Dean Morgan divides opinion, doesn’t he?
Some Oxford fans have struggled to warm to him since he arrived at the Kassam. He has a kind of Lewis Haldane thing going on; all nice haircuts and fitful product. More reasoned assessment seems to be that it hasn’t all been bad; far from it. He’s had good games against Northampton and Torquay, he scored against Wimbledon. It’s just when it isn’t happening for him, it isn’t happening. To some, when it’s not happening for the team, it’s Morgan’s fault.
Aside from the Haldane factor, it doesn’t help that he’s got Cristano Montano on the other wing. Not that Montano is demonstrably better than Morgan. He’s scored one more goal but he’s frustratingly raw. However, he’s from West Ham, like lovely little Robbie Hall and he’s foreign; which means rather than boo him, we prod him inquisitively like the Ewoks did to R2D2, cowering in awe when he moves.
It doesn’t help that Morgan is here to help plug a gap left by Alfie Potter’s injury. Potter is a player we hold in high regard despite his own propensity to dribble the ball in the Zone of Least Impact; 30 yards from goal.
Morgan didn’t do ‘Brand Morgan’ any good by sitting on floor in the penalty box as Gillingham streamed downfield looking for a winner on Saturday. He did himself even less favour by getting up just as they were preparing to take a corner denying the referee the opportunity to halt the game leaving us defending a corner with 10 men. And then he strolled off the pitch really slowly showing little sign of the injury that was forcing him off.
Perhaps he should have affected a more dramatic reaction to his injury. He could have gone down like he’d been shot. This would have put pressure on the referee to stop the Gillingham break and allow Morgan medical attention he didn’t actually need.
However, with the Fabrice Muamba case, and just this weekend, Piermario Morosini’s death, it is becoming increasingly distasteful to feign injury for such minor sporting gain. You might argue, perhaps, that footballers’ propensity to fake serious injury is so endemic within the game that it has bred complacency amongst clubs, administrators and medical teams; a ‘cry-wolf’ syndrome masking the dangers within the sport. If everyone goes down as though they were dead, how do you know when they actually are? This certainly seems to be a factor in Morosini’s case, where medical support he needed was not readily available.
Nobody would have reacted to Andy Whing had he limped off like Morgan did. We like Andy Whing’s attitude, you see. Perhaps it’s because his game reflects our own behaviour during games; all heart on sleeve, screaming, battling, scrapping. Perhaps if we watched games smoking Gauloises cigarettes, listening to expansive, difficult experimental jazz and discussing Michel Foucalt’s views on post-structuralism we would appreciate the more mercurial talents of players like Morgan.
Those who listen to experimental jazz don’t do it for a catchy tune. They listen to it searching for something they’ve never heard before. Amidst those fleeting moments of beauty and genius are periods of false starts, unlistenable noise and musical cul-de-sacs.
I once heard Professor Brian Cox talking about Cern’s apparent discovery of particles travelling faster than the speed of light. He said that someone asked him how worried he was that the theory of relativity; a fundamental mainstay in the understanding of physics, might be wrong.
Not at all, he said, scientists live on the edge of understanding and are driven by a desire to discover new things. Finding that something previously ‘known’ had become ‘unknown’ was exciting, not scary; it meant there was an opportunity to find out something new.
Jake Wright and Chris Wilder jumped to Morgan’s defence directly after Saturday’s game. Both pointed out that Morgan is a winger and wingers have to run at players and take them on. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. He has to try things that haven’t been tried before; like the theoretical physicist or the experimental jazz musician, making mistakes is all part of his job description. If you don’t make a mistake, you’re probably not trying hard enough.
The scope for success is much narrower if you’re a winger; you’ve got to beat your player, and get an accurate ball into a striker to succeed. If you’re a defender, you don’t even have to play within the rules of the game to have a positive impact. Getting a block in or muscling a striker off the ball are all acceptable means of succeeding in your role.
This mix of required attributes was at the heart of the Chapman substitution; I didn’t understand it at the time, but Wilder explained that he didn’t want to sacrifice the goal-getting abilities of Asa Hall, or the defensive cover of Whing. He didn’t want to sacrifice pace down the wing. But he needed to bring on Constable to try and grab a goal. Chapman was sacrificed because the others couldn’t be. I can see the logic.
Morgan isn’t Lionel Messi; like 99.9% of attacking players around the world there is a high probability that the things he tries will not come off. As Wilder pointed out, there are players up and down the country who are equally frustrating, but it doesn’t make them bad players.