It is a long way down from Manchester United but two Queen's Park Rangers players will try to fight their way back into the Premier League at Wembley on Saturday.
Danny Simpson and Ravel Morrison both graduated from the famed United academy and played for the first team. Neither of them became regulars at Old Trafford. They both left to play football elsewhere and this season have found themselves in the Championship with Harry Redknapp's QPR.
It might be a different challenge from that which the pair expected but, as Simpson explained this morning at QPR's training ground, players need to find their own way in the game, as difficult as that first step can be.
"It is tough," Simpson recalled, "because you're at the Carrington training ground, you have all these facilities available to you. And when you finally leave, you realise that other clubs aren't Man United."
In January 2010, at the age of 23, right-back Simpson left United and signed permanently at Newcastle United, where he had been enjoying a productive loan spell. He played four seasons at St James' Park before joining QPR last summer. Midfielder Morrison left for West Ham United in January 2012, just before his 19th birthday, and came to Loftus Road on loan in February.
"For me, and obviously for Ravel, sometimes you do have to go on your own path, and learn and develop," Simpson reflected. "We are all professional footballers, we all want to have good careers."
Neither Simpson nor Morrison made much of an impression on United's first team. The latter made eight appearances at the start of the 2007-08 season, including Champions League games against Dinamo Kiev and one away at Roma. He still has Francesco Totti's shirt on the wall of his Manchester home. Simpson did travel to Wembley, for the 2007 Community Shield, but tomorrow's game will be his first real match there.
As there were not enough first-team chances at United, Simpson joined Newcastle, stepping down into the Championship to work under Chris Hughton – and alongside Joey Barton – before playing three full seasons in the Premier League. It was Newcastle's interest in Lille's Mathieu Debuchy which prompted Simpson to seek a future away from St James' Park.
"They wanted Debuchy; I knew about it, there was no secret," Simpson said. "I got on well with the manager and chairman, they offered me a new contract but with the rumours of signing Debuchy, I didn't want to go from playing week-in, week-out to being a squad player. I wanted to play every Saturday afternoon. So we shook hands and I left."
Simpson arrived at QPR last summer, with "a point to prove straight away", and has been one of the most consistent performers. Only three outfield players have started more games for QPR this season than Simpson.
While he brings strength and solidity down the right flank, Morrison, six years younger, provides the spark. He has been arguably Rangers' most exciting player this season but Simpson, who knew him from his beginnings at United, is not surprised.
"He was just this little kid who got the ball at his feet and you knew straight away the ability he'd got," said Simpson, who believes Morrison could now be in the United first team. "It didn't work out for him [there]. For me, he could've still been playing there now in the first team with the likes of [Adnan] Januzaj and the rest."
Despite Morrison's reputation, Simpson spoke with genuine warmth about his team-mate. "He's a little joker, which surprises a few people. He's got involved with everyone from day one. All the players have to sing on their first away trip; he didn't complain, he was up straight away with Will Keane. I think it was 'I Believe I Can Fly' by R Kelly. I've got the video on my phone. If we win, I'll post it on the internet."
Regardless of the outcome on Saturday, Morrison will surely be back in the Premier League next season. He has one year left on his West Ham contract and if he cannot agree a new one then he is likely to be sold. If QPR win then they would be among the favourites to buy him.
Simpson has no doubt that Morrison can aim as high as he wants to in the game. "I am pretty sure that he's going to be an England player in the future," he said. "As long as he's committed and he's focused and he's determined, he's got the ability. It's not worked out but I'm sure he'll get back at the top."
Born in Eccles and raised a United fan, Simpson still feels close to his old team-mates from Old Trafford, and expects them to cheer on two of their graduates back into the top flight.
"I speak to Rio [Ferdinand], [Danny] Welbeck, [Chris] Smalling, Tom Cleverley, and I sometimes speak to [Patrice] Evra. I still speak to those lads. I've sent them messages before, saying good luck, especially for the World Cup for Danny and Chris. I'm sure they'll be rooting for us on Saturday."Reuse content