Some of soccer’s most impressive talents are those who couldn’t become stars

By Jonathan White Source:Global Times Published: 2017/9/14 23:38:39

There is one universal truth in soccer and that is - if you ask anyone - fan, ­player and pundit alike - they will always tell you that the most impressive practitioner of the game that they have ever seen is not a household name but someone who never made it.  

For me, various times, the best ­players I have ever seen were someone's older brother who was on the books at Manchester United before he suffered a debilitating injury, a German exchange student on the books of Schalke 04 who did some of the most incredible things I've ever seen with a soccer ball, a local hoodrat, a former soccer player's son who failed at going pro, an Irishman who was fond of a beer in a Sydney park, and Juan Sebastien Veron - the actual Juan Sebastien Veron - and I don't consider any to be in bad company. 

Soccer is a simple enough game but the truth is that, like every other sport, it takes an awful lot more than god-given talent to ensure success. If that is all that it took then Raphael Burke would be the most famous of Manchester United's Class of '92 rather than an interesting footnote in the documentary about them. Likewise, Ravel Morrison would have just moved to Paris Saint-Germain for over $200 million - if the French club could have prised him from either Manchester United or Barcelona. 

Morrison, born in the Manchester suburb of Wythenshawe, was regarded as the most talented in his age group at both Manchester United's Carrington training ground and by the England ­underage group coaches. At Old Trafford, that meant he was regarded ahead of teammates Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Michael Keane among others by both youth coaches and the club ­hierarchy, including first-team boss Sir Alex Ferguson.

Morrison never lacked for talent. There is a video from an England Under-­21 training session that shows him saunter into the box to meet a corner kick with a pre-planned scissor kick backheel volley into the top corner of the net that leaves the goalkeeper flatfooted. And if it was a description of jazz in the New Yorker, that would warrant a Pulitzer. He was that good. It was that easy for him. 

But, of course, it wasn't. For one reason or another, Ravel struggled to stay on the right side of the law in Manchester and his soccer suffered. Sir Alex, still believing in him, sent him to his acolyte Sam Allardyce and a few flashes of genius in a claret-and-blue shirt wasn't enough to keep him. Since then Morrison has played at Birmingham City, QPR, and Cardiff City on loan before a bold move to Lazio in Serie A. The Italians then loaned him back to QPR and now to Mexican side Atlas. 

El Ravel, as he should soon be known, has taken a brave step in going to Mexico. So far he has had his first debut cancelled by a TV screen installed too low and his second halted for torrential rain. Good luck to him in finally fulfilling his frightening potential. In the meantime, both Manchester United and England might well concentrate on a rather different lad from Wythenshawe by the name of Marcus Rashford.

The author is a Shanghai-based freelance writer.


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