When Ravel Morrison was only 14, he set tongues wagging. This kid was dubbed the most talented youth team player to come up through Manchester United’s ranks since Paul Scholes. He was going to become one of the greatest players the club had ever seen.
There are plenty of players who are highly rated when they turn out at youth level who never go on to make it in the Premier League though. When looking at the Youth Cup winning final team of 2011, a trophy lifted largely thanks to Morrison’s two goals in a 4-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday, the later success of the players in that team varies wildly.
At one end of the spectrum there’s Paul Pogba who, until a few weeks ago, was the most expensive player in the world. He’s been named Europe’s Golden Boy, won 10 trophies and was recently named the Europa League Player of the Season.
Then there’s Jesse Lingard, who scored in the opening goal in the first leg of the 2011 final, and has since scored for his boyhood team in the FA Cup final and League Cup final earlier in 2017.
Michael Keane, now Everton’s £30 million defender, was named in the Championship Team of the Season in the campaign before last at Burnley. His twin brother, Will Keane, who used to fight with him over spare tickets at Old Trafford from his season-ticket holding father, had the potential to make it big but has seen his career hampered by injury.
He would have been ahead of Marcus Rashford in pecking order on the night the teenager made a name for himself against FC Midtjylland on his debut, but was injured. He was signed by caretaker manager and former United assistant and player, Mike Phelan, for Hull.
Goalkeeper Sam Johnstone is still on United’s books but is Aston Villa’s no.1 this season, playing for former United captain Steve Bruce.
Looking to other players from the 2011 final; Sean McGinty now plays for Torquay, Michele Fornasier represents Pescara in Serie A, Ryan Tunnicliffe is at Millwall, Gyliano van Velzen plays for Roda JC in the Eredivisie and Tyler Blackett plays for Reading.
One of the saddest stories is that of Tom Thorpe, who captained the team, but was released by United two years ago. He signed for Championship side Rotherham, before being loaned out to Bradford and Bolton in League One. He was released by his club at the end of last season and now, aged 24, is without a club. He is currently on trial at New York City FC.
Yet it’s still hard to look past the disappointment of Morrison’s career as the biggest let down of the group. It was announced this week that he has signed for Mexican side Atlas FC who are currently placed 13th out of 18 teams in their league.
It’s hard to believe that a player who had such potential is now scraping the barrel to make a career out of football. Let’s not forget that he has also represented his country at U-16, U-17, U-18 and U-21 level.
Rio Ferdinand once said that Morrison is “the best young kid that I’ve ever seen in my life”, which gives some indication of how much talent he has.
“Pogba, Lingard… they used to look up to this boy,” revealed Ferdinand. “People don’t realise how good he was. Those boys used to look up to him like, ‘wow, Ravel Morrison’.”
In 2009, The Telegraph hailed Morrison as a bigger talent than Jack Wilshere and claimed he could play for England in the 2014 World Cup.
In 2010, The Independent named him as one of the top five youth players to keep an eye on.
In 2011, he played at Anfield in the FA Youth Cup quarter-final in a game that saw United go 2-0 down, with Raheem Sterling lining up for the home side. Morrison scored the equaliser in front of the Kop, kissing the United badge as every Mancunian boy dreams of, before winning the game with his second goal in the 86th minute. The boos rang round the stadium as he celebrated.
Still love when @morrisonravel kissed the united badge infront of the kop!
— Ryan Cook (@_RyanCook) September 14, 2012
Yet he already had a poor reputation at the club. Just two days after he signed academy forms on his 17th birthday, he was arrested for intimidating a witness and given a 12-month referral order.
Morrison pleaded guilty and was warned that if he breached the order he would be sentenced to a year behind bars.
While condemning his behaviour, the club released a statement of support for the teenager. “He is a very talented player with a bright future ahead of him,” It read.
This from Warren Joyce on Ravel is actually so sad. They tried a lot but in the end it was just such a waste of talent pic.twitter.com/4Md4RIpozb
— Jay (@Thanki91) January 28, 2017
United’s former youth team manager, Warren Joyce, has since revealed the support he was given by the club.
“There were times when we took it in turns doing his community service with him,” he said.
“I’ve shovelled horse sh*t with him in an afternoon to try to help him through that. The other staff did the same; they found themselves painting sheds.
“You try to bring up your kids the right way but not everybody has that guidance. There are lots of sides to Ravel that people don’t see. He could be in the room now and you’d all go: ‘what a nice lad he is’. But on another day you might think different.”
Eventually, after countless chances to right his wrongs, Morrison was sold to West Ham though, a decision that Sir Alex Ferguson later reflected on as being “very painful”.
Ferguson said that Morrison wasn’t “mentally strong enough to overcome the hurt of his childhood and his inner demons” and claimed that his story was the “saddest case” he had come across in football.
After four years at The Hammers, he left for Italy, signing for Lazio on a four-year deal. The Lazio director, Igli Tare, said that Morrison “has undoubted quality and is world class, as well as being a little mad.”
After two seasons in Italy, making just eight appearances for the first team as well as being sent back to QPR on loan, Lazio have also washed their hands of him.
Morrison has now made 94 professional appearances, scoring 14 goals, and is in last chance saloon.
Well, that status probably describes his situation for the last five years or more. Remarkably, he’s afforded opportunity after opportunity, which presumably comes from people watching him play football and witnessing how gifted he is.
Sadly, the most memorable moment of Morrison’s career to date is probably nothing to do with football, but his celebration of Danny Welbeck’s goal at the Bernabeu against Real Madrid in 2013.
“Welbz is dat guy, zup zup, say nada” was the infamous tweet.
United fans, and now Arsenal, copy this tweet when the striker scores.
“It’s just a Manchester phrase that seems similar to calling someone “the man”, in a positive way,” Welbeck explained. “Ravel is too much! In Manchester where we both grew up, it’s sort of a slang term as praise. But that’s funny that Rav said that. Rav is dat guy though.”
So far, Morrison has been anything but ‘dat guy’, although he does have time on his side. If he can overcome his demons, at 24, he has years of football ahead of him. There are lots of people in Manchester hoping this is the case.