What The Hell Happened To West Ham's Ravel Morrison?
This week will see West Ham United host Norwich City in the Premier League, looking to avenge their 3-1 defeat earlier in the season and extend a run of three clean sheets in as many games.
A lot has changed since November’s fixture at Carrow Road, notably the slow and painful demise of Jussi Jääskeläinen which some will feel was triggered by the comedy of errors which led to the Finn conceding a penalty from which Gary Hooper equalised.
Keeping with the theme, West Ham’s opener in that tea-time game came as a consequence of some hard work from Kevin Nolan (!) and was scored by Ravel Morrison. At the time it was the 20-year-old’s fifth goal of the season in league and cup, cementing his place as the London side’s top scorer, but he has yet to add to the tally.
Now, with the club in its highest league position since before November’s defeat, the former Manchester United midfielder is nowhere to be seen. Since the turn of the year he has started just twice – in cup defeats against Nottingham Forest and Manchester City – and was not even in the matchday 18 for Saturday’s victory at Villa Park.
So how, in the space of just three months, has he gone from being an outside bet for England’s World Cup squad (don’t believe me? The Telegraph still have him as an option in their interactive squad-picker) to a potential loan signing for QPR or Derby?
Often in such cases a drop-off can be traced back to hyperbole around the player’s initial breakthrough, but look beyond the box-office goal at Tottenham and there is still plenty for which Morrison should be applauded. Early-season performances in a variety of positions showed a player who was comfortable on the ball, intelligent in possession and without the hotheadedness some might have expected given the well-documented off-field problems which hastened his departure from Old Trafford.
A groin problem has been mentioned by manager Sam Allardyce, who might also have wished to leave out someone regarded as a luxury player with his team looking to breathe new life into its season. However Morrison himself has remained quiet on the subject and a cryptic tweet on Monday afternoon only adds fuel to rumours of “non-footballing reasons” being behind his absence.
When Morrison signed for West Ham much was made of Allardyce’s man-management skills and an ability to get the best out of such an enigmatic talent. Indeed the fact that the manager achieved such feats with the likes of El-Hadji Diouf, and Nicolas Anelka was perhaps an example of confirmation bias, ignoring as it did the likes of Yildiray Baștürk, Mario Jardel, Salva Ballesta and the countless others who failed to reach the heights expected of them while under the stewardship of the Dudley native.
Alternatively, perhaps Morrison genuinely is injured and has put off surgery because he knows it would rule out any chances of a World Cup call-up, but that in itself is similarly concerning. Many suggested a feeling of having ‘made it’ were to blame for the youngster losing his way in Manchester, and it is only by keeping him grounded – initially via a season-long loan move to Birmingham – that West Ham have finally managed to make the £650,000 outlay seem like a bargain and not just another Moses Ashikodi or Terry Dixon (the fact that you’ve had to look them up proves my point).
Either way, the coming months are vital for Morrison, who we must remember is still only starting his career. To be a semi-regular starter for a Premier League club at his age is an achievement in itself, and a rest could yet do him some good. Lesser players have rebounded from similar bumps in the road in the past, and time is very much on his side, but the club will hope instances of ‘too much too soon’ do not build cumulatively.