Sam Wallace: Ravel Morrison's troubles throw spotlight on teenage talent
This could one day be a £30m footballer they are potentially letting walk away for nothing
Goodness knows, football has had its bad boys, its rebels and its malcontents over the years. Some have had to fall a long way before the penny dropped and some ran out of chances. Elite sport discriminates only on grounds of talent and in football, the nation's wealthiest, most intensely competitive sport, that means people will put up with a lot.
But there has never been a case like that of Ravel Morrison, a boy who has played just three games for Manchester United's senior team, yet, at 18, has become as well known as some of his more experienced first-team counterparts. That the description "troubled" is more often than not placed ahead of his name is newspaper shorthand for a whole host of problems not easily squeezed into one line.
To recap, Morrison, regarded as one of the most gifted talents to come out of United's academy in years, is out of contract in the summer, with the club despairing at his behaviour. He pleaded guilty to two counts of witness intimidation last year and was placed on a referral order that expires this month. He has a police caution for assaulting his mother. There have been other disciplinary problems at United.
On Friday, Sir Alex Ferguson announced that the player had rejected the club's contract offer and had been "unrealistic" in his demands. Ferguson confirmed a bid from Newcastle United had been rejected. Morrison had previously tweeted that no contract has been offered.
This level of interest is no mean feat for a lad who has played for the senior team less than, for example, United's 21-year-old goalkeeper Ben Amos, whose contractual situation is not likely to have him trending on Twitter.
There have been highly rated young players in the past who have arrived on the scene with a suggestion of trouble about them later borne out by their behaviour. A teenage Jermaine Pennant was one such example (although he seems largely to have turned his career around). But with Morrison it is different. This is not a story of a talented player with trouble attached. This has become a narrative of trouble with talent tagging along for the ride.
How? United will doubtless grumble about the relatively intense media coverage of the player. That is fair to an extent. There was a lustre about the stories of a kid with the potential to be the new Paul Scholes that made everyone want to know more. But the interest in Morrison also says something about the way in which the struggle to sign or develop the best teenagers has become more highly charged and more high-profile than ever. The market in young footballers is almost as ruthless and as lucrative, not to mention as global, as that for established players. It was always competitive but, with the resources given to academies now and everyone chasing the Barcelona utopia, it has taken on a new significance. Witness the urgency with which the Premier League strong-armed the Football League into re-writing the academy rules under the new Elite Players' Performance Plan (EPPP) last year.
EPPP, effective as of next season, has changed the landscape again. There are already rumours that one of the Premier League's biggest clubs – one that has raided other academies in the past – is anxious about losing one of its best boys to a rival before he signs scholarship forms. If you do not believe that recruitment of elite youth football is not near the very top of most big clubs' agenda then you have not been paying attention.
As a corollary to that, increasingly the biggest football agents and their agencies pour resources into scouting and recruiting players in their mid-teens. The clubs are, in the main, tolerant of the big, recognised agencies. It is the one-man-band, office-above-a-Chicken-Cottage brigade they worry about. And if the clubs complain too much that they are the victims of media hype and rapacious agents then they should remember it is they who have inflated the wages and changed the system beyond all recognition from the old-style apprenticeships, especially by signing foreign academy players.
Changed to the extent that in one youth team there could be some 17-year-olds on £200,000-plus a year and others on a scholar's wage of £115 a week.
In years gone by, the first time a young player would have had any public profile would have been his senior debut. Now, in-house television channels like MUTV, Chelsea TV and LFC TV broadcast academy matches or highlights. The interest in academy and reserve and/or development teams has increased considerably.
In the case of Morrison, United appear to be faced with a daunting dilemma. As the son of parents who taught for 40 years in the state sector, I am well aware of the anguish that goes into a decision whether or not to exclude a child from school. A balance has to be struck between the interests of the individual and those of the other students. With Morrison, the decision facing Ferguson and his academy director, Brian McClair, on whether or not to keep the player also has sporting and economic dimensions. This could one day be a £30m footballer they are potentially allowing to walk away for nothing. What if he goes elsewhere and thrives?
Almost four years ago, I interviewed McClair and flippantly asked him whether he would "ever fancy a big job one day". "I've already got a big job," he replied. Think about it. He has to produce players for one of the most famous clubs in the world, one with an expectation of its academy born of its history, amid the spotlight and intensity of competition that now accompanies elite youth football.
On top of that he now has to help make the call on Morrison's future, a situation unprecedented at United to my memory. Is academy director a big job? To my mind it is second only to the manager these days.
Adebayor loan may be City's biggest error
Who pays the lion's share of Emmanuel Adebayor's wages is turning into an interesting row as we count down to Tottenham's visit to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. Manchester City claim Spurs are paying more than £100,000 a week, leaving them to foot "only" £50,000 a week.
Spurs dispute that. They say they do not pay £100,000 a week to any player. On top of that, Harry Redknapp says Adebayor claims his City contract is £225,000 a week. What is not in doubt is that if City had never bought Adebayor, it is almost impossible to imagine the circumstances in which he would have ended up at Spurs. He will not be playing on Sunday, but City must wonder all the time whether loaning him to Spurs was the biggest mistake they have made yet.
Samuel's Iran move is out of this world
Fair play to Jlloyd Samuel for blazing a new trail but even the most intrepid English footballer might wonder whether, given the current climate, his best option really is a move to Iran. Samuel's transfer last week to Esteghlal, a Tehran club in the Iran Pro League, coincided with reports last week that it is now regarded as inevitable the rogue state will develop a nuclear weapon.
Into this delicate global political situation, and into a country where there is no longer even a British embassy, goes Samuel. He was recruited by his former Bolton team-mate, the Iranian Andranik Teymourian, and if ever you needed proof that football, not just in this country but all over the world, operates in its own world largely unconcerned by outside considerations, then this transfer was surely it.
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