However, the journey was not about to get easier for Ravel Morrison but it was starting to click into place for the other prodigy, Memphis Depay. The next two years would prove just as contrasting for both players as they had now reached those very crucial years in a young footballer’s career. With Memphis Depay and Ravel Morrison now aged, 17 and 18 respectively, they were now ready to transition from youth football to the more competitive and physical senior game.
Memphis Depay: Blistering start to senior football
PSV (August – December, 2011)
In August 2011, after impressive performances in the Dutch youth internationals and PSV youth teams, reserve team manager Marco Roelofsen decided he was ready to take the step up and gave him a trial. Memphis Depay was promoted to PSV’s reserve team, Jong PSV, to play in the Beloften Eredivisie league alongside other promising youngsters from the youth teams such as Jürgen Locadia, Peter van Ooijen and Nigel Bertrams who also taking the step up. On a Monday afternoon, August 22, 2011, in front of only a few hundred people Memphis would take his first steps into the senior game. It was the first game of the Beloften Eredivisie season and he was up against De Graafs U21. He played the full game on the right wing and impressed throughout however Jürgen Locadia would steal the spotlight, in a twenty minute cameo he managed to score two goals. Memphis managed to grab himself an assist for Jürgen Locadia first goal and the game ended in 3-1 win for the PSV reserve side. The following week, Memphis would grab his first goal in senior professional football, in an away game against Feyenoord’s U21 side.
This was enough for Fred Rutten to promote him into the first team. And, on the 21st of September 2011 just a month on from making his senior debut for the Jong PSV side, he was now making his debut for the first team in front of 2000 spectators. It was the second round of the Dutch Cup and PSV were playing against lower league, VVSB Noordwijkerhout and Fred Rutten, handed him a place in the starting line up. His faith in Memphis was repaid instantly and within the first twenty three minutes, he had already scored the first goal and got penalty for his team to get their second. And later in the second half, he would grab his second goal in a 8-0 trashing of VVSB Noordwijkerhout so after only a handful of games and in the space of a month he had already scored three goals and provided two assists. After this amazing performance, the Dutch press lauded Memphis Depay as the future hope of PSV and Dutch football. In an effort to protect him from the pressure the manager, Fred Rutten, demoted Memphis Depay back to the youth teams as he was still only seventeen years old and would not play another game with the senior side that year. Memphis Depay was quick to grab any chance given to him with both hands but the same could not be said about Ravel Morrison.
Ravel Morrison: Little impact on the senior game
West Ham (September 2010 to December 2011)
Miles away in Manchester, Ravel Morrison was much more experienced in terms of the senior game. He, like Memphis, had made his reserve team debut at the age of seventeen on September 16th, 2010 in a 4-1 defeat against Aston Villa. And he had also made his first team debut in October of the same year although only for a minute; when he came to replace Park Ji Sung in the 95th minute against Wolves in Carling Cup game. And, he did manage to get his first goals in the senior game, three months after his debut in December, in a reserve game against Newcastle’s U21 side in a 5-1 win where he scored two goals. However, at the end of September of the following year, even though he had played seven more games and a year older, he was behind Memphis Depay in his career. Legal court cases, club discipline issues and outfield goings on, in the early months of 2011 had continued to affect his footballing career and severely affected his game for both club and country. By the age of eighteen, he had only managed to play for England youth teams only four times despite being viewed as one of the best of his generation whereas Memphis had managed to take part in twenty seven games by the end of 2011. Memphis Depay had not only made more of an impact on the senior game but also in the youth international games where he had scored 11 more goals. In saying that, this was not a true reflection of their talents both players had near equal talent but unluckily for Ravel Morrison things were never straightforward for him and failed to take advantage of the chances he was being given.
Despite impressive performances in the FA Youth Cup in 2011, the coaches and former manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, were frustrated with lack of impact on the senior game and decided it was best to let him leave. In Sir Alex Ferguson’s recent book, he stated:
“… over a period of years, the problems off the pitch continued to escalate and we had little option but to cut the cord.
“Sadly, there are examples of players who have similar backgrounds to Giggs or Cristiano Ronaldo, who, despite enormous talent, just aren’t emotionally or mentally strong enough to overcome the hurts of their childhood.”
He would only manage four more games with the Manchester United senior team after September, two with the reserve side in which he scored two goals against Wigan reserves and also two cameo appearances with the first team in the Carling Cup game which he failed to make any real impact.
Youth to senior football transition:Dutch approach vs the English approach
One thing I noticed in my analysis of these two young prodigies, is the difference in the way the two footballing nations approach youth development. In Holland, they have invest a lot of money, trust and energy in their youth academies all across the country – from the amateur teams to the professional teams. Their philosophy is to focus on the youth academies because they don’t have the money to buy foreign players like the English teams. They see it as key to the survival of not only their national team but also their footballing leagues. As, William Gaillard, the adviser to Uefa’s president states;
“I’ve visited about 60 or 70 amateur football clubs [in the Netherlands]. On average they have around €3-4m of facilities [in] land and buildings. That’s about €10bn in total. Effectively, they’re all better than the standard academies in England so Holland has 2,700 academies. It’s no surprise that Holland is No2 in the Fifa world rankings.”
Also, the Dutch teams fast track their best youth prospects and mould them into players that will automatically have a spot or position in the senior side whereas the English teams are not as trusting or forward thinking. As Giovanni van Bronckhorst, states:
“We are not able to buy players; you have to create your own. The younger players get a chance quicker to be part of the first-team squad. If you have a good youth set-up, you have your own future in your own hands and I think that is important. The Dutch philosophy is to be able to be part of a club”
In England, most of their top teams slowly introduce their best youth prospects into the senior team and often give them little room to fail, a few bad games from an English youngster could possibly result in them never playing for the first team again. And, the young players often play a completely different style in their youth teams to their senior sides so they can go from being in a flamboyant attacking academy team where they play as a right winger to a defend at all cost senior side and they are expected to contribute at left back.
Arguably, this could be put down to the difference in quality of the English leagues compared to the Dutch leagues. Even with that in mind, this reluctance to trust promising prospects to showcase their skill in their preferred style and position with more room to fail is a flaw in the English professional set up. The English premier league is notoriously known for being difficult for youth players to make this transition. With this in mind, it can be argued that things might have been different for Ravel Morrison had he been brought up in the Dutch youth set ups.