Michael Morrison interview: Reading defender on promotion aims, his own coaching ambitions, and barber shops

In an exclusive interview with Sky Sports, Reading's Michael Morrison discusses life away from football and a journey he hopes will take him to the Premier League. Watch Reading vs Coventry live on Sky Sports Arena from 5.55pm on Tuesday; Kick-off 6pm

Reading defender Michael Morrison
Image: Reading defender Michael Morrison on the team's start to the season and his coaching ambitions

Reading defender Michael Morrison is trying to negotiate more than just promotion to the Premier League right now. He is part-owner of three barber shops and these are testing times for small businesses given he has only been able to open one month out of three.

"My business partner, my best friend, is furloughed," he tells Sky Sports. "I have had to take a more hands-on role with it, trying to decrease all of our expenditure. It has been busy, quite a lot of Zoom meetings between us, talking to staff, letting them know we care."

At home, there is the parenting to take care of with three young children.

"My wife has been heading up the home-schooling," he says. "Luckily enough, I am at training and they are trying to do all the schooling between 9am and 3pm to maintain a structure. It is easier to be at work than at home with three kids, that is for sure."

He smiles but then, even in these challenging times, there is a lot to smile about for the 32-year-old Morrison. He is part of the Reading side that shocked the Championship earlier this season by winning seven and drawing one of their first eight matches.

After the relegation battles of recent seasons, it was unexpected - particularly given that previous manager Mark Bowen left the club in late August. His replacement, Veljko Paunovic, had no pre-season with which to work with the players. He was in quarantine.

"It has been crazy from the start. His first team-meeting was over Zoom because he could not come down to the dressing room. So that was weird and then all of a sudden we start the season on fire.

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"The manager put us in a great structure, he talked a lot about mentality and connecting everyone, team spirit, individual goals and team goals. I think that is the big thing at Reading. We have got some really good players but we had good players last season.

"Now they are thinking that if they do well for the team then things will come good for them as individuals too. You can see that with Michael Olise being linked to top teams, Lucas Joao having his best scoring run, and Omar Richards being linked with Bayern Munich."

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Highlights of the Sky Bet Championship match between Huddersfield and Reading

Olise, 19, is regarded as one of the brightest young prospects in the Championship and he is not alone at Reading. Morrison, on the other hand, was feeling his age when he looked around to see the fellow members of his back four during the Boxing Day win over Luton.

"You had Tom McIntyre and Tom Holmes - both big Reading fans - and it was the first time they had ever played on Boxing Day. And there was Tom Esteves who is a teenager who had never played a Christmas period having come from Portugal. I definitely felt old."

But age has brought experience and a heightened awareness of the qualities Paunovic has been able to bring to the club. "He is very committed in terms of his attention to detail," says Morrison. "He is very impressive and really positive, that is the biggest thing. It is easy to criticise and tell players not to do this and that but he is really positive in his mentality.

"I write things down and keep them for later."

Reading manager Veljko Paunovic embraces Michael Morrison after the Sky Bet Championship match against Bristol City at the Madejski Stadium, Reading.
Image: Veljko Paunovic embraces Michael Morrison after a game against Bristol City

That is perhaps unsurprising given there can be few active players better prepared for a career in football after retirement than Morrison. Despite his business interests, the plan is to stay in the game and he already has the qualifications to justify that ambition.

He has spent time coaching the U14 team at Reading.

"They are a little bit nervous because I am a pro," he says. "In the first week with them, you would ask them a question and they would not want to get it wrong."

He has his scouting qualifications too.

"It was really good just to brush up on my skills and look at what talent identification actually is with all these stats-based key performance indicators now."

He has his diploma in management and is currently studying for a degree in sporting directorship at Manchester Metropolitan University.

"That role is going to be bigger as the game changes. Even if you are head coach you need to understand it and know how to manage upwards."

Perhaps the only major qualification that yet eludes him is the UEFA Pro Licence. "I could not get on that," he explains. "As I am still playing there are people who supersede me."

“At the training ground, I can’t help but look at people’s hair now. I used to have no hair so I thought I had better grow it out now I have some barber shops.”
Michael Morrison

There is a logic to this commitment to learning.

"I want to make sure that if a role does come up then I have the qualifications for it. I think you have to be realistic. There are so many good people that want to work in football that just having a playing career is not going to be enough to get a job.

"Frank Lampard went in at Derby, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink has just gone in at Burton Albion, Sol Campbell has been to Macclesfield.

"These guys have had incredible careers, much better than mine, so just playing is not enough, you have to get your education because it is a different skill."

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Morrison's journey has not been anywhere near as high profile. His playing career began in the National League with Cambridge United. "It was quite old school," he recalls. "We used to get on the bus for the away trips and we used to have fish and chips on the way home and the bus used to drop us off at the nightclub when we got back."

There were trials with Chelsea and Newcastle but nothing came of them. "I thought I had missed the boat," he admits. But Nigel Pearson had been among the staff at St James' Park and eventually took him to Leicester City. Morrison was part of their League One title-winning team at the age of 21 and almost won promotion to the Championship in 2010.

More than a decade on and he has had to adapt to a changing game.

"It used to be all about how we could get behind teams, could we get the ball in the channel. Now there is not as much heading so that is a good thing for me as a defender, but it is a lot quicker. The way the ball is played through on the ground and through the lines is a lot different to how it was 10 years ago. You have to adapt to that or you fall away."

Passing the ball out from the back is the norm now. "Things like that were never happening when I started playing and certainly not in the Championship," he says.

But Morrison is a different player too.

"I feel I have improved on the ball. There is a real passing ethos here that the fans expect. If John Swift asks for the ball in midfield, you don't not pass it to him because he is so talented. Ovie Ejaria is the same. I think my football has improved off the back of that."

Coaching has helped him - in more ways than one.

"John O'Shea has given me some good advice and we have had one-on-one sessions as well, that has been really productive. Some of the courses that I have done have helped me too. I have a better understanding now of where players should be and what I am looking for."

Coventry City's Matt Godden (right) and Reading's Michael Morrison battle for the ball during the Sky Bet Championship match at St Andrews, Birmingham.
Image: Reading's Michael Morrison puts in a tackle during a game against Coventry

Morrison is playing some of the best football of his career. The goal is obvious - the chance to complete his journey from bottom to top and reach the Premier League.

"It is a great opportunity," says Morrison.

"It was a record-breaking start and I know that young lads think their careers are going to be brilliant and last forever but this might be an exception so you have to make the most of it.

"This is the best opportunity that I had have to get in the Premier League since those days with Leicester.

"These chances do not come around that often. I don't want to look back on my career and have that niggling feeling that I never made a Premier League appearance."

Watch Reading vs Coventry live on Sky Sports Arena from 5.55pm on Tuesday; kick-off 6pm

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