This was a great weekend for Manchester United’s academy, as two of their graduates scored stunning goals to help their teams to important away victories. One of them, Adnan Januzaj, is only 18 and, after his two goals against Sunderland on his first Premier League start, will surely be offered an improved contract long before his present deal runs out at the end of the season. The other, though, has already flown the coop; he scored his goal for West Ham United.
There has been excitement surrounding Januzaj for a while now based on reports of his performances for the United reserves. Fans have been calling for his rapid introduction to the first team.
It is to David Moyes’s credit that he took a gamble on the Belgian teenager when the new manager was starting to come under a little pressure just seven games into the new season, and he was richly vindicated. There was far more hype around Ravel Morrison, however, when he was on United’s books, particularly after Sir Alex Ferguson described him as the best young player he had seen at the club since Ryan Giggs.
He never, though, played a minute for United’s first XI.
It does make you wonder, though, given the progress made by Paul Pogba since he left United for Juventus in 2012, whether United have become too hasty to offload troubled players because of the baggage they bring rather than on grounds of ability, but given how many chances United gave Morrison, probably unfair.
The assumption tends to be that when clubs speak of off-field issues they mean that players are overindulging. Often, though, the problems run rather deeper, are rather more complicated than that: young men to whom a preposterous level of wealth is available are vulnerable, both to temptation and to the less savoury sections of society.
Sam Allardyce, the West Ham manager, hinted as much when he reflected on Morrison’s performance against Tottenham Hotspur, capped by a wonderful goal that highlighted his balance, pace, confidence and touch, surging from halfway to beat Michael Dawson and Jan Vertonghen before lifting the ball over Hugo Lloris.
“I hope you can sort him out because, if you can, he’ll be a genius,” Ferguson told Allardyce when he signed him in January 2012. “He’s a brilliant footballer, he has top-class ability. He needs to get away from Manchester and start a new life.”
Can it be that all it took to get Morrison on the straight and narrow was to get him out of Manchester?
Kevin Nolan, West Ham’s captain, spoke of “a lot of problems with him … his lifestyle off the pitch” before a loan move to Birmingham City. It was at St Andrews, according to Allardyce, that “the penny dropped”.
“It has dropped; in lifestyle and attitude and his timekeeping,” Allardyce said, “and all of a sudden, there is a belief that he doesn’t want to do anything other than break into our first team.”
You hope that is the case, that Morrison, wiser for learning from his past indiscretions, can become a regular in the Premier League, and for England. The byways of English football are littered with the broken reputations of those who never learnt; United may have lost patience, but Morrison does not have to be a wasted talent.