Ravel Morrison must take his chance at Birmingham
Troublesome midfielder faces important season
23 August ~ In a whirlwind five days this summer Lee Clark made four additions to his newly inherited Birmingham City squad. As Hayden Mullins, David Lucas, Darren Ambrose and Peter Lovenkrands joined last year's play-off semi-finalists in quick succession, it seemed experience was going to be imperative for the new boss. But he broke this mould when bringing in the untested and rather contentious quantity that is Ravel Morrison. The volatile 19-year-old, who has already accumulated more column inches about his off-field misdemeanours rather than playing talents, has signed on a season-long loan from West Ham.
Given that this generation's enfant terrible only arrived at Upton Park in January and played a mere ten minutes of league football as his new club secured promotion, being uprooted for the second time in six months looks like another backward step. Even at such at such a tender age this season already appears make-or-break for Morrison.
In contrast to his lack of action at West Ham, the youngster has been in the thick of things for Birmingham, starting our first two competitive fixtures of the season before Clark rang the changes for a trip to Sheffield Wednesday.
The signs so far have been promising, Morrison looking like he can provide that spark of creativity that we have long lacked in central midfield. Possessed of a silken touch, willingness to receive the ball under pressure and take the initiative when the tempo drops, fans immediately warmed to his feisty attitude and purposeful play.
He opened the scoring in our final friendly against Royal Antwerp with a committed diving header and looked a cut above his teammates in technical terms but betrayed that well-known reckless streak when kicking out at a Belgian opponent. He was also the one bright spot in a rather tepid opening day draw with Charlton; voted man of the match despite being withdrawn midway through the second half with a slight niggle.
Such self-destructive tendencies as he showed against Antwerp have been a theme in Morrison's fledgling career, the staff at his first club Manchester United finding it increasingly difficult to stop him spiralling out of control.
The youngster was found guilty of witness intimidation early last year and subsequently arrested for alleged harassment of his girlfriend, although charges were later dropped. He has also caused a number of Twitter controversies for inappropriate comments.
That Manchester United persisted with him for so long was testament to Morrison's ability. A midfielder of supreme confidence, lending itself to cocksure arrogance on occasion, he was the standout member of their 2011 FA Youth Cup winning side and seemed destined for the first team before attitude problems and police enquiries intervened.
Eventually, as Alex Ferguson felt that he could no longer be coaxed back onto the straight and narrow, he was allowed to join West Ham for a knockdown fee rumoured to be around £1 million.
Birmingham fans have grown accustomed to signing some of British football's more controversial characters, with Barry Ferguson, Marlon King and Lee Bowyer all arriving in recent years. The clearest comparison is to Jermaine Pennant.
In January 2005 Steve Bruce took a chance on the Arsenal winger, who was awaiting the outcome of his trial for drink driving. Although eventually jailed during his loan spell, Pennant returned to play in his electronic tag against Tottenham. After some impressive displays of trickery in difficult circumstances a permanent deal was finalised.
During his year and a half in the Midlands, away from the media spotlight that can unsettle young players at big clubs, Pennant produced arguably the best football of his career. Ravel Morrison's future will, in all probability, be determined by temperament rather than talent. Hopes are high that Birmingham can provide the platform for him to kick-start his stalling career. Sean Cole