“LOOK AT THIS KID, NUMBER 7, ON THE TRAINING PITCH. Come and watch him for a minute.” Rio Ferdinand reminisces about the occasion his manager Sir Alex Ferguson eagerly called him to Manchester United’s youth facilities to watch one particular prospect in action. Though almost a decade ago, Ferdinand still remembers the exact words his old boss used to describe the young player in question. Without a flicker of caution in his voice, Ferdinand recalls, “he was the best kid he’d ever seen.”
It goes without saying that should the craft and guile of a young player coax from the mouth of any spectator the words “best I’ve ever seen” then the expectation is that they may one day go on to become a special footballer. But such hypotheticals are reserved for the claims of mere mortals, the best ever seen by dads, school teachers and Sunday league coaches. When Sir Alex Ferguson, one of the game’s greatest ever managers, believes you are the best young player he has ever seen? Well, there is really nothing hypothetical about that. When Sir Alex says you’re the best he’s ever seen, you’re already special.
As it happened, in 2009, the Manchester United youth academy held within its ranks two particularly special players: two midfielders that dovetailed majestically at the centre of the scintillating side that won the FA Youth Cup for a record 10th time in 2011. Two teenagers were Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison.
But for all their striking similarities as adventurous adolescents, the hopes attached to both in near equal measure, in the years following their days together at Carrington the careers of Pogba and Morrison have followed alarmingly dissimilar trajectories.
The first of our titular duo departed Manchester under a cloud of animosity alongside claims of immaturity, greed and a lack of patience. But Pogba quickly went on to become a vital component of a domestically insurmountable Juventus team where he won eight major honours. He has since amassed a haul of personal accolades, reached almost a half-century of caps for his country on the way to representing them in a European Championship final, all before becoming the most expensive player in football history when his old team stumped up around £90 million to bring the toast of Turin back home to Old Trafford.
Meanwhile, the latter has found life in the spotlight rather more challenging. Having been released by his first two permanent clubs, leaving hopeful managers more exasperated than enamoured, Morrison has made a habit of appearing on the front pages of newspapers rather than the back thanks to his various run-ins with the law. Unable to stick to the straight and narrow, Morrison’s antics have added addendum after addendum to the cautionary tale that his career has conspired to become and the fateful story of his rapid demise is surely to be used soon by managers hoping to scare straight any budding young professionals in need of an attitude adjustment.
Yet, as Sir Alex stood beside Ferdinand, presiding over another youth team training session, his eyes trained on just one remarkable young man in particular; it was not Paul Pogba but Ravel Morrison whose unmatched ability warranted such grandiose praise from the legendary manager.
Born in Lagny-Sur-Marne, a commune in the sleepy eastern suburbs of Paris, Paul Labile Pogba wasted no time in following in the footsteps of his older twin brothers, Florentin and Mathias, in joining a local football club at the tender age of six. Based just a few miles south of his home, Pogba began his footballing journey at US Roissy, the amateur club where for seven years the youngster began to master the fundamentals of his trade.
In 2006, aged 13, Pogba made a step up and joined US Torcy, the club where he first discovered the rigours and responsibilities of captaincy, before an invitation to join Le Havre – a French club famed for its prolific youth academy – helped the youngster to make another step up, this time entering the realm of professional football.
Never daunted by the expectation brought about by the blatancy of his abundant ability, as Pogba’s body and mind matured during his segue into adolescence, it was at Le Havre that he began to realise his immense potential. Having been made captain by the team’s manager shortly after his arrival, Pogba led the club’s under-16 side to an impressive runners-up finish in their competitive youth league, the Championnat National des 16 Ans.
A young Paul Pogba at Le Havre
His performances impossible to ignore, the youngster soon began attracting interest from outside of the club, not least from the scouts sent by France’s international youth teams, and in 2008 Pogba was called up to the France under-16s. Once again handed the captain’s armband, this time he and his team-mates faced Wales. From the first whistle until the last, the centre of the pitch remained solely Pogba’s and his side waltzed to a 4-2 win.
