The great white hope is dead; long live the next over-hyped Manchester United youngster. At least that’s the prevailing message today, as revisionism kicks in among the United fan base. Indeed, Ravel Morrison’s move to West Ham United has ended one of the most enduring dramas at the club. While the transfer also comes as a huge disappointment to many who have followed the youngster’s career, it is also a truism that the club and fans move on quickly.
The hugely talented 18-year-old – billed as everything from the new Paul Gascoigne, to the best Englishman since Paul Scholes – will no longer represent United after agreeing a permanent move south. It is a move all too inevitable since Sir Alex Ferguson and the club’s coaching staff decided late last year to part company with young Morrison. But this is a story with no clear narrative, encompassing high finance, personal ambition, and one seriously challenged young man.
The bare bones are these: Morrison has moved south for about £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 lottery that is the transfer tribunal. West Ham have a low-risk talent who could bloom into something far more valuable.
Meanwhile, the player will earn nothing like the erroneous figures reported in the press recently, with Morrison’s starting salary of £12,000 per week only rising in increments to £65,000 should the player become a huge success and promotion achieved. Morrison must attain performance and playing targets over the course of a four-and-a-half year contract to earn the big bucks on offer. Agents Nick Rubery, for Morrison, and Barry Silkmann for the Hammers, have certainly done well for their clients.
The player, who was also subject to bids from Newcastle United – rejected – and Bolton Wanderers – accepted – this window, officially completed the paperwork around 9pm on Tuesday evening, posing for the obligatory signing photo.
“I’m really pleased to have signed,” said Morrison on completing the deal.
“The move has happened very quickly and I’m looking forward to hopefully moving up to the Premier League with West Ham soon. I’m an attacking player and I’m hoping to get the fans on their feet. “ met with Sam Allardyce this morning and he welcomed me to the club. I also played with Robert Hall in the England team and I know him well so that will be really helpful to have someone here that I know.”
The transfer details are the easy part though in the multi-faceted story of how one of the finest talents of the past generation has left Old Trafford. “Too good to fail,” MUTV co-commentator Paddy Crerand once said. Indeed, it is not without just cause that Ferguson has regularly praised the Wythenshawe-born player’s magic feet and superb balance. Talents, some may argue, wasted at Championship level.
Yet, here is a player with the world at his feet who too often gave the impression of caring little for the game that should make him a millionaire. While Morrison’s tendency to drift out of matches has improved, to some extent, with age, the player’s attitude to training has irked far too many at Carrington. Coaches, senior pros, such as Paul Scholes, and particularly Ferguson have all spent time attempting to pull the player back from the brink.
It hasn’t worked though. “I don’t know why the United fans rave about Ravel,” one youth teamer reportedly told fanzine United We Stand recently. “When he can’t even be bothered to get out of bed in the morning.” The player, having been told he would make the first team squad should he attend every training session for three months failed even that seemingly simple task.
Running concurrently through Morrison’s time at Old Trafford has also been a series of off-the-field problems, including two appearances in court for assault and witness intimidation, and a 12 month referral order. None of which had previously precipitated Morrison’s removal from the club.
Then came the move that often drives change: Morrison changed agents last summer, from Colin Gordon at Key Sports to Nick Rubery’s Prostar Sports Management. It was a move widely thought beneficial in Old Trafford circles. Indeed, Rubery had no part in driving the widely reported, but factually incorrect, stories about Morrison’s outlandish wage demands.
Surprisingly, Ferguson chose his pre-match press conference a fortnight ago to lambast the youngster for an “unrealistic” financial requirements. It was an unseemly smear against a youngster whose principle gripe in recent months has been lack of playing time in the first team. True, Morrison has only himself to blame for not making the first team picture. The talent was always there; the attitude perhaps not.
Ultimately is was United, and not Morrison, that chose the path that has led this multi-talent youngster not to the lights of Old Trafford, but to Upton Park. Rejection will hurt the youngster. Failure to turn Morrison’s life and career around will injure Ferguson just as acutely.
Strange then that Ferguson should choose to bring money into the equation when, by all accounts, the Scot was the last man standing in the Morrison camp at Old Trafford. Every other coach had simply given up on the player. But with the manager’s sponsorship of Morrison’s progress, also comes culpability. Failure here was perhaps simply too hard to take.
This is also a highly troubled young man, whose apparent links with criminality have never been far from the surface. At West Ham, under Sam Allardyce’s guidance, Morrison will find a close Ferguson ally. There will be no secrets left in the closet for the Hammers to discover later.
But moving a division lower, and 200 miles south, is a chance, or perhaps a sign, that the penny has dropped. Morrison’s talents will surely be on display sooner rather than later, with West Ham riding high in the Championship Allardyce.
The rest is up to the player. Far from home – far from the distractions of Manchester – Morrison may well find a new focus. Salvation, the player hopes, will come in East London. That is if the bright lights and loose cash of the London lifestyle does not get to the youngster first, cynics might add.
Here’s where the frustration comes in of course. If Morrison does make it to the game’s summit, with the accompanying wealth, fame and adulation, there will be more than a small corner of Manchester with a rueful smile. His is a talent that absolutely should grace the highest stage. If only he wanted it badly enough. If only the demons inside could have been defeated.
It is this regret – anger if you will – that has led to no little revisionism in recent days. Suddenly, gone is the great hope. Ravel, it is now said, is a “fool”, “stupid” or, worse still, “greedy”. None of this is true.
And with little delay, and no ceremony, Ferguson will move on. The fans will move on too. The new hero may already have been born, with French midfielder Paul Pogba putting in a staring cameo appearance against Stoke City on Tuesday night.
One eye will be on Upton Park though, with a secret hope that a newly arrived youngster will eventually live up to that huge promise.