Michael Morrison

Former Player Remembers: Michael Morrison

This month, defender Michael Morrison, who was Nigel Pearson’s first signing for Leicester City in 2008, spoke to Club Historian John Hutchinson about his career in football. In his first two years at King Power Stadium, he was a League 1 title winner and a key player in the side which reached the Championship play-offs the following season.
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He also played under Paulo Sousa and Sven-Göran Eriksson at Leicester before moving to Sheffield Wednesday, Charlton Athletic, Birmingham City and his current side Reading. He is currently playing in his 10th successive season in the Championship and has featured in over 650 first team games so far in his career. 

Michael began by explaining how his career got up and running: “I’m from Haverhill, just outside Cambridge and went to Cambridge United when I was a schoolboy. In my first year as a youth player, Cambridge were relegated into what was then the Conference and is now the National League. This speeded up my opportunity to get into the team and I made my first team debut just before my 18th birthday.” 

In the next three seasons, Michael made 122 appearances for the U’s. He won three Young Player of the Year awards and earned eight England ‘C’ caps. 

“When I played for the England non-league side,” Michael recalled, “we went to Finland to play their Under-21s side. It was freezing. Then, in the summer, we played away against Barbados and Grenada. We had a really good team with people like Craig Mackail-Smith, who ended up at Brighton and Peterborough, George Boyd who went to Peterborough and Burnley, and Steve Morrison who played at Millwall, Norwich and Leeds. It was a great experience and you could showcase your skills. 

“I ended up going on trial for 10 days at Glenn Roeder’s Newcastle United, where Nigel Pearson was coaching and this is the back story of how Leicester City became aware of me. At the end of the trial, Glenn Roeder called me into his office and said: ‘Listen, you’ve done really well. I’m comparing you to Rio Ferdinand and you’re not quite as good’. This always makes me laugh because he wasn’t going to find many centre-halves as good as Rio Ferdinand!” 

About a year later, in June 2008, Leicester City, who had just been relegated to League 1, appointed Pearson as their new manager. Michael was his first signing. 

Michael recalled: “That summer, my agent had said that Leicester were interested in me. There had been interest in me from other clubs too and I thought: ‘I’ve heard all this before’. I went on holiday to Lanzarote with my girlfriend, who is now my wife. When we landed, I noticed I’d had about 10 missed calls from my agent saying: ‘Quick. Come back. Leicester want to sign you!’

"We went straight back to the airport and flew home and I signed for Leicester. I remember going around the stadium and the training ground and just thinking how amazing it was to go into that professional environment. At Cambridge, we trained on the park. What an opportunity I now had. It was amazing! 

I realised that I wasn’t at Leicester just to play. I was there to do something with the team.

Michael Morrison

“That summer, Leicester also signed Nicky Adams, Lloyd Dyer and Jack Hobbs. They were probably not showcase signings but they all went on to have good careers. 

“I was lucky to have signed so early in pre-season because it gave me a full six weeks. On your first day, you wonder if you should be there, or if you are good enough, but those six weeks made a really big difference and made me feel more comfortable with everything. 

“It was the first pre-season game at Ilkeston that made me realise how great the fans’ expectations were at Leicester. I was set to come on in the second half. At half-time, we were drawing and all the fans were booing. I was wondering what was going on.

"I knew when I signed for Leicester they had just been relegated but hadn’t realised there was this huge disconnection between the fans’ expectation of where the Club should be and where it actually was. I realised that I wasn’t at Leicester just to play. I was there to do something with the team. 

“Fortunately, it was quite clear that the players at the Club were far too good for League 1. Matty Fryatt went on to score many goals, and there was Matt Oakley, Steve Howard, Tom Cleverley who came later in the year and who went on to play for England, Max Gradel and Jack Hobbs.

“And what a great player (Bulgaria international centre-back) Aleksandar Tunchev was! He had a difficult time because he picked up a bad injury and didn’t speak English. He was a fans’ favourite though. He was a really good player and a calming influence. 

“Another player was David Martin, a goalkeeper on loan from Liverpool who soon became the regular first choice until his injury in February, during Leicester City’s club-record run of 23 games without defeat. 

“My Football League debut was Leicester’s home game against MK Dons on the opening day of the season. We won 2-0. It was a really good day for me and I still look back on it with extreme pride.” 

Thinking back, Michael remembered: “We did have a lot of goalkeepers (six) that season. These goalkeeping changes didn’t put too much pressure on the back four. It might have made a difference at a higher level but they were all good ‘keepers and if I’m honest, the team was so good we didn’t have that much defending to do. 

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Michael Morrison & Andy King
Michael Morrison & Andy King

Celebrating City's League 1 title win with midfielder Andy King.

“To get the right culture at the Club, the manager had a good balance in the team. The young players were very keen and wanted to prove themselves as professional footballers who could go on and achieve great things. 

