Ravel Morrison’s latest not-so-cryptic tweet has sparked rumours around Italy once more that the perennially troubled 22-year-old is set to leave his Roman party early.
Following Lazio’s 3-1 win over Rosenborg in the Europa League last Thursday, when the Englishman failed to get off the bench, he posted “January…” on his social media account, cueing a fresh and frenzied batch of departure talk.
Despite having played a total of only 61 minutes of competitive action for the club this season, the thought of his departure is unwelcome to fans given what is frequently labelled as his ‘undoubted potential’.
Morrison was one of the Biancocelesti’s standout performers in pre-season, but has since racked up less time on the pitch than anyone in the first-team squad bar reserve defender Patric.
— ravel morrison (@morrisonravel) October 22, 2015
However, those early signs of promise were enough to ensure that Lazio coach Stefano Pioli has frequently been questioned for his snubbing of the volatile midfielder. So what's gone wrong, and is there any hope for Morrison to make a name for himself in Serie A?
Battle of will
Pioli is the man at the centre of the debate on Morrison’s future. The Lazio coach has a reputation for getting the best out of young players – he drew superb form from the likes of Felipe Anderson, Stefan de Vrij and Danilo Cataldi last season – yet the Englishman in his mind lacks his most prized asset: ‘character’.
He told journalists last weekend: “I pick those who deserve to play, who train consistently, professionally and openly.”
Rewind a few weeks to September and Pioli was again playing hardball: “Morrison has to work harder. He still doesn’t speak a word of Italian and this has slowed his development and his integration in the squad.”
Language is a challenge for the majority of players who move abroad. The question is whether Morrison will dedicate himself to the task of learning the language with no guarantee of game time – after all, this is a player who Sir Alex Ferguson and Sam Allardyce both gave up on.
Pioli trusts players who demonstrate good work rate and strong team ethic. Anderson, now sought after by Europe’s elite, was himself in a similar position to his 22-year-old team-mate this time last year. He was criticised for his diet and unwillingness to work for the team, but after getting his head down he has developed into one of the league’s most envied talents.
Square peg, round hole
Anderson’s transition from troubled fringe player to free-scoring Brazil international should serve as a source of inspiration for Morrison. However, a significant problem remains – where he fits in.
There were a few raised eyebrows among the Lazio faithful when the ex-Manchester United youngster was announced, not only due to a bad-boy reputation, but also for the confusion around where he would play. Morrison’s natural role is as a central attacking midfielder. However, Pioli took the Aquile to third place in Serie A last season using a 4-3-3 that has no space for this kind of player.
Lucas Biglia serves as the deep-lying playmaker with two box-to-box midfielders, usually chosen from Marco Parolo, Ogenyi Onazi, Danilo Cataldi and Senad Lulic, providing hard running either side of him. Further forward, the club have an embarrassment of riches on the flanks in Antonio Candreva, Anderson, Ricardo Kishna and Keita Balde Diao and plenty of experience for the centre-forward role between Miroslav Klose, Alessandro Matri and Filip Djordjevic.
Odd one out
The one hope for Morrison is to perform as a No.10 when the team rotates to a 4-2-3-1 shape. However, on the instances when this has happened so far, youngster Sergej Milinkovic-Savic or veteran Stefano Mauri have been chosen ahead of him.
The confusion about his role could be one of Morrison’s main motivations for leaving. Pioli seems at a loss as to when to use him, given the player's 61 minutes of game time have come in risk-free situations.
He played 45 minutes in a 4-0 defeat to Chievo when Lazio were already 3-0 down, eight minutes when 3-0 down to Bayer Leverkusen and two minutes when 2-0 down to Juventus.
Occasionally he’s been given a chance when the team were comfortable – seven minutes when 2-0 up against Genoa and most recently a solitary minute when leading Torino 3-0. This is the context of the frustration that led to his post-Rosenborg outburst.
Despite Morrison’s frustration and Pioli’s hardline stance, Lazio is in many ways the ideal club for the midfielder to realise his potential. The Biancocelesti are one of Serie A’s top sides when it comes to developing young talent and this was evident in the coach’s first season in charge last term. The aforementioned Anderson arrived in 2013 with a hefty price tag and a burden of expectation that he was unable to carry in his debut campaign. However, under Pioli the Brazilian finally began to adapt to Serie A football and burst into form last November. He hasn't looked back since.
Other examples of young players being rewarded for patience include Onazi and Cataldi, while De Vrij made the notoriously difficult transition to Serie A from a smaller league look effortless. There are several other young talents in the squad like Kishna, Keita Balde and Milinkovic-Savic, who are busting a gut to impress their coach. These are the guys who Morrison must emulate on the training pitch in order to convince Pioli of his worth. After all, as the case of Anderson has proven, patience certainly is a virtue in Rome.
‘A little mad’
Lazio fans love an enigma, as is proven by their adoration of players like Paul Gascoigne and Paolo Di Canio.
Morrison has said the right things several times, telling The Sun: “I’m determined to succeed – I’m not trouble, I’m just misunderstood,” and tweeting: “Love the fans of Lazio, thank you for tonight” after being applauded during his cameo against Torino on Sunday.
Club director Igli Tare said last week that he “has undoubted quality and is world class, as well as being a little mad”. Should be begin to display a little more humility, he could very well become a fan favourite as after all, given Lazio’s tradition of liking a bit of pazzesco in their players.
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