After that breathtaking trip to White Hart Lane, which now seems like a foggy dream after a rare international break of actual importance, the name on everyone’s lips is Ravel Morrison.
Suddenly, after being ditched in the depths of football’s bad boys and labelled a thuggish outcast, Morrison has been linked with a new contract, a glorious return to Manchester United and a seat on the plane to Brazil.
Many people have been credited with the early stages of Morrison’s rehabilitation – Sir Alex Ferguson and his Manchester United set-up for having the foresight to let him go, Sam Allardyce for patiently working with him, Lee Clark for nurturing him during his loan spell at Birmingham City and, of course, Morrison himself.
One of the most positive elements of West Ham at the moment is what seems to be a strong and united dressing room. It is fair to say Kevin Nolan’s lack of mobility in midfield may earn him some criticism, but his leadership skills are evidently some of the best we’ve had for some time. The English domination of the dressing room must also create a greater sense of comradeship than other recent groups we’ve had.
This background atmosphere is highly likely to be a major reason why Morrison has begun to flourish. Suddenly he feels part of a team, whom he is equal with, who are relying on him to focus and work alongside them. It has been widely reported that Mark Noble in particular has built a protective bond with Morrison and made gestures such as inviting him into his home for dinner in an attempt to help him to integrate with the squad.
No longer is he the problem child, confined to a special support unit in what is a huge, unforgiving and assumedly overwhelming machine in the form of Manchester United. Morrison has been freed of that boarding school environment, which he so easily rebelled from and is now affectionately ‘one of the lads’.
The faster Morrison’s reputation elevates, the faster this cosy set-up will disintegrate. The organic support system now surrounding Morrison will protect him from himself until his own ego transcends his perception of the club. Stars such as Rio Ferdinand tried and failed to tame Morrison’s wayward attitude, so Nolan and Noble deserve credit.
Both having had distinguished Premiership careers, these two players have yet to attain an England cap and it looks increasingly likely that neither will get the opportunity to represent their country. Particularly for Nolan, who has consistently scored a high volume of goals in the Premier League, an England cap has remained an illusive pinnacle of his career which, frustratingly for him, it seems he will never reach.
I would not like to suggest either Nolan or Noble would begrudge Morrison of a chance to play for England, but human nature would suggest an element of envy would certainly affect the relationship if Morrison was handed a call-up just a few good games into his career. In addition to this, Morrison’s past psychological problems suggest that he may then begin to see himself as superior to the pair who have taken him under their wing, and the relationship in its current form will thus be destroyed.
I have been personally surprised by Morrison. I don’t think it his quality which is surprising but his personality. I imagined him to be far more boisterous than he has been. It seems it may have been a little unfair, but the ‘gangster-wannabe’ stereotype has inevitably been associated with Morrison.
After a couple of goals, I’m sure I’m not the only one who expected him to bowl out of the changing room, snatch the bottle of champagne from Geoff Shreeves and declare himself on par with Lionel Messi in a rap-infected dialect. But whether it is due to good advice or his own judgement, Morrison has remained impressively quiet.
It is, finally, his football thrusting him in the limelight. He is undoubtedly a player of immense quality and his penetration in the attack is very special; his ability to glide past players and complete the move with a finish was shown against Spurs and repeated for the under-21s on Tuesday night.
But the FA are already drawing intense attention to Morrison. In his few days with the under-21 squad they released a video of his skills in slow motion, set against a dramatic, operatic soundtrack, and also leaked footage of him scoring an ‘outrageous chip’ in training. West Ham have also used Morrison’s image to promote today’s game.
2 goals for the under-21s will not help us quieten the Morrison hysteria – but a heated exchange with Manchester United’s Wilfried Zaha was a reminder that his maturing transition from hot-headed prospect to world-class is not yet complete.
I don’t wish to put a downer on the Morrison revelation. He is a player of immense quality and has been a breath of fresh air and much-needed creativity in our team. It would be great to keep him as part of our progress as a club into the Olympic Stadium, but if not, dependent on contract clauses, we could make a huge profit on him enabling us to propel the club upwards, much like how Tottenham Hotspur have profited from Gareth Bale.
But Morrison is a complex issue. It may seem selfish from a West Ham perspective, but, at 20 years of age, I think at least a season focusing on domestic football, off of the international stage, would be beneficial for everyone. Undoubtedly Roy Hodgson and Allardyce will speak about Morrison, time will tell if they feel the same way.
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