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A Curious Couple: S.S. Lazio & Ravel Morrison

Ravel Morrison, the troubled yet undeniably gifted English attacking midfielder, will be playing for Lazio next season. If this seems bizarre to you, it’s because it is. After a few seasons bouncing around the Championship on more loans than the Greek economy, failing at each club and facing criminal charges on multiple occasions, he is being rewarded with a four year deal at one of Italy’s most prestigious clubs. How has this happened?

A top prospect at the Manchester United academy from age 14, Sir Alex Ferguson regarded Morrison as the best player he’d seen at that age, and by 16 he was making a mockery of Darren Fletcher while training with the first team. However, over the next few years, a string of disciplinary issues blighted his chances at United. Ranging from disappearing for days at a time to facing charges for witness intimidation (guilty) and assault (charges dropped), Ferguson gave up on his most anticipated prospect, selling him to West Ham for a nominal fee.

From West Ham he was sent on loan to Birmingham to gain first team experience, where his attitude was questioned. Returning to the Hammers, Morrison’s best spell of football came in the opening months of the 2013/14 season, most notably this goal against Tottenham. At that point, there was talk of the England senior team and comparisons made with Gascoigne, made more poignant now by the introduction of Lazio to the equation. That period was to be the pinnacle of Morrison’s short career so far. More loan spells followed, first to QPR and then to Cardiff where he was sent packing after seven games.

Just as Sir Alex Ferguson did in 2012, West Ham have finally given up. So badly did they want Ravel Morrison out of their club that they have prematurely cancelled the six months that were remaining on his contract. Meanwhile, the player has allegedly had offers from Germany and Spain, as well as the deal he accepted with Lazio. Have these clubs not been paying attention?

Lazio are a team on the rise, battling with Fiorentina, Sampdoria and Genoa this season to be the ‘best of the rest’ as Juve, Roma and Napoli surge ahead. There is a fresh vibrancy in the Lazio squad, brought about by recent additions such as Stefan de Vrij and Felipe Anderson and youngsters like Ogenyi Onazi, and it is curious that the club would risk upsetting the balance they seem to have created. It makes me wonder whether the angle that I first considered lazy – Lazio loved their first troubled, mercurial Englishman in Gazza, and so are willing to give another one a go – might actually be the case.

To try and make more sense of the whole thing, I spoke with Cathal Mullan of LazioLand.com, to see what the Lazio fans make of it:

How did this Lazio contract offer come about? Who’s decision was it?

Lazio’s Director of Sport Igli Tare is responsible for the Morrison transfer. When Tare identifies a player as a target, he goes to great lengths to convince the player that Lazio is the club for them . In the case of Morrison, Tare contacted Ravel to discuss his personal issues and believes he is ready to turn his career around.

Where does Morrison fit in at Lazio? He seems to be a player that needs a free role…does Stefano Pioli’s system allow for that?

Pioli is adamant that 4-3-3 is the way forward for Lazio. In this system, Morrison is likely to feature on either the left or right wing and compete with Stefano Mauri, Felipe Anderson, Antonio Candreva and Keita Balde Diao for a place in the starting 11 as of next season. Morrison will also be competing with Ederson should the Brazilian remain at Lazio, but Tare’s attempt at offloading Ederson to Sampdoria on transfer deadline day suggests Ederson will be shoved down the pecking order once Morrison is available. Morrison will have to impress in training as the manager seems quite satisfied with the players he has for these roles. To make matters more complicated for Morrison, Pioli seems impressed with  attacking midfielder Chris Ikonomidis in Lazio Primavera, and the Australian talent could make his Lazio debut by the end of the season.

Taking all of the above into consideration, Pioli may experiment with a 4-2-3-1 in the summer or he may look at deploying Ravel in the centre of the park, though that would be asking a lot of Morrison’s defensive capabilities. Unless Pioli explores these options, Morrison will have to take the first opportunity he gets to have a career at Lazio.

How do you and other Lazio fans feel about the move given Morrison’s troubled history? Is he worth the gamble?

