Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson have boasted the finest youth development programme in England – possibly Europe – at times. Few have defied the system, few have failed to reach their potential, few have left the club on ugly terms.
But there were two renegades in 2012 who threw the rule book out the window. These were, in the words of Ferguson himself, the brightest players in their glowing academy, and yet both failed to fit in with the Scot’s tried and tested methods.
In 2011, United sealed their landmark tenth FA Youth Cup, only their third since 1992, with Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison starring. The match report from that game notes that ‘Pogba shone brightly’, but ‘Morrison was the key player’ scoring a brace in a 6-3 aggregate win. With those that came before them, with the foundations lain in the club, with the remarkable player-making machine around them, both should have gone onto become United legends.
But both, seemingly on a par, quicker and more skillful than their contemporaries, have taken remarkably different routes through the footballing world. Pogba won the 2013 Golden Boy award, the Bravo award in 2014, and was gifted the Best Young Player award for his input to France’s quarter final run at the 2014 World Cup. He’s blossomed into the wonderboy that was there.
Morrison, once ‘the best player Sir Alex Ferguson had seen at that age’ was plying his trade at Cardiff at the end of last year. Barring a wondergoal-viral video and a superb goal at Tottenham last season, his name is more synonymous with off-pitch controversies than footballing brilliance. He’s faced charges for assault, witness intimidation, homophobia, and threatening to throw acid at his ex-girlfriend.
That comparative paradigm between two youngsters shows that there’s far more to ‘making it’ in the professional game than just natural ability. But in a more poignant vein, it serves to show a sad contrast on what might have been for this seriously miss-interpreted English youngster.
At the age of 22, Morrison will now be trying to fit in at his sixth club. No home seems to be able to handle his ego, nor contain the controversy that seemingly follows him from club to club.
His move to Lazio could be just right. Away from the pressures of the British media and an expecting English audience, he may find fertile soils in Rome to mature into the player he should do. Let’s not forget, the reason Pogba ultimately left Manchester was because of his own attitude indifferences. It just seems that with the right guidance from the outstanding Antonio Conte, that fiery attitude and aggressive outlook was channelled expertly into one single purpose: to improve as a footballer.
Lazio has a sort of badboy image of sorts, and Morrison’s antics may generally be more accepted there making the inevitable less damaging when it takes place. That might harbour a more welcoming setting than, say, West Ham, where his shortcomings will be criticised more in the England spotlight.
And it draws some nice comparisons to one Joey Barton. Marseille, where Barton spent the 2012-13 season, took a shine to the ‘badboy’ image of the Englishman – they appreciated it in a certain regard, as opposed to heavily condemned it. Barton departed for the French club off the back of kicking Sergio Aguero off the ball and receiving a lengthy ban. And his return has coincided with the least-controversy-filled era of his career.
Perhaps, for those who fail to acclimatise to the ways of English football, rehabilitation abroad is the perfect outlet. It clearly worked for Pogba and Barton, so a move away is probably best for Morrison. Troubled people rarely benefit from further condemnation. It’s time to release Morrison from the shackles of the English game and set him loose into the wild.
Development needs to start happening soon, though. This is a player who has received universal praise for his ability and a mix of glowing references from respectable figures within the game. His inability to develop is as much a shame for the England national team as it is himself.
Lazio manager Stefan Pioli may have a complex character on his hands, but Morison’s move to Italy looks to be a move that will benefit all.