The maturity and confidence of his play greatly exceeding his years, soon word of Pogba’s rapidly growing reputation crept through the grapevine, over the French borders and into the rest of Europe, where scores of scouts and managers scrambled to propose offers designed to tempt the boy away from the academy at Le Havre.
Such efforts seemed to be in vain, as it appeared Pogba remained fully aware of the benefits available to a player of his age and talent being attached to a club like Le Havre. But then came an offer from Manchester United and all prior plans of staying put were consigned to the trash. Despite their best efforts, both inside and out of a courtroom, there was little Le Havre could do to keep a hold of their prized asset and in October 2009 Paul Pogba waved adieu to his homeland and departed France en route for Manchester.
Born just shy of six weeks before Pogba, and raised in Wythenshawe, a troubled council estate situated in south Manchester, the emergence of Ravel Morrison into the football world has about it more than a hint of the hard knock life.
In truth, almost anything worth writing about Ravel Morrison can be neatly filed under two distinct headings – talent and temperament – and while there may be surplus evidence in video archives of the rapid germination of Ravel Morrison the adroit athlete, events during his early days at Manchester United paint a more fitting portrayal of Ravel Morrison the troubled teen.
Having joined the Red Devils aged just eight, scouted by academy coach and scout Phil Brogan while playing for local team Fletcher Moss Rangers, Morrison signed as a first-year scholar in 2009 before putting pen to paper on his first professional contract with the club on 2 February 2010, the day of his 17th birthday.
However, in the very same week as his long-awaited progression into full-time professionalism, Morrison was arrested by the local police and was later convicted of intimidating a knifepoint robbery witness, reportedly intent on preventing the victim from providing evidence at the trial of his muggers, rumoured to be friends of Morrison’s.
Though initially threatened with a spell in a young offenders institute, the judge assigned to Morrison’s case believed that sentencing him to time in prison would cause more harm than good, not least by almost certainly ending his association with Manchester United, and so Morrison escaped with a 12-month referral order and was forced to pay almost £2,000 in compensation.
Just a few months later Morrison was back in court, this time standing opposite his girlfriend. Following the hearing Morrison admitted a charge of criminal damage, having thrown his partner’s mobile phone out of a window at her parents’ house during a heated argument, and this resulted in his referral to Salford’s youth offending team in service for domestic violence counselling. He was also fined again.
To this point, on the field, Morrison had already excelled while representing England’s youth squads at three different age groups, and his virtuoso performances in the FA Youth Cup for his club had journalists and fans alike purring at the possibility of witnessing the emergence of the most technically gifted youngster since Paul Scholes from under the glaring Old Trafford spotlight.
Ravel Morrison was the leading light in Manchester United’s youth team
But in his witness intimidation Morrison reportedly threatened the victim, warning him “you don’t know what I’m capable of” and with the impact his off-field indiscipline was already beginning to have on his playing career, aged just 17, those most aware of both the player’s virtues and vices were already fearing they may never come to learn what Morrison was truly capable of either.
Desperate for his sensational squad to succeed, Manchester United’s under-18s coach Paul McGuinness knew better than most just how emblematic of a player’s career winning titles as a youth at the famous club can be.
His father, Wilf, was an original member of the legendary Manchester United crop named the Busby Babes, whose unforgettable careers at the club were significantly kickstarted by their winning of four consecutive FA Youth Cup titles between 1953 and 1956, and Paul himself had been a member of the United squad just a year before an influx of their 1992 FA Youth Cup winning squad took their place in the senior ranks; a progression into professional football that preceded their eventual transformation from Fergie’s Fledglings into the famous Class of ‘92 and their consequent securing of a place in Manchester United’s vast and storied folklore.
Against a starry Manchester skyline littered with promise, Pogba and Morrison shone the brightest, quickly becoming indispensable to McGuinness’s domestic aspirations, and in 2011 the boys hopes of landing their own FA Youth Cup title were given life by their expert disposals of Portsmouth, West Ham United, Newcastle United and Liverpool en route to their two-legged semi-final against Chelsea.
