When Reading confirmed Michael Morrison as their second summer signing last July, I'm not sure it was an addition that really impressed the Reading faithful. It didn’t really get me off my seat I have to say. I thought that he'd come in solely as a backup, who would fill in here and there when we needed him, and I’m sure I wasn't alone with that assumption.
Maybe we didn’t give him enough credit or perhaps we were too complacent, hoping for more ‘marquee’ signings rather than signing a 31 year-old centre back, who has spent the vast majority of his playing career in League One and the Championship, on a free.
However, the former Birmingham City captain has surpassed all expectations, arguably becoming both our most consistent defender and also the first centre back on the team sheet. Throughout the season we’ve seen Matt Miazga drop in and out of the side, Tom McIntyre hasn't quite been able to break through until the last few games and now club captain Liam Moore is suffering from his recent lacklustre performances too. But Morrison has been a mainstay throughout the entire season.
He struggled a little to adapt to Jose Gomes’ playing-out-from-the-back style in the opening few games of the season. But in terms of doing the basics of defending - positional awareness, putting his body on the line, organisation, reading the play - I don’t think you can really fault him much at all.
It might sound a bit tedious and pointless applauding somebody for doing the basics of their job, but not many centre backs do that anymore. You can tell that he just thrives off doing the dirty work and getting stuck in, and without wanting to sound too cliche, he never leaves anything out on the pitch - which is a fan’s dream.
Not only is he an absolutely herculean on the pitch, but he seems like a genuinely decent bloke off it, too. He never shies away from media duties, he’s straight-talking and never makes excuses for poor performances or defeats. He seems like he’d be a key character in the dressing room, proven by the fact that when Moore hasn’t been involved, Bowen’s entrusted Morrison with the armband the majority of the time.
But since the return of football, and since Moore’s performances meant him being dropped to the bench, the gaffer has actually handed the armband to midfielder John Swift (albeit probably as an attempt to keep the playmaker at the club rather than his leadership qualities). In fact, Bowen said after the Luton game that he’d talked to Morrison beforehand:
“I spoke to Morrison and whether he had the armband or not it wouldn’t change his performance or attitude. He’ll go out and be a leader anyway.”
Something like that may have been something that annoyed another player - but I don't think Morrison really cares, and I mean in that in the nicest way possible. He isn't the kind of player to get annoyed or frustrated at things like that, no matter what situation himself or the team are in, all he will do and all he can do is go onto the pitch and give absolutely everything to try and win the football match.
Morrison has been consistent all season, but since the return of football after lockdown he has been absolutely phenomenal - and is really starting to show his importance to the team. He is currently lining up alongside academy boys McIntyre and Gabriel Osho, along with Tyler Blackett at left back - and boy has Morrison led by example.
The likes of McIntyre and Osho are in no short supply of role models at the club. Even with the faults of skipper Moore and Miazga in recent times, both of them are still very good centre backs at this level. But Morrison is arguably the best role model of the lot. He does everything you want your centre back to do, makes it tough for every striker he plays against, throws his body in front of everything and reads the game brilliantly.
So, even if his playing time begins to drop next season - which it shouldn’t do based off his performances this campaign - he will still be a huge figure in the squad, helping to nurture the likes of McIntyre and (hopefully) Osho into the best centre backs they can be.
He strikes me as the kind of guy who wouldn’t want this kind of piece written about him, or maybe feels he might not deserve it, but he 100% does deserve it, so he’s getting one. I would honestly have him in my top three for player of the season alongside John Swift and Rafael - and I wouldn’t put money against him coming out on top either.
He is a proper centre back, a leader, and a player who goes about his business in the best way possible. I'm sure Bowen will back me up when I say he’s probably a manager’s dream, and the consistency, passion and reliability he has shown throughout this season has probably secured his status as a Reading fan’s dream too.