Over the years we have seen many talented players hit the buffers off the pitch; Paul Merson, Tony Adams, Paul McGrath, Paul Gascoigne and George Best to name but a few. The main thing these men had in common was drink, drug and gambling-rated problems, the bi-products of what a career in football can lead to if you are vulnerable to these temptations. Such problems are well known, well documented and also treatable if the person wants help, but what happens when none of these things are a particular issue, when the problem is being a product of your own environment and that environment revolves around crime and gang culture?
Ravel Morrison is an very interesting player and person; as a player he optimises how the game in this country has changed culturally, reflecting the shift from simple, basic football to again having emphasis on creativity, technique and skill to compliment the basics. Off the pitch he reflects the new type of culture that underpins today’s society, the hooded youths who strike fear in to the nation, a group of people whose frustrations fuelled the riots of last year, a culture that is becoming the norm in these troubled times as history, honour and heritage give way to technology, greed and consumer culture. Morrison is the first ambassador of a new generation that is in the public eye.
Many football players have grown up in rough areas, in families that struggle to get by, where friends can easily end up on the dole or 6ft under. All over the world sport is used as a vehicle of opportunity to offer such people a way out and a different way of life. Go back 30 years and Morrison would just be another Rio Ferdinand type character who left a tough existence behind him and had an opportunity, but now things are different.
Look around at the current environment for the youth of today – things are bleak, unemployment is high, jobs are hard to get and further education is more expensive than ever. On the streets status is no longer judged purely on material assets, but by intimidation, physicality, bottle and reputation. Ravel Morrison was cautioned at 15 for assaulting his mother, just after his 17th birthday he was given a 12-month referral order after admitting two counts of witness intimidation. Last year he collected a fine for his second count of criminal damage in as many years and was lucky his girlfriend dropped an assault charge. On the streets not only is Ravel revered as a footballer, he is feared and respected as a person after such headlines have carved him a reputation as a bad boy.
Now Morrison has been charged by the FA for using for the use of ‘abusive and/or insulting words including a reference to a person’s sexual orientation’ whilst on Twitter. I don’t doubt that due to his reputation Morrison gets a lot of abuse on Twitter and in this case he was probably provoked to make such a comment as a harsh retort to vent his frustrations at equally as harsh abuse. At times he doesn’t help his reputation by showing his aggression on Tweets, people know they can get under his skin. I have seen him talk about violence like it is second nature, offering people out over Twitter, acting the big man in his manor of Manchester, such speak does the 19-year-old no favours, but he is a product of a modern environment where this is normal and where tonality and ‘txt bant‘ can be easily misconstrued.
Morrison differs from a lot of footballers who managed to carve a career from football after coming from a tough neighbourhood; despite being labelled ‘another product of the Manchester United youth academy’, he isn’t. Products of the Manchester United academy (and many others) are moulded in to professional footballers when it comes to attitude and lifestyle. They keep their head down, focus on football as much as they can and do not rock the boat as they know they dream can be taken away and then what? Generally players follow the path of a good professional, but like the naughty kid at school, Morrison did not comply to United’s guidelines on life.
The reason why Manchester United and Morrison didn’t work was because they couldn’t get through to him. Every senior person at the club from Fergie to Rio to David Gill tried to talk some sense in to Morrison about his off field lifestyle and conduct, but couldn’t breach his single-minded defences. He undoubtedly has the talent, but in the eyes of United his attitude was way off and unless you can conform, then you are out. Even though Bolton came in for Morrison, West Ham presents the better option as it takes him out of Manchester and the lifestyle and culture he was accustomed to – a rude boy no longer in his manor is like Graeme Souness without a tache…tame. Sam Allardyce and West Ham know all about Morrison’s baggage and will give him all the tools he needs to lay the past to rest and move forward with his life and football career.
Morrison does have a temper and gets in trouble, maybe he likes the buzz, but does he really need all that aggro? If Morrison can find that buzz playing for West Ham’s XI, he can start to progress (he maybe talked about like Rooney, but is miles behind), so when he reaches his mid-30’s he can look back and have no regrets when it comes to football. Ravel Morrison not only has a fresh start and a chance to fulfil his footballing potential, he now has a chance to positively affect the lives of others as he is one of the first ‘celebrities’ that understands first hand the real problems of today’s society. Morrison has not chosen to be a role model, but he is in the public eye and doesn’t have a lot of choice.
Look around at what is going on in society today, people need hope and Morrison has a real opportunity to show that there is another way to act as a human being in a wider society and succeed in life, despite your environment putting up barriers. Morrison must firstly make the right life and career choices, just by doing so he is potentially inspiring others. It will be interesting to see if Morrison can make a full transition to become a well-rounded person and man because it could be special for both football and society. Will Morrison be a saviour to football and young people? Only time will tell, but it would be an impressive turnaround if he did.