A common platitude that ‘success often comes after failure’ was uttered in Michael Calvin’s documentary examining the culture of English football academies, aired on on BT Sports on Sunday evening.
No Hunger in Paradise it said, but Celtic’s latest recruit Lewis Morgan is a prime example of how rejection can be channelled and used as motivation on the way to becoming one of Scotland’s best young prospects.
The St Mirren winger caught Brendan Rodgers’ eye when the Buddies threatened a cup upset at Celtic Park in March last year, but his development since then has been representative of the strides the Championship club has made since then.
Morgan will remain at St Mirren until the end of the season where Celtic hope he will continue to cope with being the talisman and lead Saints to promotion, which will stand him in good stead for the mentality needed to thrive at serial winners Celtic.
In truth, though, it is only the abundance of riches when it comes to attacking options at Celtic’s disposal that has seen him loaned back as Morgan is good enough to be challenging Scott Sinclair for a place in the starting eleven right now.
There are no shortage of technically gifted wingers out there but what separates Morgan and makes him a certainty to be a regular full international in the not too distant future is the clarity of thought, two-footed ability and athletic attributes which aren’t a common commodity in Scottish football.
When Morgan broke into the St Mirren first-team in the 2014/15 season, which would eventually end in relegation, his touch and promise was obvious but too often he found himself forced wide and overpowered when up against robust opposition.
The following season saw him restricted to just one start and 17 appearances from the bench, but last season proved to be his breakthrough year where his new-found consistency and self-confidence coincided with the upturn in the Paisley club’s fortunes.
Morgan plays on the left wing of Jack Ross’ favoured 4-2-3-1, and such is his burgeoning reputation as the focal point of St Mirren’s attacks, opposition teams have sought to deny him space in behind and double up on him, with the nearest central midfield often overcompensating positionally by coming across to provide support should he cut inside.
As a right-footed player playing on the opposite wing, it is easy to assume that his usual tendency is to cut in on his right-foot, especially after his televised brace against Dundee United last month where he scored two carbon copies in this fashion.
Morgan is literally two-footed (it is sometimes difficult to tell which one is stronger) and it is one of the idiosyncrasies of his dribbling style that enables him to be so evasive when one v one.
It is a unique reliance on both feet only comparable to Liverpool’s Adam where he prods the ball with both feet when dribbling from a standing start or building pace. His body is not hunched like Forrest but his head is always lent over the ball giving him a low centre of gravity and these subtle touches where he constantly shifts the ball onto either foot make him difficult to read and challenges the defender in terms of assessing the appropriate body position.
Morgan averages the most dribbles per 90 minutes in the league with 5.4, but Cypriot left-back Stelios Demetriou doesn’t tend to offer an overlap such is Morgan’s ability when left isolated against a defender in wide areas.
By withdrawing, he makes sure he doesn’t crowd the space and attract any more opposition players towards the winger so to allow him room to manoeuvre. Morgan always looks to drive at full pelt rather than copying the recent trend embodied by Eden Hazard who slows play down to a halt before bursting past a defender.
The option of going down the line is usually the one Morgan takes as he backs his pace but that may change as he comes up against quicker players in the top-flight.
Morgan’s guile when receiving the ball when pinned to the touchline or receiving in central pockets sees him fond of a nutmeg as he controls the ball side-on with his back foot and knocks it down the line as he anticipates pressure being put on him. If he is facing his own goal his positivity can’t be faulted as he will usually try to twist and turn away before using his pace to drive forward but he could be more measured at times when he drifts inwards.
The one game where he has struggled to influence proceedings came away at Brechin City when captain Paul McLean man-marked him in a 3-5-2 formation. Morgan was snuffed out when he received the ball in space by applying tight pressure as soon as he got the ball and refusing to engage him once Brechin had settled into their low-block.
The regularity with which Morgan’s crossing reaches the danger area is unusual for someone of his age as consistency of delivery is something that usually arrives later in a career but with 5.59 crosses delivered a game – the second most behind Tom Walsh who puts in more than 7 a game at Dumbarton – he is able to cause a threat with either outswingers, inswingers or cutbacks.
Usually if a player has a strong weak foot the motion is still noticeably more robotic; you can see that it is a less fluid action. But the only time it is apparent that his left foot is slightly weaker is when he is crossing while running pace as he doesn’t get quite as much whip on the cross.
Mikey Johnston has worked his way into Rodgers’ plans this season, and as another right-footed left winger, the signing of Morgan could potentially threaten his pathway, but Rodgers obviously recognises his strength when going down the line.
The Celtic boss may have earmarked a future transition into a central area as his passing range and vision to spot diagonal balls is very good.
Morgan has added goals to his game this season, scoring nine in but his finishing is the one area where he needs to improve.
The majority of his shots are from the edge of the box but, while he has simplified the way he manages to find a yard to get a shot away by by simply shifting the ball, he still has a habit of dragging his shots by tensing up too much in an attempt to get dip on the ball.
Off the ball, he works hard but when dispossessed he can take the onus upon himself to win it back, which can leave the wide areas exposed as he hunts the ball himself but he has the intelligence to be part of a collective pressing unit at Celtic.
Morgan could fool you into believing he was predominantly left-footed such is his ability in both feet. It is a talent reserved for very few, the ability to take corners from both sides with either foot. Santi Cazorla did it for Arsenal in the Premier League while former Celts Lubo Moravčík and Derek Riordan also had this in their locker.
In the most recent Renfrewshire derby Morgan also struck a free-kick from a central position with his weaker foot in order to second-guess Derek Gaston.
Celtic’s recruitment looks at the ceiling of a player’s potential and whether the move after the move away from Celtic could realistically be to a top club in one of the major European leagues.
In order to qualify for this criteria in the modern game players have got to have as much athleticism as they do natural ability. Morgan has matured physically in the last twelve months with his natural acceleration over a few yards now backed up with several gears he can move up to over a longer distance.
It is obvious that his core strength has improved as his resistance when pressure is applied from the side sees him able to bounce off players and not eased out as used to be the case.
Against England under-21s in October, Morgan was one of few players who could match the athleticism of the English lads. He was by far the best player in navy blue up against Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold where his dynamism saw him cause a number of problems on the break as well as notching an assist.
If there were Venn diagrams to be drawn of Morgan and Barrie McKay’s skillsets, the chances are that the overlaps would be so great they would threaten to merge into one another but it is the former’s overall attitude and immersion in the game that makes me believe he could go on to outdo the Nottingham Forest winger’s accomplishments.
While McKay may arguably the more capable his languid style didn’t endear him to some of the Rangers support, whereas Morgan is tenacious and committed when helping out defensively.
Morgan, while a boyhood Rangers supporter, was understandably lured to Celtic by the prospect of working with Brendan Rodgers, a man-manager who has developed talents in a similar style to his in Raheem Sterling and James Forrest.
Much like Forrest, who is one of the early contenders for the Premiership player of the season, Rodgers will look to add an efficiency to Morgan’s game, but at 21 consistency is a commodity preserved for elite talents.
While a future role as a number ten is possible given his range of passing and ability to travel through the thirds quickly, refining his thought process when he receives the ball in space will be one of Rodgers’ main objectives.
Morgan is not a selfish player but the Celtic manager will look for his runs to have more purpose as sometimes he can be fixated with being seen to achieve something by simply getting to the byeline and attempting a cross rather than assessing whether it is better to circulate the ball back infield.
However, that may be down to his appetite to impress and be the difference maker after his recent recognition that he is a cut above everyone else in the league.