The F.A. Cup 4th round has thrown up a tie between Manchester United and Wigan Athletic. It will be the first time the two sides have met since the Community Shield in 2013. A lot has changed since then, with both having experienced a decline in their respective fortunes. United were reigning Premier League champions, but have not challenged for the title since. Wigan were the cup holders, but had just been relegated from the top flight. They have since dropped into the third tier of English football, before being promoted back to the Championship last season.
The tie will be of particular interest to many United fans, as it will be the first time that Warren Joyce returns to Old Trafford since leaving his post as manager of their reserve team. He was appointed Latics manager in November last year. It also sees a potential return for a player who legendary United manager Sir Alex Ferguson believed was one of the most naturally talented youngsters he ever signed. Morrison is training with his former mentor Joyce at Wigan, since being released by Italian club Lazio.
Joyce was formerly the manager of Belgian side Royal Antwerp, at that time United’s feeder club. He moved to Old Trafford in 2008, to take up a joint position alongside club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjær, managing the reserve team. When Solskjær took up the manager position at his former club Molde, Joyce took sole charge.
In 2011 the side won the F.A. Youth Cup, in a side that included Morrison, as well as current United stars Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba. Joyce declined several managerial roles, including one at his former club Hull City, opting to remain at Old Trafford. In November 2016, having overseen the development of another academy graduate, Marcus Rashford, he took up the job at the D.W. Stadium.
Many United fans, especially those who follow the reserve team, look at Ravel Morrison as a wasted talent. According to Rio Ferdinand, even Paul Pogba used to look up to him, so talented was he. His ability was never in question, but his personal life prompted Ferguson to declare that he needed to “get away from Manchester”. With his contract due to expire later that summer, Morrison was sold to West Ham United in January 2012. He was immediately loaned to Birmingham City, in order to gain valuable first team experience, a move which was quite successful.
Morrison returned to Upton Park for the start of the 2013-14 season, and initially looked as though the move was going to work out for him. He scored on his debut, in the League Cup against Cheltenham Town. After he scored in a 3-0 win away to Tottenham, it prompted his manager Sam Allardyce to declare it a “genius goal”. Unfortunately, further questions about his commitment arose, and he was loaned to Queens Park Rangers later that season.
He completed a further loan spell at Cardiff City, in which he made just seven league appearances. It became clear that he was deemed surplus to requirements at Upton Park. In January 2015, Morrison signed a pre-contract agreement with Lazio, which would see him leave West Ham when his deal expired in the summer. In eighteen months in the Eternal City, managed just eight appearances in total, none of which came this season.
He is currently training with Wigan in the hope that his can rescue his ailing career. Even at the age of just 23, it seems Ravel Morrison’s career is already in the Last-chance saloon. If his former manager can’t resurrect his career, maybe nobody can.
Last Time Out
The last time Manchester United met Wigan was in August 2013 at Wembley, for the Community Shield. Both sides had new managers, with David Moyes replacing Ferguson and Owen Coyle taking over from Everton-bound Roberto Martínez. The match finished 2-0 to the Red Devils, thanks to a double by Dutch striker Robin van Persie.
The Last Word
Manchester United will be overwhelming favourites to progress to the next round. The fact that the tie will be played at Old Trafford will serve to amplify this. The pressure will be off for Wigan, which may help them tremendously. United may already have booked a League Cup final place by then, in addition to Premier League and European commitments. With that in mind, they could be facing a potential fixture pile up. If so, Wigan may fancy their chances of an F.A. Cup 4th Round upset.
For many United fans, the tie will be an opportunity to give Warren Joyce a good reception, for the many years of service he gave to the club. It will be interesting to see if Ravel Morrison has done enough by then to earn a contract, and return to his old stomping ground. Even more fascinating will be what type of reception he will get if he does play.