18 | Midfielder | Manchester United | English
You may not have heard of him, but Manchester’s red contingent is abuzz with excitement at what Ravel Morrison may achieve at Manchester United. Arguably the finest youth product the club have produced since Paul Scholes, Morrison is blessed with that enviable skill of making football appear like child’s-play. Those who sit under the makeshift stand at Carrington watching youth team games have grown so accustomed to moments of ingenuity they wonder why he’s not featuring before the eyes of the Stretford End. As Sir Matt Busby once opined: “If they’re good enough, they’re old enough.”
On Sunday, United’s youth team travelled to Anfield for a Youth Cup quarter-final against their north-west rivals. Down 2-0 courtesy of two Adam Morgan goals, Larnell Cole halved the deficit with a penalty before assisting Morrison for the equaliser. The 18-year-old gleefully jumped up and down in front of the Kop and appeared befuddled as how to celebrate during his euphoric fix. Gleeful teammates caught up with him before he recalled a past ‘Scousebusting’ celebration: he kissed the United badge. Five minutes from time he scored the winner by acrobatically altering his body-shape to connect with a sweet left-footed volley, steering United into the semi-finals where Chelsea await.
Since a staggeringly assured debut at the age of 15 in the competition, Morrison has been identified by grassroots football observers as his club and country’s Great White Hope, with the Daily Telegraph’s Henry Winter hailing him as a better footballer than Jack Wilshere. Considering that United are yearning for a playmaker and suffer from a shortage of guile in midfield, he possibly should have cemented a berth in the first-team squad already.
But trouble has followed the Wythenshawe prospect. Although he made his United debut with a brief substitute appearance against Wolves in the Carling Cup back in October, in February he admitted two charges of witness intimidation. Over the course of a two-day ordeal, he had subjected the victim of a knifepoint robbery of coercion in a bid to stop him giving evidence at the trial of his muggers. He had been warned he could face a spell in detention but instead Morrison was given another chance: the judge decided on a 12-month referral order, warning him that if he did not comply he would be sentenced to a year behind bars. He was told his behaviour had been ‘appalling’ and that this was his last chance.
Prior to this verdict he was a conspicuous absentee from youth and reserve fixtures with whispers spreading around that the Club had suspended him. Players, staff and Sir Alex Ferguson have attempted to prohibit his mercurial streak arising again, but as Daniel Taylor in The Guardian reported following Morrison’s court appearance: ‘For his sentencing, he looked what he was: a teenager in Nike trainers and a tie knotted Grange Hill-style, ie as short as possible. There was no emotion when the judge told him he was being spared detention. However, Morrison seemed appalled when he was informed he had to pay costs, including £500 compensation to the victim.’ Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand have both offered to take Morrison in, somewhat akin to Paddy Crerand taking George Best under his wing in a desperate effort to save the career of another enigmatic genius. Whereas Best had already established himself as one of football’s greatest, United are evidently anxious about losing their home-grown wasting the opportunity of a lifetime.
Hearteningly however, Morrison has returned to spearhead the academy towards United’s tenth Youth Cup. The judge’s reprieve posing as a moment of clarity, his attitude has improved sufficiently to the extent that as tensions frayed between Liverpool and United’s minors in front of the Kop – four were sent off – he was ironically the peacemaker. Less than a month ago his attitude was rewarded with a provisional squad berth for the FA Cup tie against Crawley, but it is his flourishing performances in youth football which continue to capture the imagination. He scored a marvellous winner against Newcastle United in the fifth round of the Youth Cup and continues to torment defences at reserve level also, patently superior than the majority of opponents who trudge through games. Usually ahead of the curve, he is fast-becoming the target of premature hatchet-men but although quicker than Scholes, his vision mirrors United’s number 18 and his adeptness at playing off the striker also suggests he may possess Frank Lampard’s potency.
Exhibiting balance, poise and an unpredictable change of direction, he embodies the street footballer who has succeeded in translating carefree showboating to passing the acid test of one of world football’s biggest clubs. England, bereft of ball-retainers hitherto Wilshere’s ascension to the senior squad, now have a potential triumvirate of him, Morrison and Everton’s Jack Rodwell to complement one another a la Xaví-Alonso-Busquets for the next decade and beyond. With Scholes’ retirement imminent in two months or 14 and the purse-strings tightened at Old Trafford, Ferguson and his heir have a readymade replacement blessed with the ability synonymous with United’s revered bouncing Busy Babes.