It is a year to the day since Ravel Morrison last pulled on a Manchester United first team shirt. Then Morrison impressed only fleetingly in a Carling Cup cameo appearance against Wolverhampton Wanderers at Old Trafford. The talent is undimmed in the past 12 months, even if question marks hanging over the teenager’s career have only multiplied. But Morrison’s return to Sir Alex Ferguson’s team offers hope for the player’s future, just as the Scot’s side took its first baby steps towards renaissance with a 3-0 victory over Aldershot Town on Tuesday night.
Morrison, all flicks and tricks during a 20 minute appearance at the Recreation Ground, has always been blessed with a gift in abundance. Floating between midfield and attack, with an awareness of space and movement belying his years, the 18-year-old impressed. There was the trademark easy-going flair – bountiful stand out arrogance, with just enough work-rate too – along with a pass exchanged here, a one-two instigated there.
The teenager’s second outing in the United first team came alongside fellow youngsters Ezekiel Fryers, Ben Amos, Michael Keane and Paul Pogba. The latter joined Morrison in central midfield during the closing minutes and it does not take a crystal ball to foresee that proposition occurring regularly in years to come. Pogba’s classy distribution – long range and short – stood out. The Frenchman’s ability to also break up play offered some yin to Morrison’s considerable yang.
Morrison, meanwhile, will be grateful for the breakthrough after a difficult 12 months. The unease with which the player has drifted between potential stardom and seemingly more probable criminality has drawn more speculation about a United youngster than almost any in a generation. The genuine class on offer only adds to the intrigue. “Old Trafford’s Mario Ballotelli,” one commentator speculated this week. It is, of course, a gross over-simplification but one with some air of truth.
United’s decision to stand behind its errant youth star, despite repeated court appearances in recent months, is based more in hope than expectation. The hope that Morrison’s talent can be fulfilled at a higher level. He is, after all, the most naturally gifted Englishman since Wayne Rooney burst on to the scene almost a decade ago. The expectation, if truth be told, is that Morrison will find a way to waste all that talent.
Yet, the youngster’s appearance in Hampshire offered more than a ray of light amid the darkness following Sunday’s humiliation at Manchester City’s hands. The dancing feet and confidence of genuine class point towards a star in the making, even if it is one that needs careful attention. In hope there is redemption even if the noisy neighbours’ battering is not easily forgotten.
Moreover, United’s paucity of creative central midfield options – if truth be told any options – ensure the clamour for Morrison’s more permanent introduction is unlikely to die down. The player is not going to force his way into the United first team any time soon, no matter what the prevailing social media consensus, but hope is still a very powerful emotion.
If Morrison’s introduction offered some promise then United’s routine victory over the League Two outfit was only a small step in moving on from Sunday’s loss. Tiptoes rather than a great stride. Ferguson’s choice to deploy predominantly experience in United’s starting 11 said much not only for the “minutes on the pitch” that the Scot declare required but also of the need to not turn one heavy defeat into a full-blown crisis. Ferguson called for, and received, a professional performance. Little more, certainly no less.
Greater challenges are to come, both for Morrison and United. Morrison’s is to rid himself of the personal demons that have dogged a short career. If there is any collective malignant spirit it will surely be tested when United visits Everton at the weekend. Ferguson’s selection for the Goodison trip, with an easy Champions League tie to follow next week, should be close to full strength.
Yet, there are question marks about so many of the Scot’s squad that were not answered in the win over Aldershot. Is Rio Ferdinand’s number up; will Anderson be proffered yet another chance; is Jonny Evans now persona non grata. In Sir Alex’ admission that he has suffered no greater loss as a player or manager there is also a tacit understanding that he faces a huge decision at Everton. Should Ferdinand and Anderson suffer the expected fate – perhaps others too – it will be a sign that Ferguson has moved on.
Those questions are for the weekend. In the meantime United fans can bask in the afterglow, not of a minor victory over a lower league club, but the genuine light of a newly born star. The short appearance against Aldershot was not Morrison’s début but in a sense, coming more than a year after the teen’s first appearance for the senior side, it was a re-birth.
United and player both.