Midfielder who gloriously waltzed through Tottenham Hotspur's defence is cut loose by club and heading to QPR
There is a clip of Ravel Morrison, from an England Under-21s training session, when a corner comes in from the right and no matter how many times you watch it, even in slow motion, it is still almost implausible how he creates that lovely sound of ball against net.
It is as if heading the ball, or going for the volley, is just too straightforward and too bland for a player with his gifts. He twists his body, his back leg flicks around and he is mid-air, facing away from goal, when it connects. It is the kind of finish that would ordinarily be found only on a computer game but Morrison saunters away as if it was the most normal thing in the world.
Morrison had already had one round of applause on those blowy pitches in Staffordshire, after chipping the goalkeeper with the delicacy of a champion golfer pitching in and before anyone raises the obvious, nobody can say he is just a training-ground player. His goal at Tottenham earlier this season, waltzing past a couple of challenges and advancing from the halfway line, was a demonstration of high skill and balance that suggested we were seeing the flowering of the potential that once had Sir Alex Ferguson acclaiming Morrison as the most talented youngster he had seen since the schoolboy Paul Scholes.
The two he scored in his first full match for England's Under-21s were not too shabby either and it does not feel too long ago since a group of us journalists were breaking bread with Roy Hodgson in the Soho Hotel, reflecting on the senior team qualifying for the World Cup after the previous night's win against Poland, and the conversation turned to which players could force their way into his squad. Morrison was one of the first names the England manager mentioned and there was nothing at the time that felt incongruous about it.
Hodgson met us for lunch again a few days ago but this time nobody brought up Morrison. A player who was bewitching Premier League audiences before Christmas will join QPR this week, dropping down into the Championship in a three-month loan arrangement that pretty much takes a sledgehammer to any chance of him being on the plane to Brazil. After that, it is unclear what happens, other than to say it is amazing how quickly everything has unravelled for him at West Ham. As it stands, it is difficult to imagine him playing for the club again.
It is an unusual, complex story and, inevitably, football being the business it is, there will be some who automatically assume he must have done something wrong. In football, it has always been easier to get a bad name than to lose one and Morrison's previous means there is an instinct, sometimes, to apportion blame his way. It would be a lazy assumption. Morrison has done some stupid things but it has been a few years now since he knotted a tie for court. He is still paying the price for those juvenile misdemeanours and he has had to get used to seeing his name prefaced in print with words such as "wayward" and "bad boy". Yet everyone at West Ham can confirm he has knuckled down and shown a level of dedication and professionalism that was not always there. Morrison does not drink or go to nightclubs. His diet is right. He has a steady girlfriend and better influences outside the club than people realise. Of course, he still needs guidance, but at 21 he is not the same impulsive kid of 17. Now, three months after Sam Allardyce talked of Morrison reaching the very top of his profession, he is being cut free. It is no wonder West Ham fans are feeling confused.
The first thing to say is that it all feels like a tremendous waste, and there is something deeply unsatisfactory about the chain of events that has brought him to this point.
Towards the end of last year, Morrison was invited to a meeting with the football agent Mark Curtis to see if he wanted to become one of his clients. Curtis does this a fair bit with Allardyce's players. At West Ham, he either represents or has links with Allardyce, Kevin Nolan, James Tomkins, Jack Collison, Matt Jarvis, Andy Carroll, Jussi Jaaskelainen and Adrian. Look through his history and there is a fairly astounding pattern of players signing up to him from Allardyce teams. He also has a chequered past of his own, with an official warning from the Football Association after the 2008 investigation into Luton Town's illegal transfer dealings.
Morrison was not keen but, since then, his complaint is that he has felt under considerable pressure from Allardyce and Nolan to change his mind, claiming it is brought up on an almost daily basis. His grievance is that he wanted to go into training to learn and improve, not to have endless conversations about an agent he did not want to employ.
West Ham have put this to the relevant people and they strenuously deny it. Curtis says it is "nonsense", and there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing. But Morrison has become disillusioned with his manager and captain. Allardyce has talked of Morrison complaining about a groin injury when the medical staff could find no problem. Relationships have broken down. A few months ago, Morrison appeared to have the keys to the football universe. Now he cannot wait to get out of the club.