At Stamford Bridge, United’s youngsters fell to a strong Chelsea side, losing 3-2, but goals from Pogba and fellow future star Jesse Lingard gave the Red Devils a fighting chance in the return leg at Old Trafford. Sure enough, United made their home advantage count and they romped to a thrilling 4-0 victory, with Morrison opening the scoring before an impressive Will Keane hat-trick carried their side through to a similarly two-legged final against Sheffield United.
In the first leg at Bramall Lane, United twice took the lead only to be pegged back by an adept counter-attacking display from the hosts. However, in the second leg, United’s superiority was evident once more and braces from both Morrison and Keane gave United a second successive 6-3 aggregate victory and brought the FA Youth Cup home to the red half of Manchester for the first time since 2003.
Just as it had so many years ago for Edwards and Charlton, and later for Giggs, Scholes and Beckham, the FA Youth Cup win opened the door to the senior squad for a select few of the academy graduates, and to little surprise Pogba and Morrison both proudly strode through.
Though Morrison had already made his first team bow, making a cameo appearance in his club’s League Cup victory over Wolverhampton Wanderers in October 2010, some seven months before the boys’ cup win, both players awaited the 2011-12 season with an unquenchable anticipation, its impending arrival appearing to promise even greater opportunities ahead.
Despite the overwhelming positivity surrounding their promotion from youth squad to seniors, the mood soon changed when both players found first-team opportunities remarkably hard to come by during their debut season out of the academy.
Pogba quickly became invaluable to the Manchester United reserve team and was rewarded with sporadic runouts at home and abroad, featuring for his club in the League Cup, Premier League and Europa League. But with his season’s efforts limited to just seven substitute appearances, the Frenchman began to fidget in his place on the first team’s sidelines.
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Meanwhile, Morrison was afforded even fewer opportunities, featuring in the same three League Cup matches as Pogba and no more, and he too appeared wholly unsatisfied by his miserly first team contributions. Seemingly the more viscerally motivated of the two, Morrison became the first of their pair to show his hand and in January 2012 he swiftly departed Old Trafford, swapping Manchester for east London.
Should the club have considered Morrison’s ability alone, with his contract due to expire in just six months, there is no doubt Manchester United would have raced through their negotiations if it meant retaining a firm grip on their starlet whom they had already nurtured for more than a decade. But when evaluated alongside his various run-ins with the law, and with far too few improvements in the player’s attitude and application since his promotion to the first team, Ferguson, not without great deliberation, decided that letting Morrison go onto pastures new was likely the best option for both parties.
“Sadly, there are examples of players who have similar backgrounds to Giggs or Cristiano Ronaldo, who, despite enormous talent, just aren’t emotionally or mentally strong enough to overcome the hurts of their childhood and their inner demons. Ravel Morrison might be the saddest case,” Ferguson wrote in his 2015 book, Leading. “He possessed as much natural talent as any youngster we ever signed, but kept getting into trouble. It was very painful to sell him … he could have been a fantastic player. But, over a period of years, the problems off the pitch continued to escalate and we had little option but to cut the cord.”
While many looked back and cursed what could have been, there remained plenty looking to the future with hope, not least those at the summit of the Manchester United hierarch, undeniably relieved that the troubled youngster would no longer be their responsibility. His new colleagues at West Ham were also hopeful, anticipating the day Ferguson would be forced to admit that Morrison was the one who got away, and Ravel himself, desperate to start a new chapter away from Manchester, departed his hometown with his eyes undeviating from the chance at redemption his transfer seemed to offer.
Morrison failed to toe the line for very long as just a month after signing for the Hammers, before even making his West Ham debut, he was again paraded through the tabloids, this time having been accused of posting threatening and homophobic messages on a social media website. After accepting a charge of ‘using abusive and/or insulting words including a reference to a person’s sexual orientation’, Morrison was fined £7,000 and warned by the FA as to his future conduct.
