Pitchside Europe

Ravel Morrison enjoying delayed gratification after troubled past

There was something rather thrilling about watching a young player in a Manchester United shirt illustrating his great potential so vibrantly on Saturday afternoon.

Adnan Januzaj, nominated this summer as the great hope to cure United’s creative issues, marked his first Premier League start with two goals against Sunderland, the second of which was a quite sumptuous volley with his left foot. You'll no doubt have seen it.

A rather relieved David Moyes compared the 18-year-old’s impact with that of Wayne Rooney, but the proud lineage of wonderful young United talents can be traced back further, to David Beckham, to Ryan Giggs, to George Best and to Duncan Edwards. This is a club where trusting in youth is a central pillar of their compelling identity.

It would be stupidly early to place Januzaj in the same bracket as those illustrious players – one glance at the once-feted Federico Macheda, now representing Doncaster Rovers on loan, acts as a salutary warning – yet the promise displayed by the playmaker cannot help but excite, appealing as it does to the club’s grandest traditions.

Two years ago, though, there was another young talent of whom great things were expected at United; a young talent who left the club under a cloud, incurring the displeasure of the law as he threatened to irresponsibly fritter away his vast potential.

That player was Ravel Morrison, and on a weekend when Januzaj made his play for a starting role at one of the world’s biggest clubs, the West Ham playmaker produced the kind of performance that suggested he might just be able to deliver on the promise he once showed at Old Trafford - even if it does come two years too late for United.

Starting in an attacking role in a fluid 4-6-0 formation away at Tottenham, Morrison, now relishing in the faith shown in him by Sam Allardyce, enjoyed a superb afternoon in the 3-0 win, his electric performance topped by a quite brilliant goal as he took the ball on a run from his own half and evaded three defenders to chip a finish over Hugo Lloris.

It was an in-form Morrison’s fourth goal in eight games. But while Januzaj – two years his junior – courts interest from almost a fifth of the countries in Europe thanks to his varied heritage, including England, Morrison has only just been called up to the Under-21s for the first time.

If his form continues it is not unthinkable that calls for full senior recognition could be heard in the New Year - even if Everton's brilliant Ross Barkley is a rather more attractive proposition. But for Morrison, an elevation to the seniors would bring with it scrutiny of an unwelcome form and intensity.

If a befuddled Roy Hodgson had to face an enquiry about his 40-year-old decision to play in South Africa during the apartheid era when taking the England job, it does not take much to imagine what questions would be directed at a man with a recent rap sheet like Morrison’s. Because his is a story of criminality, immaturity and delayed gratification; not for Morrison the Januzaj-style fairytale.

For that he can blame himself. A fine piece by Daniel Taylor in the Guardian in January 2012 – marking the playmaker’s release from Old Trafford – catalogued the problems United had with the troublesome youngster, who couldn’t keep himself out of court and pushed United’s patience past breaking point.

“At United they will tell you that, goodness knows, they have tried everything,” Taylor wrote. “Or, at least, until the past few weeks when the secretary, John Alexander, rang his agent to tell him he should look for another club. By that point, one of the coaches had simply stopped talking to Morrison. His mother went to pick him up from training one day and was told, in the bluntest terms, that her son was a waste of time and not worth the hassle.”

On Twitter recently, Rio Ferdinand said at one stage of his career Morrison was an even brighter talent than either Januzaj or Paul Pogba, the French midfielder who ran his contract down at United before proving himself to be one of Europe's most promising players at Juventus. Unlike his two contemporaries, the problem kid from Wythenshawe did not push on; his attitude was found to be seriously faulty and his talent waned.

A player wanted by Barcelona, who had been compared with Paul Scholes, became an unbearable burden for United, a club who stood by him despite his notorious conviction for witness intimidation in February 2011 – a case which almost saw him jailed - and a caution for assaulting his mother.

After United could no longer work with him, West Ham took Morrison on for £650,000 and, following a loan spell with Birmingham City last season, they are beginning to cash in on his talent now. Allardyce was certainly impressed with the performance of the young man on Sunday afternoon as the West Ham boss reveled in a masterful destruction of Spurs.

"He's 20, but he's quite old in terms of years but he's learnt so much in a short period of time," said Allardyce. "That's the beauty. The penny has dropped, in his lifestyle, his attitude and his timekeeping. He doesn’t want to do anything other than try and break into our first team. The loan spell at Birmingham City gave him time to reflect on what it takes; he has learnt from that experience and listened to what we’ve told him.

"Sir Alex Ferguson told me I hope you can sort him out because you will have a top class player on the your hands, I'm not sure I've done that but he's enjoying his football. He can do something no one else can do and we saw that today."

Meanwhile, 24 hours previously, David Moyes was likewise basking in Januzaj’s display. "He's going to be a great talent,” he said. “He's a special talent, he got goals, he's got ability on the ball, but we'll keep his feet on the ground and make sure he gets on with it. We won't let him get ahead of himself and we'll keep trying to do the right things with him."

That was a task which proved beyond even a club of United's stature two years ago when they cut Morrison loose. But removed from Manchester, the player for whom the rather flippant tag of 'bad boy' hardly does justice may just be on the straight and narrow.

His unsavoury past means Morrison's successes do not give you a fuzzy feeling like Januzaj's, but nevertheless, there will be something to celebrate if he keeps his head down and eludes trouble like he does Tottenham defenders.

Tom Adams - @tomEurosport