Hugo Greenhalgh believes Ravel Morrison should follow in Paul Gascoigne’s footsteps and join Lazio…
In November 2012, Paul Gascoigne made an emotional return to the Stadio Olympico to watch two of his former clubs, Lazio and Tottenham. Although he won nothing in three, injury-ridden seasons at Lazio, Gascoigne received a hero’s welcome. A banner made by their fans declared: “Lionhearted, headstrong, pure talent, real man. Still our hero”. They had completely fallen for the offbeat humour and swaggering technique of a player who had burst onto the European scene in the 1990 World Cup in their own backyard.
Ironically, the Englishman who may follow in his footsteps to Rome is once alleged to have uttered the words, “Who’s Gazza?”. Ravel Morrison has been strongly linked this week with a move to Lazio and given the stuttering nature of his career so far, there are certainly worse places he could go right now. Italian football could offer a fresh start for Morrison and allow him to come back a stronger player. He is too good for the Championship and other Premier League sides seem reluctant to take a punt on his precocious talent.
It was Lee Clark, his manager at Birmingham City while he was on loan, who first compared Morrison to Gascoigne. “He has the pace of a wide-man. He has the balance but plays in the middle of the pitch because he can manoeuvre the ball”, Clark said last season. While it’s still too early to really know how good Morrison can become, his technique is in the Gascoigne mould: he has close control, an impeccable touch and is a mazey dribbler. Let’s not forget that Sir Alex Ferguson once described him as the most promising player to come out of Carrington since Paul Scholes.
However, there are comparisons which are less favourable. Gazza’s antics were also in full swing by the time he joined Lazio. He did photo shoots wearing novelty glasses, burped during a live interview and was well-versed in Roman nightlife. Football has changed a lot in 20 years and no professional can really afford to get away with the lifestyle Gascoigne was leading in the early 1990s. More worryingly, Morrison’s early years as a professional were never far from controversy either. There were disappointing stories of a drugs and gun bust, an assault on his mother and a near stint in jail for witness intimidation. Ferguson lost patience and let him go to West Ham in 2011 for £650,000, a cut price deal given all the potential he’d shown.
Yet one senses that underneath this tough exterior, there lies a ‘good kid’ within Morrison. He has made plenty of enemies along the way but his friends hold him in high regard and remain loyal. “Stay focused” read a signed shirt that Danny Welbeck gave to him after West Ham’s recent defeat against Arsenal. Welbeck was of course the subject of the Tweet that launched a thousand Memes from Morrison, “welbz is dat guy”. It’s that sort of spirit, as a slightly detached renegade, that Morrison must channel if he wants to succeed elsewhere.
Paul Pogba would be a great example for him to look to. Pogba was another United youth prospect who Ferguson gave up on and he has gone on to flourish at Juventus. Perhaps his former teammate will be on call to help him settle into Italian life. Lazio are third in Serie A but nine points behind rivals Roma. A midfielder like Morrison could provide that extra spark needed to secure a Champions League spot. For the player too, a break from England would probably do him some good.
In a revealing piece written by Daniel Taylor at the beginning of last year, it is alleged that the reason for acrimony between Morrison and Sam Allardyce is not his lifestyle or attitude, but rather his refusal to become a client of Mark Curtis, an agent. Curtis works with a number of West Ham players and is close with Allardyce. Morrison claims there was constant pressure to sign up with Curtis, and his scepticism about it lead to his phasing out from the first team. It is surprising he has remained at the club as long as he has done. When a journalist asked Allardyce about Morrison’s future on Tuesday night after the Everton game, he replied, “No fucking chance am I talking about him!”. Noises have already come from the management that he won’t play for the club again.
Last Friday night, while the West Ham first team were having a night in before their game against Swansea, Morrison played for the Development Squad against Tottenham U21s. He scored an acrobatic bicycle kick to equalise before half time, but let himself down in the second half with a stray pass that allowed Spurs to score. It’s these lapses of concentration that Morrison must iron out, although one wonders if his heart was ever in such a fixture that was clearly below his ability.
Comparing Ravel Morrison with Gascoigne is a dangerous game. He has gone on and off the rails far too many times for a player of just 21. If he can seize this chance to get away from the toxic environment that West Ham is becoming for him, there is plenty of time to mature and come back a better player. Gazza is adored in Rome for his combination of personality and outright talent, and it is that which Morrison should be seeking to replicate more than anything.