It is all too easy to go overboard in effusive praise of a bright new star. Manchester United supporters have seen many briefly burn over the years, only for hope to fade and die, expectation collapsing into the blackest hole. None burned brighter than Ravel Morrison, whose ability to glide across the turf as if skating effortlessly on a winter lake marked the Mancunian out as a youth player of real class. All touch, flicks, tricks, and genuine creativity, Morrison was born to play for United.
Except, of course, he wasn’t. Not really. The excitement of those who watched Morrison develop through the academy and reserves simply disappeared into a raft of troubles that eventually drove a huge talent away from Manchester.
Morrison’s move to West Ham United ended one of the most enduring dramas at the club. Yet, the youngster’s transfer south was inevitable only once Sir Alex Ferguson came to the realisation in late 2011 year that he could do little more to help the player.
The Scot was the last of United’s coaching staff to give up on a youngster whose story has never held a clear narrative. Here is a challenged young man who many simply expected to disappear out of the game, talent wasted forever, once Sir Alex decided to let him go.
Morrison moved south for just £650,000 up front, rising to £2 million should certain performance targets be met. With Morrison’s contract running down, United had no stomach for the transfer tribunal lottery, and the Hammers secured a low-risk talent who has now bloomed into something far more valuable.
The transfer details are the easy part in the multi-faceted story of how one of the finest talents of the past generation left Old Trafford only to rise once again. Paraphrasing Paddy Crerand: Morrison was always ‘too good to fail’, unless his own troubles dragged him under.
Yet, here is a player, no matter the talent, who too often gave the impression of caring little for the game during four years spent in United’s academy. While Morrison’s tendency to drift out of matches has improved since appearing regularly for the east Londoners, the player’s attitude to training irked far too many at both Carrington and West Ham.
It took a loan spell in the Championship for the penny to finally drop – not just on the pitch and the training ground, but in his private life too. It seems as if Sir Alex’ promise to Allardyce has come true – that if the Midlander could “sort this lad out” he would “have one of the best players he’d ever had” on his hands.
“Sir Alex let Ravel go for his own benefit,” Allardyce said ahead of West Ham’s trip to United on Saturday.
“He said that if he comes down to you, hopefully he will find a new life and a new way of living. His ability will then start to come through because all he asks and all he wants in his life is to play first-team football, that was all he said he wanted to do and why he wanted to leave.
“In actual fact, he struggled to look like he was capable of playing football in the first team with us. That’s why we sent him on loan to Birmingham and I thought since that year, he’s grown up. Somewhere along the line, the lad has woken up and I think he’s changed himself and delivered.”
In a sense any comparison with Morrison is to Adnan Januzaj’s detriment. After all, Morrison made just three substitute appearances in the United first team. The Englishman did little at the highest level to garner such excitement from United’s support – even if that is a fatuous observation given the talent available.
Januzaj, by contrast, has already sparkled during his début season in the first team. The Belgian-born youngster spent just one campaign at each of the academy and reserve levels before progressing under new manager David Moyes.
Two goals at Sunderland and another on Saturday in United’s victory over Morrison’s Hammers have come amid 11 Premier League appearances. Like Morrison before him, Januzaj possesses the gifts to achieve almost anything in the game.
On Saturday it was Januzaj whose presence counted though, while Morrison suffered as part of a West Ham team that was rarely in touch with the home side. Morrison was neat in possession, occupying a central midfield role alongside Jack Collison and Mark Noble, but rarely drifted into the attacking areas where he is able to influence most.
Meanwhile, Januzaj received fewer touches in a wide role, but scored a crucial second goal just before the half-time break, while seeing four further attempts blocked by the massed Hammers’ defence. One more piece of evidence in a burgeoning case that Januzaj is destined for the very top.
“Adnan Januzaj is doing really well,” said Moyes after the game. “We are always hard on him, we always want more but he is doing remarkably well. He is a real talent.”
That he is although the narrative is not yet complete – Januzaj has time to turn initial promise into consistent excellence. Few doubt that he will, although the pitfalls are many.
Aside from a questionable attitude, Morrison’s indiscretions came largely off the pitch – two a well publicised court cases, resulting in a referral order for witness intimidation and a criminal conviction for criminal damage. Meanwhile, Januzaj has courted controversy having twice seen yellow this season for simulation. The Kosovan-Belgian might have garnered more in what is threatening to become an embarrassing habit.
Still, Moyes is in little mood to chide the youngster, not least while Januzaj remains on average the most consistently fouled player in the league – attracting 38 fouls in 12 matches this season.
“We will talk to him about it but you might be picking on the wrong person because if you look at the last two games, he has taken more tackles than any other player,” said Moyes.
“Last week there were a lot of people having a kick at him because he’s very difficult to mark. He’s elusive the way he moves and it can bring defenders into tackles.”
Morrison also possesses that enigmatic ability – a knack of drifting past players with classy ease. It led the 20-year-old to score one of the most memorable goals of the season against Tottenham Hotspur in October. It was, in a sense, a reminder of the talent lost to United.
In the spirit of reminiscence Januzaj’s rise is also a note to young Morrison: here’s what you could have won. Indeed, when Tom Cleverley says that the United man has “special potential and the fans love him” it is a comment that could have been made of Morrison during almost any period of the player’s time in Manchester.
“He’s settled in really quickly, he’s got a great attitude and a promising future ahead,” concluded Cleverley. Words that can only be applied to Januzaj. For the moment at least.