The issue has been discussed as high as it goes at Upton Park. Morrison was advised by one senior figure to put in a transfer request but decided against it. Fulham put in a £4m bid and West Ham reported them to the Premier League for alleged tapping up because of René Meulensteen saying he knew Morrison wanted to join them. The dispute may have put off Fulham from making an improved offer – West Ham wanted £10m – but no one should be too surprised if the complaint ultimately comes to nothing. The relevant people at Craven Cottage believe they have hard evidence, in line with this newspaper's information, that Morrison had been informed he should look for another club. If that is proven, West Ham's complaint will look hollow, to say the least. It will also leave their co-owners, David Sullivan and David Gold, with some awkward questions to answer.
The really perplexing thing is that a club with West Ham's ambitions should, surely, want to build their future around players of this refinement. It is not going to be straightforward filling 54,000 seats when they move to the Olympic Stadium in 2016. Morrison, playing as he was before Christmas, would have helped the process enormously. Instead, if the paperwork goes through, Morrison will not be at Upton Park when Allardyce's team play Southampton next weekend. He will be a few miles across London, making his QPR debut at Charlton Athletic, with a permanent deal possible in the summer.
His story is a reminder of how quickly everything can change in football. Except Morrison's belief is that little of this is actually about football. His emergence at West Ham was probably the most exciting since the early years of Joe Cole and Michael Carrick. He was the club's leading scorer and outstanding player. It seems strange, to say the least, for West Ham to shuffle that player out of the back door, especially when they are a club who normally pride themselves on looking after their own.
Roy Hodgson maybe did not use the best word when he said it was high time that Wayne Rooney "exploded" on the world stage. Rooney has probably done a little too much exploding, bearing in mind the implosion between the ears that ended his participation in the 2006 World Cup, and the meltdown in Montenegro that meant he watched the first two games of Euro 2012 from the stands.
Yet everyone understood Hodgson's point. Anyone who was in the Maracanã last summer, on the day Brazil reopened its national stadium, cannot have failed to be stirred by the crowd's adulation when Rooney's face flashed up on the big screen. Yet the bottom line is that we have to go back to Euro 2004, when he was 18 – the assassin-faced baby, I called him at the time – to find the only occasion he has lit up an international tournament.
Hodgson's words were a break from the norm, in that if felt very much like a deliberate strategy from England's manager to make the challenge public. "He is 28, a terrific age, and this is the world stage, the perfect opportunity for him," he said. "There will be an opportunity for him in Brazil to show he is not just a great star in the Premier League, but a world star."
The encouraging news, in fairness to Rooney, is that he has looked sharper and leaner by some distance this season. Sir Alex Ferguson made the point in his autobiography that Rooney had "lost some of his old thrust" last season, remembering the game against Aston Villa that confirmed United as champions. "I took him off because Villa were a very fast, young side, full of running, and their substitute was running past Wayne."
Ferguson also points out that it was daft of Rooney to take a week-long holiday to Las Vegas just before Euro 2012, when he is notoriously slow to regain his sharpness after time away from the sport.
Hodgson's message felt like a reminder that Rooney cannot lapse into old habits and has to make sure he is absolutely in prime condition, with no cutting of corners. It would help if Rooney could sort out his future at Manchester United, so it is not hanging over him at the end of the season. In South Africa four years ago, he played as if his mind wereas full of razor blades. A settled, fully operating Rooney is an entirely different beast, as Hodgson seems to realise.
In September, it was not a straightforward matter writing about safe standing and suggesting it was time English football was grown-up enough to have the debate. At least two clubs told me they were completely for the idea, but were reluctant to go public because they did not want to be considered insensitive. Nobody wants to be tactless and, plainly, it is always going to be a difficult issue.
All the same, going around the different clubs to ascertain their position indicates it is time the Premier League chief executive, Richard Scudamore, accepted it is not just in the Football League that there is an appetite for change.
"There is no constitutional majority of Premier League clubs that want to revisit the idea of not having all-seater stadiums," Scudamore said. The suspicion here is that it means he, personally, is against the idea.
Aston Villa, Cardiff, Sunderland, Crystal Palace, Swansea and Hull have already backed the Football Supporters' Federation campaign. Tottenham, Stoke and West Brom are among the clubs who have an "open mind" or are "monitoring" developments. Newcastle are receptive. Fulham say they are "supportive" depending on certain conditions.
Manchester United have now changed their mind and backed safe standing, having initially said it would be too difficult to implement. Manchester City have altered their stance from open-minded to fully supportive. Arsenal's position is pro-standing. West Ham, too. A pattern is emerging. It is time for a show of hands.