Despite the growing concerns over both youngsters’ attitudes and disobedience, one thing was clearly undeniable and that was their talent. So why do these two footballing prodigies find themselves at polar opposite ends in their career? Well, I think I might have the answer. I think, it lies in the fact that these two youngsters had different mindsets and approaches to their footballing careers. This played a massive part to how they developed not only as players but also as men.
Youth academy days: Factors that effected their youth development.
As an avid football follower, I did catch the occasional glimpses of their talents during their youth days; incredible skill, outrageous close control, breathtaking goals were all present even at that age. However, there were also marred with use of foul language, constant disputes with opposing players, cocky celebrations and even the odd on field fight. They had the ability to win you or lose you a game at any moment, a trait, the coaches wouldn’t have enjoyed dealing with.
When Depay was abandoned by his biological father and also by his mom’s abusive boyfriend who came after he moved in with his grandfather Kees. His grandfather was the first real father figure he trusted and he was who nurture him through his first few years in football. He was still disruptive and hard to control however his grandfather Kees found that football was a tool he could use to keep him away from the dodgy surrounding streets. His grandfather took Memphis’ near impossible dream of one day being Eredivisie champion as a goal and not a dream. From an early age, he instilled the mindset into Memphis of hard work and ambition as essential skills to achieving this goal.
When Memphis did eventually outgrow his local youth teams, he attracted professional clubs from different cities. He moved to Sparta Rotterdam at the age of 9 but this was only a stepping stone and with the mindset his grandfather had made him embrace, he took on the challenge and eventually moved to PSV on his 12 birthday.
PSV was far away for Memphis Depay to travel to and still live with his grandparents so he had to move in with a foster family. This brought with it an issue, as Memphis was yet again losing another father figure. At the same time, it came with a benefit of he was now away from an environment that was slowly becoming detrimental to his progress. The area his grandfather lived in, wasn’t shielded from the odd troublesome teens who were slowly taking a liking to Memphis Depay; so moving in with the foster family provided Memphis with a period of normality unlike what he became accustomed to. Olaf Heijblom recalls struggling to get through to him in the first few weeks however after a few weeks, Memphis showed a chink in his armour. He recalls seeing that Memphis
“…was sobbing but slowly he started telling his (life) story. My heart then went straight to him, and together with my wife, we showed him that a household and family life can be fun and enjoyable”
At 12 years old, he had discovered another father figure dedicated to see him grow and develop as a player and person.
Memphis Depay spent most of his youth career in the red and white jersey of PSV. And such was his bad boy reputation, upon his arrival at the PSV academy, he was appointed a mentor in Joost Lenders. Joost Lender, a self proclaimed people manager, worked tirelessly together along with a number of youth coaches to keep Memphis Depay’s career from going astray. As he started to develop and move up through the youth teams he got the attention of the PSV manager Fred Rutten. Erik ten Hag, the PSV assistant coach at the time, said that
“he…had a very good relationship with [the manager] Fred Rutten, who he trusted. He spent a lot of time with Memphis and knew how to handle him. Because of Memphis’s background, it was necessary.”
Fred Rutten became yet another role model for Memphis, this therefore meant he had positive role models both on field and off field as well. With all these mentors around him, along with his grandfather, who was only a call away he had a strong support base around him. This strong support base along with the mindset instilled into him from an early age were what in time made him the player he is today. By the time, he was ready to make his first team debut for PSV, his behaviour, reputation and focus on football had massively improved. He was well on his journey to fulfil his potential. As he says,
“I believe I can be one of the best players in the world and I have to dream and believe to achieve. It is tattooed on my chest…You just have to work every day on your dreams.”
On the other side of the story, there was Ravel Morrison, who was a gifted footballer from an early age. However, his mindset was different from Memphis. His mindset was simply to play the game as if he is on the park with friends and simply only worry about the immediate not the future. He has never had a mentality of being ambitious with his footballing career and hard work is not a trait he is associated with. He never had dreams to one day be the best in the world in fact, football to him was nothing more than a game with friends; the competitive nature, freedom to express yourself and fast pace excitement that football brings all played to his maverick side.
Unlike many other young prodigies, Ravel Morrison was lucky enough to spend his youth career in the same academy. This meant he did not face the struggles of having to settle in new youth teams or environment during a crucial time in his development. He was always the talk of the town in Manchester during his academy days and Rio Ferdinand said
“ever since the first day I saw him, my old boss (Sir Alex Ferguson) said ‘have a look at this boy. He was taking the mick out of everyone on the pitch when he was about 14. The manager thought he was the best player he had seen at that age.”
His tremendous ability was quick to catch the eye of coaches nationwide and he represented England national team in every one of its youth teams.
I still remember a game were Ravel Morrison roamed the pitch like he playing in the park with his mates, in a competitive youth game. He controlled the game throughout and scored two sensational goals. In a match with the likes of Michael Keane, Raheem Sterling, Paul Pogba, Mats Daelhi and Andre Wisdom. Today, Paul Pogba and Raheem Sterling have become household names and have played against the very best teams in the world, it makes you wonder yet again why Ravel Morrison is so far behind.
Simply put, he didn’t have the strong support base on and off the pitch like Memphis had. He was more or less left to his own devices and his reputation of being a maverick attracted the wrong crowd. His biggest problem was never been the fact he was a bad kid, although it may appear as such, its the fact he was always surrounded by bad influences who fed on his maverick side. As he grew up through the youth academy teams in Manchester United, he became more and more disruptive and the lack of intervention from anyone of authority just saw his disobedience further escalate. During his youth career at Manchester United stories of mugging, burglary, theft, driving without a licence were just a few of the offences he and the people around him were accused of doing. Although his performances grew on the field, he was creating more and more issues for coaches, as he was starting to show up late for training and his off field issues, such as court cases, were also conflicting with his ability to play football. He is not the first and definitely won’t be the last footballer, to have outside influences that are potentially detrimental to their career. But as some of these footballers mature and outgrow their negative influences, it is still to be seen whether the same will ever happen with Ravel Morrison.
His time at Manchester United came to a close when his contract was about to expire and the manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, felt he needed a change of scenery. He moved him away from the negative influences surrounding him and sold him to then Championship side, West ham. A move many people who were keeping an eye on his development felt he needed, Birmingham manager, Lee Clark states,
“I think leaving Manchester was, in retrospect, one of the best things that could have happened to him to enable him to focus on his career. I think there were negative influences he needed to get away from.”
With the move, many felt he was now well on his way to kick-start his career and finally start to realise his potential by taking his first few steps into professional football.