With the 19-year-old’s fresh start looking to be in jeopardy before it had even begun – boasting in eight months in east London the same number of FA charges as appearances for his new club – in August 2012 then-West Ham manager Sam Allardyce sent Morrison on loan to second-tier side Birmingham City, in the hope of providing him with regular first team football and some much-needed experience in the type of focus and professionalism an increased level of responsibility can cultivate.
Around the same time, Pogba too was wrestling with matters of responsibility and it appeared as though his time at Manchester United was coming to a similar end. No such off-field controversies threatened his place in the United squad, but in being repeatedly overlooked in favour of players with more seniority – though arguably less positional suitability – Pogba and his agent began to toy with the prospect of rejecting the club’s offer of a contract extension and seeking out alternative employment.
While Ferguson’s reluctance to lose a player of Morrison’s quality was eventually unravelled by an unwillingness to compromise on his beliefs surrounding the mental fragility within the player’s game, Pogba’s immense quality on the pitch had no such psychological caveat and Ferguson was made livid by the prospect of losing him for nothing at the season’s end.
But the Old Lady of Italy wasted no time in batting her eyelashes at the wantaway midfielder and when her financial incentives and promises of first team action were rather more forthcoming than those of her English counterparts, Pogba simply couldn’t resist. In July 2012, Pogba signed a four-year deal with Juventus, Ferguson was left fuming, and a rendezvous in Turin awaited the youngster.
Upon linking up with his new squad Pogba encountered a scenario not dissimilar to the one he faced in Manchester. The fiercely competitive nature and vast experience of the squad differed little from the Manchester United team he left behind, only where the shirts of his midfield rivals once read Scholes, Carrick and Fletcher now stood the names Pirlo, Vidal, and Marchisio.
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In lieu of their new recruit’s relative infancy, Juventus manager Antonio Conte made good on his promises to Pogba and the midfielder played a key role throughout the entirety of his debut season in Italy. Featuring 37 times in all competitions, a figure he could frankly have only have dreamed of reaching as part of Ferguson’s United squad, Pogba proved instrumental in helping his team to retain their Serie A title and his sustained form aided his teammates in beginning what soon became a period of insurmountable domestic dominance.
Over the following three seasons, Pogba became a mainstay in the starting line-up of both his club and national side and remained a constant thorn in the sides of his opponents. His efforts to hone each of his attributes, rounding off what few rough edges could be spotted within his game, had Pogba striding at some pace toward the unofficial title of Europe’s most complete midfielder and his performances along the way had fans fawning over his talents and pundits back in England scrambling to reignite the argument surrounding Ferguson’s willingness to let him go.
Ferguson had retired from his position as Manchester United manager in 2013, after 26 phenomenal years at the helm, and was quickly followed by a brief procession of managers – David Moyes, Ryan Giggs (as caretaker manager) and Louis van Gaal – none of whom could come anywhere close to emulating the Scot’s achievements.
Despite their contrasting tactics, differing ideologies and clashing styles, each manager had one consistent weakness: every one of their squads dearly lacked the influence of a confident, enigmatic, stylish, powerful midfielder. Somebody a little like Paul Pogba, perhaps. However loudly the calls came for his return, though, Pogba remained more than happy with life in Italy and so United were forced to soldier on without their once recruit.
Unfortunately for Morrison, no such calls for his return to the Manchester club came. Far from an error in judgement, it appeared to all in attendance as though United had made something of a lucky escape. Morrison’s career was badly stalling.
In his decision to send him out on loan to a lower division side, Sam Allardyce may have hoped to spark a reaction in Morrison, tease out of him a determination to prove wrong the doubters who smarted at the very suggestion of his inclusion in a Premier League team. But some months into his spell up in Birmingham, with just one appearance to his name, issues surrounding his lack of application shackled his ambitions.
