Friday 18 October 2013

A gift or a curse...

It’s not very often people are given a second chance in life. Occasionally individuals have the capacity to excel, but are tainted by demons. Sometimes things do go wrong and that chance to put things right is gratefully received and grasped with both hands. That’s exactly what is happening at the moment with West Ham midfielder Ravel Morrison.

After years of hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons, he wrote them himself with that incredible solo goal against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane recently. Add to that his performance for the England Under-21s this week, in which he scored two goals in a 5-0 drubbing over Lithuania, and you have a lot of plaudits gushing over the 20 year old.

The only thing that stands in Morrison’s way is him. He does himself no favours. Despite the sparkling display during that 5-0 victory he attracted negative attention again, this time for having an on-pitch bust-up with England team-mate Wilfried Zaha. Having a fiery temperament is all well and good, it’s learning to control and channel it in a positive and constructive way - that behaviour certainly doesn’t belong on the football pitch. 

Morrison’s history is well documented. He began his career in football after being scouted for Manchester United’s Academy, making his first team debut in October 2010 in the League Cup. He made appearances in the FA Youth Cup too, scoring twice in the final to ensure United’s 6-3 aggregate win over Sheffield United. Despite his promise, appearances were few and far between and any capability wasn’t allowed to flourish due to his extra-curricular activities.

His delinquency came to light and inevitably detracted from his potential. A previous caution for common assault in 2008 was added to when Morrison pleaded guilty to two attempts of witness intimidation in 2011. Add to that a conviction for criminal damage to his girlfriend’s phone and an assault charge that was dropped because his girlfriend refused to testify (potential intimidation eh Ravel?) and you’ve got a pretty condemning combination of misdemeanours.  A blasé attitude to training- when and if he decided to turn up- and shoddy timekeeping all harmed his reputation too.

Initially despite the incidents, former United manager Sir Alex Ferguson decided to stick with Morrison. He could see the potential and knew the midfielder had the skills and ability to succeed. But in January 2012 the Scot reluctantly let him go to West Ham for an undisclosed fee (and a contract stipulating the Hammers pay United £25,000 every time the player is started for the first team) on a three-and-a-half-year deal in an attempt to salvage his career, giving the youngster a chance of escaping the poisonous off-the-pitch environment he was caught up in. Relocating to East London was a golden opportunity for the Mancunian to gain focus without distractions.

Morrison made his debut for the Hammers on March 17 2012 as a substitute during the side’s 1-1 draw against Leeds United at Elland Road. For the 2012-13 season, manager Sam Allardyce decided to send the player on loan to Championship club Birmingham City to gain further experience. At first the attitude and punctuality issues continued and it was only after a heart-to-heart with Blues’ manager Lee Clark that an improvement was noticed. Clark recognised the talent instantly, but insisted that his persistence proved dividends and is credited widely with the change in the youngster’s mindset. He played 27 games during his loan spell, scoring three goals.

The midfielder has since returned to the Boleyn Ground for the 2013-14 season. Wearing the claret and blue with ‘Ravel’ on the back, it seems the proverbial leaf may have been turned by Morrison. Rejuvenated and revitalised, he scored his first goal on his first full debut in the second round of the League Cup against Cheltenham Town, a game that West Ham won 2-1. Another start and another goal, his first in the Premier League, this time against Everton in a 2-3 home defeat. As for the Tottenham Hotspur game…his much-lauded goal was a moment of individual brilliance. It was a clear demonstration of the talent and composure that Morrison possesses, in abundance, and rocketed him further into the spotlight.

Time is on his side: he’s only 20 years old and undoubtedly has the best years of his career ahead of him. When I met him in late 2012 he was one of the rudest footballers I’d had the displeasure to come across, second only to somebody who’ll remain anonymous (but ironically notorious). It’s his attitude and temperament - and how he manages his demons – that will define him. With whispers of a full England call-up if the form and progress continues, it’s no wonder that Ferguson had a few words of wisdom for Allardyce when parting with Morrison.

“I hope you can sort him out because if you can he will be a genius.”

A gift or a curse, only time will tell.

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