far he travelled however his baggage accompanied him. In February 2011 Morrison admitted to two counts of witness intimidation. Later he was convicted for criminal damage. Soon after it was seemingly obligatory to include the words ‘wasted talent’ in any article written about him.
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Which, in many ways is undeniable. Since making his debut in October 2010, Morrison – now 26 – has participated in 125 professional games excluding youth international football. That equates to 15 per year. By comparison Pogba has made 403, including of course a World Cup final.
Yet anecdotal evidence suggests that Morrison was at least his peer’s equal as they developed at Carrington with Ferguson alegedly even going as far as to insist he was the finest prospect he had ever seen. Better than Giggs. Better than Scholes. Better than Rooney .
It is for this reason primarily why so many clubs have extended a chance of redemption to Morrison only for most to be let down. Will Sheffield United be the latest of them? If that’s not the case then Wilder has pulled off another masterstroke; a risk with high reward indeed.