In the sports film Goal, Stephen Dillane, playing the fictitious Newcastle ex-scout Glen Foy tries to convince manager Eric Dornhelm to give Santiago Munez a chance after he had been let go. In that flashy coming-of-age film to popularize the Premier League in the US, Dillane says something that every sports fan will abide by: “When I was a scout, I used to spend the whole time on muddy days watching young lads clogging the shite out of each other. And just once in a while, there'd be one that would come along and lift your heart. Like this lad.”
Few joys match that. Watching Sachin Tendulkar, Sourav Ganguly, Roger Federer, Lionel Messi, Rafael Nadal, or even Cristiano Ronaldo for the first time. To see them during Year Zero and visualize the star they were going to become.
Manchester United fans have been blessed to relive that experience time and again.
With David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs. With Ronaldo and Rashford.
And now with Mason Greenwood.
Signing an established superstar, no matter how accomplished, cannot match the joy of having one of your own come through the ranks and seize the opportunity.
Solskajer tried to draw a line while admitting that though he had never seen a young footballer who showed that level of decision making on the pitch, he didn’t want to compare Greenwood to a teenage Rooney or Ronaldo. But the Rooney comparisons refuse to go away since he’s the first teenager to score 15 goals, same as the former Man Utd captain.
Manchester Utd fans refuse to calm down about the 18-year-old. Does he even have a weak foot?
While he looks ambidextrous, there is something about Robin Van Persie-esque about him when he shoots from the left with that Mjolnir-like leg.
Not only does he have a left foot like Van Persie, but the way he moves is absolutely like his carbon-copy, the way he opens up his body before shooting. Gait and control. Even the way his arms move.
Cricket fans would remember a Virender Sehwag playing a cover drive, which reminded them of Sachin Tendulkar.
Even Van Persie admitted to the comparison in a podcast and on Twitter.
Samuel Luckhurst, Chief Manchester United writer for Manchester Evening News called him the most exciting local talent that the Manchester United football academy has produced since Ravel Morrison. He wrote: “Had the privilege of watching Greenwood live at youth level and he's the most exciting local talent the #mufc academy have produced since Ravel Morrison. His goalscoring - and the manner of his goals - are exceptional.”
And they are exceptional, most of the 15 goals that he so far scored aren't tap-ins but are goals from a distance where he actually has to do work and beat a defender. He appears to be equally adept from both flanks and the ambidextrous nature of his game makes it difficult for defenders to show him to his ‘weaker’ side.
He even put on muscle during the lockdown, as excited fans showed how he muscled Victor Lindelof off the ball in training. It was reminiscent of Cristiano Ronaldo, who filled out after the 2006 World Cup debacle where he clashed with Wayne Rooney and winked at the bench after Rooney got sent-off.
But therein lies the rub because though football and sport are about the actualization of potential, there’s always the flipside that the dark side of human nature, the entrapments of one's birth won’t allow one to escape one’s demons.
Ravel Morrison – a cautionary tale
That’s why the Ravel Morrison comparison struck a chord. For those who don’t remember, Morrison was a troubled academy graduate who many considered the greatest talent to come through at Old Trafford since George Best.
Former Man Utd captain Gary Neville was awestruck by his ability, describing him as the next Paul Gascoigne who could waltz through midfield.
Ferguson reportedly rated him higher than his evergreen favourites Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.
Rooney remembers how he was a ‘country-mile ahead of everyone’ and nutmegged Vidic thrice within a minute in training!
He was part of the FA Youth Cup-winning team along with Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard, and while his teammates were off winning World Cups, Morrison is now scraping it in Middlesbrough in the 2nd division, the Championship.
United tried very hard to make things work, even more so when one considers how much of a stickler Ferguson was for rules. But he was always willing to bend them for talented players.
He made an exception for Cantona and Ronaldo, and he made it for Morrison. Morrison, when he was just 18-year-old, was accused of witness intimidation, against a victim who was held at knife-point.
Even then United stuck by him, as they did with Cantona, whose act of kicking a hooligan was at least football-related.
Years later he would say: “I didn’t even know what I did was so wrong. I didn’t know witness intimidation was a thing.” He pleads that he was in the ‘wrong place, in the wrong time with the wrong crowd’.
Later, there were rumours that he had nicked a watch which led Rio Ferdinand to tweet: "@RavelMorrison49 whoever saying you nicked a watch from the training that was mine is talking rubbish…see you at training Monday. #StayFocused.
Morrison said: "It was always ‘Ravel’s done this, Ravel’s done that. The one thing I took was a pair of football boots that the player didn’t wear anymore. But watches? Phones? That was ridiculous to say."
A United source told fourfourtwo.com, that he had ‘deep-rooted issues’ and he came from an environment where ‘gangs were prevalent and authority was distrusted, where you look after your own and not call the police’.
Paddy Crerand described it as a case of a group of lads gone ‘astray’, and when you are one ‘earning a few quid, that becomes an issue’.
In the hopes that he could make him better, Ferguson even asked him to train with the first team.
Perhaps Ferguson believed that just like he cajoled the best out of French temperamental genius Eric Cantona, he could improve Morrison. Yet, the players grew exasperated as the youngster refused to take his chances to become part of the first team.
"When I was 16/17 I used to train with the first team on Mondays," he explained. "It was exciting the first few times, training with those players. Then, after that, you know you can do what they do and they can do what you do. It feels normal.”
Eventually, Ferguson gave up and felt that Morrison needed to get away from Manchester and convinced Sam Allardyce to sign him for West Ham. There were signs of magic at West Ham, especially once when he skinned two Tottenham centre-backs before chipping the keeper.
Or there was that volley with the heel in an under-21 training, which Morrison makes it look effortless, but would have most mortals clutching their ankles.
What follows is murky. Morrison claimed he was being forced to sign with agent Mark Curtis by Sam Allardyce and West Ham captain Kevin Nolan. Allardyce denied the charge. However, Allardyce would himself be caught on a wire – as England manager – on how to avoid FA rules on third-party ownership, which eventually cost him the English job.
But a change of scenery, from West Ham to Queen’s Park Rangers to Lazio in Italy made no difference to Ravel Morrison.
Now at 27, he’s turning out for Championship side Middlesbrough even as Paul Pogba brags a World Cup winner’s medal and looks to create a Manchester United revival.
In his career, Morrison journeyed through 10 clubs, managing just 134 appearances and 19 goals. But what he could’ve been, refuses to go away. It feels particularly tragic how it turned out for Morrison, but one hopes that it wouldn't be a false dawn for Mason Greenwood who has the whole world at his feet right now.
Nirmalya Dutta is the Web Editor of The Free Press Journal. The views expressed are personal.