Reading made their second signing of the summer on Friday afternoon, bringing in 31 year-old centre half Michael Morrison on a free transfer. The Englishman had left Birmingham City, a club he captained, after his contract expired a few weeks ago.
To find out more about him, we spoke to Blues fan and football writer Gabriel Sutton, who’s behind the excellent site The Football Lab. He’s also well worth a follow on Twitter for his encyclopaedic knowledge of the English Football League.
How would you sum up his time at Birmingham City?
A Morrison of two halves.
He was Gary Rowett’s first signing in October 2014 and, after we’d just lost 8-0 at home to Bournemouth prior to the new manager coming in, Morrison made an instant impact. He was man of the match on his debut: a 0-0 draw at Wolves who were top of the table at the time - the last 20 minutes of that match they were pumping loads of crosses in and Morrison headed everything away.
For the subsequent two years he was among the best centre-backs in the Championship; you could count the number of bad games he had in that period on one hand, such was his consistency. After Rowett left, we lost our identity as a club with Zola, Redknapp, Carsley and Cotterill all in a short space of time and a high turnover of players that didn’t help ‘Morro’ (or anyone).
We pressed better collectively and were more stable when Garry Monk took over which meant Morrison was not got at as much, although I wouldn’t say he was anything special last season.
What style of centre-back is he?
Tall, right-footed, decent in the air but limited in certain respects. He started the season as our right-sided centre-back in a back four, but I think I have a theory as to why Garry Monk swapped his position with Harlee Dean towards the end of the season.
Morrison’s second touch is normally a long ball but when he played with his right foot from the right, it tended to end up with Adams (on the left of the front two) rather than Lukas Jutkiewicz, our target man - it’s harder to generate enough power with a horizontal long ball. From the left, he might find it easier to pick out an aerially proficient forward on the right; I know there’s a dearth of left-sided centre-backs at Reading at the moment.
The optimistic way of looking at this signing therefore would be that maybe Jose Gomes fancies him for that position so he can pick out the odd diagonal for Yakou Meite on the right. I’m not confident that will work as such, but it could be something to look out for.
What are his main strengths?
If you ask him to head away deep crosses up against an average Championship target man - like Steve Morison or Michael Smith last season - he’ll likely deliver. So long as the organisation in front of him is ok, he can probably do a job against any striker that is not particularly athletic - his performance against Billy Sharp back in April was his 2018/19 highlight.
The theme with his better performances seems to be that the rest of the team is very coordinated; when Morrison knows instinctively what his next job is and how he can stay one step ahead of everyone else on the pitch, he seems to do well.
And his weaknesses?
He’s not a defender who can improvise. For example, at West Brom back in March, he was doing OK in the first half (even with a high line) but once the opposition brought on an energetic striker in Hal Robson-Kanu, the randomness of the movement kind of panicked Morro and he just backed off, which dictated what happened to the rest of the team.
If you put him up against an athletic forward, or a team that dovetails quickly in their movement and combination play, he doesn’t really know how or have the physical wherewithal to handle it. Plus, the 31 year-old completed just 64% of his passes last season; he’s not an obvious fit in terms of Gomes moving you towards a more possession-based style of play.
What’s his character like, and how do Reading get the best out of him?
Morro is an excellent communicator and the leadership he has given to Blues over the last five years is hugely to his credit.
Whenever we’ve gone into a relegation battle and had big games at the bottom of the table towards the end of the season - Huddersfield at home in 2016/17, Fulham at home in 2017/18 and Leeds at home last season - we’ve always won and he’s normally been one of the key figures behind that victory.
In the eventuality that Reading are in a dogfight come April (which I’m not saying is likely or unlikely) and need to resort to pragmatism, that’s where I could imagine Morro coming into his own.
On the whole, is he a good signing for Reading?
It’s not a signing I would have made - and I’d be interested to know whether this was of Gomes’ choosing. However, I can see the argument for adding him, perhaps as a mentor for the likes of Gabriel Osho and Tom McIntyre.
He could be a decent signing if you plan to manage his minutes, keep him fresh and bring him in for any bunch of games where you need to go back to basics. However, I don’t think he’s the figure of consistency at Championship level that he perhaps was three years ago.