David Beckham. Muhammad Ali. And Morrisons. You might not immediately be able to spot the connection between England’s finest free-kick taker, the greatest boxer of all time and the UK’s fourth biggest supermarket, but Morrisons CEO Dalton Philips can.

Addressing the retailer’s biggest suppliers this week in Manchester, Philips compared Morrisons’ recent descent - from star-performing grocer comfortably growing faster than its main rivals prior to Christmas 2011, to the straggler falling behind Asda, Sainsbury’s and a resurgent Tesco - to the rise and fall and rise again of the aforementioned sporting heroes.

Philips showed a fresh-faced ingenue scoring from his own half against Wimbledon, his fall from grace in the World Cup and his resurrection as Golden Balls, the superstar footballer and all-round good egg we know and love today.

“The elephant in the room remains online - and suppliers want Morrisons to act now”

Ronan Hegarty, news editor

Or if football’s not your thing, Philips offered Ali’s comeback as a parallel. He beat all-comers to claim the world title, lost everything over his stance on Vietnam, and endured some heavy defeats before he regained his title against the mighty George Foreman in the Rumble in the Jungle.

The implication from Philips is clear - Morrisons was flying high and has now fallen, but with a strategy in place until 2016 he is confident of a return to glory. Only one problem: the suppliers he was addressing are yet to be convinced.

Yes, the addition of everyone’s favourite Geordies, Ant & Dec, to the marketing drive looks like a shrewd move. But better differentiated promotions and more personalised offers is a harder strategy to judge. Price remains king right now, so it’s hard to see Morrisons beating Asda or the discounters there - and its Catalina coupon technology is not as sophisticated as Clubcard nor as immediately attractive as Brand Match.

The elephant in the room remains online - and suppliers want Morrisons to act now. It will update its shareholders in March but is still not clear whether it will dive right in or simply dip another toe. Morrisons is taking a pounding right now, but it’s certainly not a ploy like Ali’s famous rope-a-dope tactic. He needs to get off the ropes quickly, or he’ll soon be on the canvas.