The club’s manager at the time, Lee Clark, considered terminating the player’s loan deal early, especially as the youngster’s poor attitude in training seemingly riled a number of the more senior members of the Birmingham squad who remained clueless as to the reason for his addition to the squad. But one-to-one talks with the player evidenced to Clark not so much a chink in the armour but a crack in the player’s tough exterior – a way in.
Whatever was said to him by way of motivation worked as Morrison was reinstated in the team for a home game against league leaders Leicester and the player responded with a superb performance in their 1-1 draw. For the remainder of the 2012-13 season Morrison’s inclusion in the starting line-up became no longer a health risk but a necessary creative decision, a no-brainer given the increasing maturity of his game. Clark could stop writing his name on the team sheet in pencil.
At the season’s end, Birmingham consolidated only a mid-table finish, but Clark remained hopeful of pushing on the following season and aiming for the playoffs, particularly should he have been able to sign Ravel up for another years’ loan, itself an incredible prospect given how their partnership began. But after the progress made by Morrison in the second half of the Championship season, Allardyce was eager to give the player another shot at the Premier League and Ravel was recalled as planned.
Morrison returned to Upton Park and was issued the number 15 squad number, a sign of faith in the young player. In his fourth league appearance of the season, Morrison hinted towards repaying that faith with a consolation goal against Everton, and in his sixth appearance all but paid it back in one lump sum with a spectacular solo goal in a 3-0 victory away at London rivals Spurs.
Morrison blew a great chance at West Ham
Suddenly Ravel Morrison’s name was being spoken in the same breath as an England call-up, word of a potential “shock inclusion” in his country’s World Cup 2014 plans caught traction with the media, and all at once every issue that tempered his progress up to now seemed to evaporate.
But such relapses weren’t over and those who knew Morrison best would likely have reluctantly admitted knowing so. Upon reflection, there is perhaps no briefer snapshot in time that better represents Ravel Morrison’s dichotomous idiosyncrasies than the evening of 15 October 2013.
Nine days after his incredible goal at White Hart Lane, Morrison was included in the England under-21s starting line-up preparing to host Lithuania at Portman Road, he and his team-mates knowing that any win would take them to the top of their qualifying group for the 2015 under-21s European Championship.
But far from settling for just any win, the young lions tore a poor Lithuania side to shreds. Ninety minutes spent toying with their prey, tossing them from side to side and pawing at the flayed bones that was once the away side’s containment-and-counter-based game-plan, a 5-0 win that could so easily have been ten thrilled the pride. Yet, despite the mauling, not every player in the England squad returned home content with having had their fill.
Morrison had chipped in with two fine goals, his first two goals for the England under-21s. After opening the scoring with a slightly fortuitous back-post flick, his second was as close to a vintage Morrison goal as there could be at such an age.
Receiving a misplaced pass near the halfway line, Morrison nudged the ball out of reach of one sliding Lithuanian and began to dribble at pace towards two others. Noticing the gap between them, Morrison powered ahead, running between the two, who could only trip one another up in an attempt to stop him. Morrison, in a world of time and space of his own making, faked a shot to sit the goalkeeper on the floor, before rolling the ball into the unguarded net. Morrison seemed to be untouchable.
But minutes later, Morrison became involved in an altercation with team-mate Wilfried Zaha, said to have begun when Zaha questioned Morrison’s unwillingness to pass the ball out to him on the wing, which culminated in the two of them scuffling in the centre of the pitch, needing to be broken up by fellow team-mate Nathan Redmond.
Though far more was made of the fight than had really taken place, the unsavoury encounter sullied what could so easily have been a wondrous night for the young players. Certainly no court case was required, no fine was to be issued, but once again, in spite of his dazzling display, the talking points of the following day were dominated by questions surrounding Morrison’s temperament.
Morrison’s contributions to West Ham’s season easily surpassed his input from the previous year, but still Sam Allardyce felt the best way for the player to progress was by playing regularly in the Championship. For the final three months of the 2013-14 season, Morrison was loaned across London to Queens Park Rangers.