Lazio fans are divided on the matter. The club signed the similarly-talented Gael Kakuta last January and Tare announced his arrival by guaranteeing fans that they’d see the real Kakuta at Lazio. They didn’t – in fact, we barely saw Kakuta at all – and Lazio did not offer the Frenchman a permanent deal. When you factor in the club’s failings with Mauro Zarate and the fact that many others have also fallen foul of Claudio Lotito’s moral code of conduct over the years, someone with Ravel Morrison’s reputation is the last person you’d expect to succeed at Lazio. Rome brings a uniquely high-pressure environment and many worry about the impact Rome will have on Morrison and in turn, the impact Morrison will have on Lazio.

That said, it has been a while since Claudio Lotito has frozen a player out on disciplinary grounds and Ravel is coming here on a long-term deal. If the club are correct in thinking that Ravel needs a change of scenery to fulfill his potential, then the conditions might be right for him to succeed at Lazio. The management believe in their ability to develop talent and keep young players focused, but the jury is out for me and Morrison’s career at Lazio will deliver the verdict.

Is there a touch of hopeful Gazza-related sentiment involved, here?

Surprisingly, the media often take Lazio’s signings at face value, but I believe there is a hidden agenda to almost every player the club sign. The idea of Morrison being a successor to Gazza surely crossed Lotito’s mind, and I am sure the accompanying publicity did as well. The difference between Gazza and Morrison is that Gazza was proven at this level – Morrison has to prove he belongs here – and Lazio would be naive to think Morrison will be half as influential as Gazza.

Lotito is very keen to position Lazio as the leading club in Italy in terms of youth development and they are in the process of establishing a youth academy like no other in Italy. If Lazio can turn Morrison’s career around, that will make it easier for Tare to convince the next generation of world class footballers to come to Lazio and it will give Lotito something to take great pride in. I think Morrison is a calculated move. Lazio have much to gain by signing Morrison, but no one quite knows how much Lazio have to lose by signing him. That’s the source of the apprehension.


Many thanks to Cathal for his insight. For more from him and more on S.S. Lazio:
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3 replies »

  1. I stopped reading this as soon as you said he has been a failure everywhere he has been on loan. Ravel was outstanding at Birmingham after a difficult start and he banged in 7 goals in 15 games for QPR, winning the Championship Player of the month for February last year. His form tailed off towards the end of the season but he was generally seen as a success. Also at West Ham, he was their best player for the first half of the season last year before he was sent on loan to QPR. 5 goals in 18 games was outstanding and his performances for England U21 were brilliant, the one against Lithuania was as good a performance as I’ve ever seen from an England U21 player. The Cardiff loan was a failure because they changed manager and he wasn’t given a chance at all. He started one game and was given man of the match, live on sky. So this boy hasn’t failed on the pitch at all. 13 goals last year in 38 apps for a 20/21 year old midfielder cannot possibly be seen as a failure can it? There are obviously serious off the field problems which have hindered him and that is what he has to address. He could be a great player for Lazio.

  2. Hi, Bobby. In the third paragraph (two after you stopped reading) I noted his excellent form for West Ham, and there is plenty of recognition here for Ravel’s talent.

    He failed with every loan in that on each occasion he did not either a) earn a permanent transfer if that was desired or b) earn a place in the team back at his home club. His attitude and commitment were questioned in most cases to such an extent that regardless of what he did on the pitch, nobody was willing to trust him. That, in my opinion, counts as failure in an overall sense. To be a successful footballer, a player clearly needs to do more than just rely on their natural talent. It must have taken a lot for a manager as brilliant as Alex Ferguson to give up on a player as talented as Morrison.

    I agree that he could be excellent for Lazio (and I’d be glad to see it) if he sorts himself out. But that is a massive ‘if’, and a very big risk on Lazio’s part given they gave him a four-year contract. Please do read the rest – even if you don’t like my opinions, hopefully you’ll find the interview with Cathal Mullen of LazioLand interesting with regards to how he might fit in there.

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