Reading have got a hell of a lot wrong with recruitment in recent years. New arrivals have all too often been lacking in commitment, reliability or value for money, if not all of those things. If any signing in the last half-decade or so bucks the trend however, it’s surely picking up Michael Morrison on a free from Birmingham City in the summer of 2019.
Morro’s release last week brought to an end three years of service in Berkshire: 113 appearances, 38 starts with the armband, eight goals and one moment of pure Morrodona magic at Ashton Gate. Stats don’t really do him justice though. I’ve been so fond of Morro and what he embodies as a player: his unquestionable commitment on the pitch and excellent character at all times. Those words can often be pretty empty cliches, but Morro actually fulfils them.
He’s been one of my favourite Reading players in the last three years or so, particularly during his first two seasons at the club. Morro was the guy I wanted to make the case for as our player of the season in both 2019/20 and 2020/21. While he didn’t take either award, he’d have been a worthy winner on both occasions.
Sure, he lacked the glitzy star quality of a Michael Olise, John Swift or Lucas Joao, but it was easy to take his reliability and consistency in those two seasons for granted. Morro played a whopping 48 times in his debut campaign, only missing out on Championship action twice - when he was benched on the opening day and then for a trip to Derby County at the end of the season.
In fact, he then went on to play every minute in the following campaign until being forced off injured in a 1-0 home win over Blackburn Rovers. At that point the Royals sat fifth, five points clear of seventh. A dozen matches later (during which Morro only managed 42 minutes), Reading had slipped out of the top six. While losing Morrison was far from the only problem Reading had to deal with in that part of the season, being without such a key player was a serious blow.
Morrison was a classic old-school centre half. What he generally lacked in technical ability in relation to more modern defenders - comfort in possession and passing out accurately from the back - he made up for in other qualities. Morro radiated organisation, leadership and dominance in the air.
Above all, to put it simply, he was the guy Reading could rely on. The Royals have gone through a number of centre backs in recent years, whether they’re academy graduates, Premier League loanees or a former captain, but the one near-constant at the back was the man partnering them. When Morro was available, he played.
And he knew how to find the net too. The most memorable of his goals undoubtedly came from that Maradona-esque dribble at Ashton Gate, but he was more of a set-piece threat, whether with his head or feet. He opened his account with a classic Morro goal, guiding the ball in off the inside of the far post in front of the away end to seal a 2-0 win at Huddersfield Town.
It wasn’t much of a surprise when he earned a new one-year contract in May 2021. However, he never really recovered from that injury he sustained against Blackburn. And although he’d manage a solid 29 games in 2021/22, a 17-match absence due to a knee injury sustained in the dying seconds at Craven Cottage only compounded his difficulty.
Reading got him back in the side for the second half of the campaign, but this was a different player to the one who’d been so dominant before: that bit slower, that bit less commanding. Then again, given he turned 34 in early March, you’d have been surprised if he didn’t lose any sharpness. To pinch a quote from Greg Double...
“Watching Morrison play is like watching a boxer you like fight on for too long.”
Like the most committed of boxers, Morro did indeed stubbornly stay in the ring, continuing to take the punches come what may. But time had caught up with him, and letting him go at the conclusion of this season was the right call, especially with fellow veteran Scott Dann - who partnered Morro just the once - still on the books.
At 34 and still retaining a decent amount of match fitness, Morro can probably keep playing for a couple more years. What level that’s at remains to be seen, but at this stage the safest money is probably with a return to League One side Cambridge United, Morrison’s first club.
Whenever his playing career concludes, I’d certainly be open to having him back at Reading in some capacity. Morrison seems like someone with potential to be a good coach, director of football or some other position behind the scenes. Whatever the future holds for him though, I wish him all the best.