Though it took some time to adjust to life in Birmingham, given his overall influence at St Andrew’s and the confidence with which he returned to West Ham, Morrison’s first loan move, in 2012, proved to be a certain success. His next two loan spells, however, wouldn’t have quite the same impact.
Morrison in action for Lazio
In pure number form, Morrison’s six goals and three assists in 17 games told the story of an impact sufficiently made. But during the same period Morrison’s off-field antics caught up with him once more and he was required to spend three days remanded in custody having been arrested and charged with two accounts of assault, accused by his girlfriend and her mother.
In November of the same year Morrison was found not guilty of both charges, and eventually all charges were dropped. Perhaps Morrison’s reputation had preceded him and for any other players, such measures wouldn’t have been required. But despite his innocence, such controversial events did little to convince those back at his parent club that he was a man devoted to changing his ways and time appeared to be running out on his West Ham career.
With Morrison’s initial three-and-a-half-year contract with the Hammers nearing its final six months, the club’s manager Sam Allardyce seemed to believe that one final loan move could prove vital to the boy’s future. Turn over a new leaf, impress, and a new contract would be waiting for him at West Ham in the new year. Revert to type, disappoint, and it would be up to Morrison and his agent to find another club.
“It’s not that he has to impress me as a footballer, we know about his talent.” Allardyce reiterated, on the eve of Morrison’s three-month loan move to Cardiff. “It’s a lack of concentration and a lack of discipline. You can only talk to him so often, so many times about changing.”
Unfortunately, on this occasion, not even Morrison’s ability was able to shine through to provide a much-needed silver lining to his continued insubordination. After just seven appearances for Cardiff, manager Russell Slade called time on his loan and sent him back to London. Upon his return to Upton Park there awaited Morrison no offer of a contract renewal; instead only a place for him on the transfer list.
Before any other English club could take a chance on signing the divisive midfielder, intriguing news from Italy soon made its way to England telling of a pre-contractual agreement signed between Morrison and Lazio, which would allow the player to join the Rome-based club at the end of the 2014-15 season.
To the amazement of many the rumours were quickly ratified by the Italians and in response West Ham were quick to terminate the player’s contract with them, allowing Morrison to move to Italy and train with his future club some four months earlier than planned.
Upon his official unveiling at Lazio in July 2015, it seemed as though finally, having tread a rather perilous and protracted path at times, the career of Ravel Morrison was once again showing signs of mirroring that of his team-mate Paul Pogba. Still, the relative reputation and value of both players were likely as far apart as they had ever been, but at least now they were once again traversing pitches and battling for points in the same league again.
Sadly, Morrison made nothing like the type of impact his old team-mate Pogba had on the Italian game in his early days and two particular quotes, though very different in length and nature, adequately summarise his opening season at Lazio.
The first comes from Morrison himself and is limited to just a single word, “January…” Posted as a pseudo-cryptic, single-word statement on Ravel Morrison’s official Twitter account in late October 2015, just three months after joining Lazio, the tweet effectively presents the player impatiently counting down the days until the nearest available transfer window opened, likely with the aim of departing Rome pronto. Why exactly?
The second quote: “I pick those who deserve to play, who train consistently, professionally and openly. Morrison has to work harder. He still doesn’t speak a word of Italian.” Those were the words used by Stefano Pioli, the Lazio manager responsible for Morrison’s expeditious emigration, when asked why the young Englishman had featured so sparingly since his arrival in the Italian capital.
If at West Ham Morrison’s career was stalling, at Lazio it appeared to be in reverse. Despite impressing during the club’s on-field pre-season preparations, Morrison was given just 53 minutes of football to show what he could do – between the first game of the season and the ninth – and was then made to wait almost six months before being afforded just another seven minutes of Serie A action.
