I get a lot of grief on social media for being critical of Steve Morison, but I think he’s doing a really good job.
Criticism is perceived by some as negativity and is therefore frowned upon, but if you give credit where credit is due, you also have to balance that out because no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes. These things are subjective though, so one person’s idea of strength can be another person’s sign of weakness.
The times that I have criticised Morison all tend to revolve around one thing; his bedside manner. Or lack thereof.
Morison is blunt. He doesn’t dress things up or hide his feelings. He’s also consistent in his approach and even-tempered. Neil Harris was the opposite. In pre-match press conferences, he was warm and playful, but post-match he was intense and often looked on the verge of tears. He managed like a fan, whereas Morison is more like a headmaster. A disciplinarian, reprimanding and handing out detentions.
Max Watters is the latest to feel Morison’s wrath and it has once again divided the room. After an underwhelming first 37 minutes, Watters was withdrawn in favour of Jordan Hugill. Could it have waited until half time? Of course, but that’s not Morison’s style. His eyes are on the prize and collateral damage does not appear to be a consideration.
There are two schools of thought at play here. You can either see this as strong leadership, or you can view it as unnecessarily mean. Cardiff won the game and for some, that is all that matters, but that’s surely not strictly true.
It was a strange line-up, with Hugill, Joe Ralls and Tommy Doyle all rested. What followed was a disjointed first half and it felt like recent momentum was largely absent. All three looked leggy at Millwall, but it was a surprise to see them all sit this one out together. When you make two substitutions by the 55th minute, it is an admission of a mistake and Cardiff were much better when Hugill and Doyle were reinstated. Credit to Morison for identifying and correcting that, but did Watters really need to bear the brunt of that?
This is a young player, recalled from a successful loan spell, only to be told that his efforts at a higher level are not good enough. Football is a harsh industry and he has to take it on the chin, but seeing him sat in the stands on his own, throughout half time and clearly devastated was not nice. Humiliation is rarely motivating, but Watters now needs to find a way to turn this negative in to a positive.
Watters is not the first and probably won’t be the last. Isaak Davies was subbed on and subbed back off again at Bournemouth, which is even harsher, but then Morison doubled-down in his press conference and claimed the 20-year-old was more of a hinderance than a help. Morison even referenced the incident last night when choosing his words to explain the Watters situation, saying that he didn’t want to be “annihilated” all over again.
That suggests to me that he thought the criticism was due to how he had been portrayed, rather than the act itself. I think it was actually a combination of the two, but it reflects a distrust that Morison appears to have of the media. From his first press conference, he has referred to those in attendance as ‘you lot,’ and he’s perfectly entitled to that stance, but it won’t do him any favours in the long run.
Dealing with the media is a big part of the job. I appreciate that the same people that are building you up will be the same people that will tear you down if things go south, but I don’t think Morison has had a tough time from the press. On the contrary, I think he’s been handled rather gently to date.
Mick McCarthy also saw the media as his enemy. He would routinely roll his eyes and sneer at questions, giving the impression that he would rather be anywhere else. When he was winning, it didn’t matter, but when things started to go badly wrong, he had nowhere to hide.
There are plenty of common misconceptions in football. One of the most popular ones is that an improved second half performance is directly attributed to what was said at half time. That may be the case, but it could just as easily be down to professional pride, a change of circumstances or various other reasons. The manager rightly or wrongly ends up taking the credit.
The accepted wisdom is that Morison pushed Davies’ buttons and this is his positive response, but it may also be in spite of Morison’s dressing down. Craig Bellamy described Davies to me as a “warrior” and he is certainly a brave performer, so maybe he was always going to thrive, but we don’t know if this has strengthened or weakened his relationship with his manager.
Some see it as refreshing honesty and others as airing dirty laundry. I just think it’s a shame because at a time when football is finally embracing mental health concerns, this feels like a throwback rather than a step forward.
It’s frustrating to have to write something like this because what happened with Watters has cast a shadow over another impressive win. Cardiff are turning a corner and Morison deserves so much credit for that, but his heavy-handed approach with his young attackers may have a cumulative effect and prove his undoing in the end.