Sheffield United: Why Ravel Morrison's time might finally have come
The delay has only heightened the sense of anticipation among Sheffield United supporters, who have spent the past two weeks yearning for an opportunity to watch him in action.
Chris Wilder's comments, before each of the club's last four pre-season friendlies, inadvertently fuelled it by creating the impression 'this' might be the one. But after being teased and then disappointed them ahead of meetings with Real Betis, Burton Albion, Northampton Town and Chesterfield, Wilder has told United's followers Ravel Morrison is poised to be unleashed on Saturday lunchtime; when his team's preparations for the new season continue with a visit to neighbours Barnsley.
"He's desperate to play," Wilder said, explaining Morrison's absence at the Proact Stadium in midweek. "Rav could have played too but we don't just want to chuck him out there and then give him a set-back. But I'm confident, very confident, he'll be involved here."
Wilder's reluctance to accelerate Morrison's return from injury is partly a reflection of the challenges United's squad will face in the Premier League next term. But it also betrays his faith in the 26-year-old's ability which, before a series of controversies off the pitch stifled his potential, once prompted Sir Alex Ferguson to describe him as the most gifted youngster he had ever worked with at Manchester United. Selling Morrison to West Ham - "He needs to get away...start a new life" - was an act of kindness from the Scot. Not a judgement on his talent.
Although Morrison has endured a nomadic career since - representing six different clubs including Lazio and Atlas - United's coaching staff are known to have been impressed by his focus after accepting their invitation of a trial. Wilder's offer of a season long contract - which could be extended by a further 12 months - was accepted before the trip to Albion and, if the evidence of a video recently posted on United's YouTube channel is anything to go by, Morrison has quickly bought into their 'all for one' mentality. It showed him going out of his way to welcome Lys Mousset, the most expensive player in United's history, to Bramall Lane last weekend.
Morrison has been nursing a minor heel injury after returning to England following a spell with Ostersund; a complaint Wilder and United's conditioning department suspect can be attributed to the artificial pitches which are commonplace in Sweden. Given his ability to not only envisage a telling pass but also execute it, Wilder's conservative approach to Morrison's rehabilitation is both understandable and wise. After all, with chances likely to be at a premium next term, his skills could prove invaluable when United find themselves attempting to prise apart the finest defences in English football. But with Wilder also emphasising the importance of "the lads getting minutes out there together" following United's win at the Proact Stadium, there is also an understanding that the cotton wool Morrison has spent the past fortnight wrapped in must be peeled away sooner rather than later.
"If we'd have played Ravel (at Chesterfield), there probably wouldn't have been a problem," Wilder said. "But we just want to be absolutely right. I understand he's desperate to get back out there and that the fans are really looking forward to seeing him."