Paul Pogba is now a star for Manchester United and France
It would be fair to say that Morrison’s progress at the Biancocelesti was made no easier by the meddlesome manager merry-go-round that whirred on behind the scenes. After Pioli was sacked and replaced by ex-player Simone Inzaghi, he was soon relieved of his duties too, in favour of eccentric Argentine Marcelo Bielsa. But when Bielsa lived up to his renowned eccentricity, resigning just 48 hours into his contract -citing broken promises from the Lazio board as the reason for his speedy exit – Inzaghi then found himself back at the helm, this time for keeps; his first duty as manager being the immediate need to stop the heads of everybody associated with Lazio from spinning. Then he’d have to find a use for Ravel Morrison.
Eventually no move materialised in the following January for Morrison but word of his growing commitment to the team spread, evidenced by the increasing regularity of his showing up on time to training and his reported intensive Italian lessons taken with the aim of making his time in Italy count.
The club’s influential sporting director Igli Tare even leapt to the player’s defence, saying: “Ravel Morrison is one of those classic footballers who is a bit eccentric. Without doubt he’s an outstanding player because he’s got some great moves. People like him need time, but his time will come.” But there are plenty who doubt Morrison’s time will still come in Italy and even if it did, would he be disciplined enough to make the most of it?
January 2017 will mark 18 months since Morrison’s arrival at Lazio and the regularity of his contributions to the club have barely increased at all. Though followers of the famous Italian club still dream of the player emulating those fiery, untamable fan-favourites before him like Di Canio, Gascoigne, there remains little real hope of such events coming to fruition. Unsurprisingly, talk of an exit once again joins the winter winds in whistling through the paper stalls both at home and abroad.
For Pogba, however, no such rumours precede his segue into 2017. Of course, his spectacular move away from Italy was made in the summer. Suggestions that Manchester United may move to make a Pogba-United reunion happen had long oiled the rumour mill, but when José Mourinho became manager of Manchester United in May 2016, the wheel began turning with rather more purpose. Fast-forward to early August and the smile on Pogba’s face that accompanied his holding of a Manchester United jersey told the football world all they needed to know. One five-year contract and a world transfer record-breaking move later, Pogba was back in Manchester.
Naturally some questioned the inflated figure paid by the club for his services and, given its proximity to being an English club’s first nine-figure transfer fee, anything less than a magnificent man-of-the-match display from Pogba has been, and may continue to be, met by an outpouring of ridicule and raillery from armchair enthusiasts everywhere.
But for all the contrasting events littered throughout their careers, at just 23-years-old, there remains unquestionably ample time for both players to take by force the fate of their careers and achieve whatever aims they may have. Only now it is perhaps a little easier to choose which player to keep an eye on.
The paths of Paul Pogba and Ravel Morrison once ran side by side, two perfect parallel lines on an upward trajectory towards greatness. Now they only diverge; one soaring ever higher, the other only occasionally threatening to spike, flirting with the idea of returning to its once skybound course, only to teeter and fall further still.
Today Pogba’s biggest vice, beyond an irrepressible need for weekly hair tune-ups, is a love of the limelight. But such an attention addiction may invariably lead to yet more success, an additional motivating factor that may only drive him closer towards achieving his every dream.
The same sadly cannot be said for Morrison. Despite his own penchant for playing the protagonist, regardless of the distance he may put between himself and his birthplace, Morrison remains to this day the living embodiment of his roots, seemingly unable to shake the immaturity and ill-discipline that caused his early career to veer so wildly off course.
Their old manager Sir Alex Ferguson, for whom spotting talented footballers was almost as automatic a bodily process as breathing, had never seen an adolescent as gifted as Morrison. But a well-read verse is the one that tells us talent alone is not enough to carve out a spot alongside the game’s greats.
When the time came for the legendary manager to let both players find their own way, like birds set free to the skies from open palms, one embarked upon a stirring journey that took him far overseas before eventually returning home to where he felt he belonged. The other took a path not entirely dissimilar, but seems to have gotten lost on his way, led too easily off course by lesser distractions. Only he knows exactly where he’s heading and, more importantly, whether he’ll ever get there at all.
By Will Sharp. Follow @shillwarp