Sheffield United: One man has already shown Ravel Morrison how to win over the doubters and succeed at Bramall Lane

Six months ago, when he first raised the idea of signing Gary Madine during a routine board meeting, Chris Wilder's proposal was not universally well-received.

Tuesday, 2nd July 2019, 7:59 pm
Sir Alex Ferguson had no doubt about Ravel Morrison's ability: Martin Rickett/PA Wire

Those already aware of the Sheffield United manager's intentions put down their pens and stared at the table before glancing anxiously around the room. Others in attendance, folk who had not previously been taken into the 51-year-old's confidence, reportedly appeared stunned and then disturbed by the idea. "It's fair to say," one source admitted at the time, "That there was a fair degree of scepticism. It wasn't universally well received."

Madine, of course, eventually joined United and went on to help them reach the Premier League. The story of how the former Sheffield Wednesday centre-forward, with his chequered past and ability to unearth hitherto undiscovered social media pitfalls, became something of a Bramall Lane cult hero was, without doubt, one of the most remarkable stories during the second-half of the campaign. And, even though Madine returned to Cardiff City following the end of his loan, it is worth recounting again after it was confirmed Ravel Morrison, another player whose career has often been shrouded in controversy, is now training at the Steelphalt Academy.

"Ravel is in with us today," Wilder said yesterday morning, during one of his regular briefings with a selection of regional journalists. "He's going to come in for the week and we'll take it from there and talk. Then, we'll see where we go from there."

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One notable misstep apart - when he was dismissed for a poorly-timed challenge during March's victory over Brentford - Madine seduced the majority of his doubters using a combination of effective play, attitude and good old fashioned charm. When the time came for him to finally say goodbye, the one-time bête noire of the United crowd had become hugely popular both on the terraces and inside the dressing room.

Morrison can do something similar if he is offered a contract following what, although club officials are reluctant to describe it as such, is clearly an extended trial period. Indeed, now aged 26 and desperate to finally fulfil his potential, the midfielder could do a lot worse than get in touch with Madine and learn how he transformed his reputation in the red and white half of the city.

Having spent the first half of the year with Östersund in Sweden's Allsvenskan competition, it is clear why United are an attractive proposition for Morrison. Having twice won promotion under Wilder's stewardship, they are a squad on the up and employ an attack-minded, expansive style. What is not so clear, at first glance at least, is why United are interested in acquiring Morrison. His ability is beyond question - Igli Tare, Lazio's sporting director, labelling him "world class" following a move to Rome in 2015 - but he does arrive with an entire aircraft hold full of heavy baggage.

Drill down into the details, however, and United's decision makes perfect sense. If Morrison's skills can be harnessed properly then, as they prepare to rub shoulders with the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea, he could turn out to be the free transfer of the entire top-flight season.

Ravel Morrison could head to Portugal with Sheffield United: Nigel French/PA Wire.

Given the emphasis he places on team spirit and character, Wilder has already done his homework on the prospective new signing. United's coaching staff went through exactly the same process before bringing in Madine who, after being captured on Twitter insulting captain Billy Sharp, would supposedly split the dressing room. After being convinced nothing of the sort would happen, (footballers are a lot less sensitive than many folk might think), a carefully choreographed PR campaign swung into action with Wilder, whose word is gospel among supporters, at the forefront. Madine's part of the bargain, which he kept in full, was repaying that faith with passion, humility and of course performances.

"He wants to get himself back up and running," Wilder said, referring to Morrison. "That shows what he's about.

"I've spoken to him, he wants to come in and he's got a point to prove. Everybody talks about the unique and unbelievable talent he's got. Potentially it's a good fit for both of us. It came about through talk, through agents and people we know in the game. I've not talked to him about other options. He just want to give this a go."

Morrison, who is set to be joined in South Yorkshire by Luke Freeman after United agreed a fee for the Queens Park Rangers midfielder, progressed through Manchester United's youth system and helped them beat his potential new employers in the 2011 FA Youth Cup final. Transferred to West Ham a year later - but not before admitting two counts of witness intimidation - he was later cleared of assault and harassment during a spell on loan with Cardiff City.

Gary Madine won over the doubters at Bramall Lane: James Wilson/Sportimage

Morrison - "A brilliant footballer. Brilliant Ability," Sir Alex Ferguson once told his friend Sam Allardyce - also completed spells at Birmingham City and QPR with varying degrees of success ahead of a switch to Italy. Settling in Rome proved difficult and he returned to West London, spending more time at Loftus Road before heading to Mexico on loan. In February, after being invited to train with Östersund, he was handed a contract by Ian Burchnall's side. Although salary concerns eventually saw him depart, it seems inconceivable that Wilder has not quizzed the former Viking assistant manager on Morrison's conduct and application there.

If all goes well, Wilder is expected to include him in the party which travels to Portugal for a friendly against Real Betis next week. Twelve months ago, David McGoldrick found himself in a similar position after being released by Ipswich Town and, after accepting United's terms, went on to become one of the stars of their climb out of the Championship.

"We can't be a snob in terms of where we get players," Wilder said. "We can't be. We'll look at him, we'll talk and potentially we've got the option to take him to Portugal."

Ravel Morrison trains with Sheffield United at the Steelphalt Academy: Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Assistant manager Alan Knill (left) and Chris Wilder watch Ravel Morrison : Simon Bellis/Sportimage
Ravel Morrison has played for Manchester United and West Ham: Martin Rickett/PA Wire.