The picture of three of Manchester United’s most talented members of the ‘Class of 11’ sitting with the FA Youth Cup in the Old Trafford dressing room after lifting the trophy is almost a venn diagram of the three paths a talented youngster can take.
On the left is Jesse Lingard a player whose determination arguably outweighed his talent to the point where when other 22 year-olds on United books had become England regulars, the Warrington-born youngster was still trying to prove himself with a series of loan moves outside the top division. The player in the middle of the picture, danced to the beat of his own drum, having the talent and the determination, but also the ambition to not just make it to the very top, but do it as quickly as possible earning as much money as he could along the way. Whether you question Paul Pogba’s wisdom in choosing Turin over Manchester for four seasons you can’t deny it earned him – and his agent- far more money than simply signing on the dotted line Sir Alex put in front of him would have. On the right is the tragedy of the trio, the most talented of the three, yet the one who achieved the least, endured the most heartache and flattered to deceive more often than an England manager before a major tournament. Ravel Morrison is the Keyzer Soze of the youth leagues, a bogeyman parents and managers tell their talented kids about whenever they shirk training or stay out late “if you don’t focus, you’ll end up like Ravel.” A warning any youngster should heed and fear in equal measure. Over the past four or five years Morrison has filled the front pages of local papers more than he has the back, whether it’s throwing his girlfriend’s phone out of the window or a twitter scandal involving homophobia, the Wythenshawe-born midfielder has become infamous rather than famous- for all the wrong reasons, during a time when his talents should have seen him blossom.
It’s not been all court appearances and community orders of course, along the way there’s been transfers to clubs managed by the new England manager, a campaign to get him into the national side’s set up- albeit briefer than a clothes shopping trip by Arsenal TV’s TY. Ravel’s done just enough to remind us all what he’s capable of without actually doing enough of it to make it really count for anything. While Lingard has won the FA Cup, Pogba an array of Italian trophies, the only trinket occupying Morrison’s mantel piece is a Division One Play Off winners medal.
Despite all his problems and the fact he’s currently on an exile of sorts on the fringes of the Lazio squad, all is far from lost for the former darling of United’s youth side. At 23 Morrison has time on his side, perhaps not lots of it, after all if in three years we’re still waiting for him to fulfil his potential, I fear that may be a conversation between managers at Costcutter rather than Premier League clubs. Right now though, Morrison could still let his talent get in the way of his distractions rather than the other way round. I’d be lying if I said I know Ravel Morrison, I don’t. But I have met him several times in my former job working at a five a side centre in Trafford and one thing which always resonated was he wasn’t as bad as the company he kept. He was always surrounded by lads whose only job seemed to be ‘Ravel Morrison’s mate’ to the point where a former bank teller in South Manchester assures me the England under 21 star would draw out his wages and hand them out like spends to his assortment of hangers-on each week.
Even moving abroad doesn’t seem to have solved all of Morrison’s problems as his time at Lazio has been beset by problems and accusations of him being less than enthusiastic during training. While the perennial questions around his attitude remain, so does his talent, something which despite nearly half a decade of underachieving is still strong enough to trouble some of the most gifted defenders in the land. Probably.
At the moment, just how far away Ravel is from reaching the higher echelons of football we don’t know and we’re unlikely to find out while he sits on a bench in Rome. There have been rumours of a return to England with Aston Villa, a move which makes a lot of sense but does raise the spectre of whether the hangers-on in Manchester will become the monkey on Morrison’s back they have been in the past.
Although we’ve heard it before, now is the time for Morrison to remind the world why he was once Pogba’s equal if not the more gifted of the two, the world record fee United have paid for the Frenchman has done Ravel a favour of sorts, in bringing his wasted talents back into the public gaze.
Some more romantic Reds have even suggested the Lingard-Pogba-Morrison axis of greatness that destroyed academy sides back in 2012 could be rekindled, but such ideas are borne of nostalgia rather than realism. The chances are Morrison will never wear the Red of United again, unless it’s a decade from now in some form of ‘Legends’ game, but there are more than a few of us who watched him dazzle for the academy and wish the lad with the feet of gold, but the head of mashed potato, finally fulfilled his promise- somewhere.