“Nigel also picked some good experienced players. (Switzerland international) Bruno Berner in midfield was a really steady player. Matt Oakley was already there and Chris Powell joined the squad at the start of the season. They helped the young lads and this made a massive difference.

"I think that’s why, the following year, we recruited the likes of Richie Wellens and Paul Gallagher. Having experienced players you could rely on helped us to progress.” 

Michael’s first season at Leicester saw the team crowned as League 1 champions with 96 points, having lost only four games. In the final home game of the season, a 2-2 draw against Scunthorpe United, captain Matt Oakley lifted the trophy in front of a crowd of over 30,000. Michael scored both of City’s goals. 

“That was a real standout moment in my career,” Michael continued. “My family were there. It was such a great night. I’ve not scored twice in a game since!” 

The following season, Michael was a key player in helping Pearson’s side reach the Championship play-off semi-final against Cardiff City. 

He added: “Towards the end of the League 1 year, I filtered out to right back, which I enjoyed, and I continued playing there the following season as Hobbsy [Jack Hobbs], who was playing really well, and Wayne Brown, consolidated the centre-half positions. I was a defensive right-back which Nigel liked. At that time, being a full-back wasn’t about bombing forward. 

In my first two seasons at Leicester, we’d been promoted and then got to the play-offs. I thought it was going to be like this all the time, but then Nigel left and that’s when it went downhill.

Michael Morrison

“I was injured at Preston at the end of the season and Nobby Solano came in at right-back for the first play-off game at home against Cardiff, which we lost. I was fit enough to be involved for the second leg and was on the bench. Yann [Kermorgant] missed his penalty in the shoot-out and so did Martyn Waghorn.

"Myself, Martyn and Andy King were really friendly and it was upsetting to see Martyn so upset. The defeat was hard to take. I later played with Yann at Charlton and he was an amazing player. He was fantastic at Charlton.” 

Reflecting on his second season at Leicester, Michael said: “It was a great season. The recruitment had been good, we’d grown in confidence and Matty Fryatt had been on fire until his injury. Having a goalscorer like Matty makes such a difference. 

“In my first two seasons at Leicester, we’d been promoted and then got to the play-offs. I thought it was going to be like this all the time, but then Nigel left and that’s when it went downhill.” 

Pearson’s successor, appointed in the close season, was Swansea City manager and former Portugal international Paulo Sousa.

“Under the new manager, the training was different,” Michael continued. “I found it difficult to adapt. Nigel had wanted me to be defensively solid but we were being asked to play differently in a way that quite frankly I and some of the other players found difficult. 

“The first game of the season was at Palace and [Wilfried] Zaha, making his debut, scored twice. I have to take some credit for helping to start his career! The 6-1 defeat at Portsmouth summed Paulo’s time at the Club.” 

After nine games, with Leicester bottom of the Championship, Sousa left the Club. 

“It was a difficult time,” Michael reflected. “We’d been successful under Nigel playing a certain way for two years and to change this way of playing was really difficult. I was a young player and I learned from the experience, but it was really difficult at the time.” 

At the start of the season, a consortium led by King Power had acquired the Club, prior to a full takeover and the new owners appointed the ex-England manager Sven-Göran Eriksson as Sousa’s successor. 

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Michael Morrison
Michael Morrison

The defender continued to be a key figure as Leicester looked for successive promotions.

Michael continued: “When Sven got the job, we went with the new owners to Thailand in the international break. From the way they looked after us, you could tell that they were people with proper money who had high expectations and an ambition to be successful. 

“Sven signed a lot of players including two players in my positions, Curtis Davies and Kyle Naughton, who were ahead of me. I had a difficult conversation with Sven to say I was interested in going to Sheffield Wednesday, who wanted to sign me. He said that he needed me over Christmas and that after that I could go.

"So, I went to Sheffield in January. I thought they could get promoted from League 1, but it didn’t happen. Two weeks after I arrived, the manager Alan Irvine was replaced by Gary Megson and I wasn’t for him.  In the meantime, Chris Powell had become Charlton’s manager and I ended up signing for him at the end of the season. 

“I was really pleased to work for Chris. He’s a fantastic guy and he’d put together a really strong squad. He had such a massive effect on me from the time I was at Leicester until I was 25. He’d been a constant in my career and I owe him a lot.” 

In his first season at Charlton, Michael won another League 1 title. After three seasons playing in the Championship at the Valley, he spent another three years as captain at Birmingham City. He is currently in his third season at Reading, playing alongside ex-Leicester City centre-back Liam Moore. 

For the last six years, Michael, together with a friend, has developed a chain of barber shops in Cambridge. 

He wants to stay in football when he has finished playing. He has completed his ‘B’ licence and his UEFA ‘A’ licence. He has an LMA Diploma in Football Management from Liverpool University and is currently studying for a Master’s degree in Sporting Directorship at Manchester Metropolitan University. 

Michael concluded by saying: “Being at Leicester was one of the best times in my career. I was young at the time and playing for Leicester City was living the dream at that point.” 

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