The Alvaro Morata Conundrum
A judicious look at the various scenarios related to Real Madrid’s purchase of Alvaro Morata. To sell or not to sell. By Faraz Ali Khan here at Goalden Times
Six European Cups, 16 Liga titles, a host of other trophies—all under the presidency of one Santiago Bernabeu Yeste. From the beginning of his tenure at the helm of a war-ravaged Real Madrid in 1943, Santiago Bernabeu embarked upon a strategy of signing world class players. The most prominent among these players was Alfredo Di Stefano. As a result of this game plan, Real Madrid became the world’s first truly multinational squad, featuring a host of legendary names, and managing to monopolize the European footballing culture.
Six decades later came a return to the principles of Don Stefano in the form of Florentino Perez. The construction magnate embarked on the infamous Galacticos policy as the club once again signed a plethora of world class players. The team is now a collection of stars, a galaxy in itself with elite footballers who swell its ranks every summer. Transfers include the bold, almost pedantic movement of Luis Figo from arch-rivals FC Barcelona, as well as players such as Zinedine Zidane, Ronaldo Luis, David Beckham, and Michael Owen. The list now also includes the likes of Kaka, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Karim Benzema. The incoming door has been kept revolving by the entry of high-profile players and now the club targets the Paul Pogbas, the Eden Hazards, and the Robert Lewandowskis around Europe. Real Madrid has always prided itself as the home of the Galacticos. It’s always been known for the absolute elite of world football coming together and conjuring up an exhibition of breathtaking football bordering on sorcery at the Santiago Bernabeu (named aptly after the legendary president). Despite having one of the best cantera systems in Europe producing a rich lot of quality players every few years, it is rather rare for a son of the soil—a La Fabrica graduate—to make his mark on the first team. And it is this unenviable situation that Alvaro Morata finds himself in. He’s a La Fabrica player in a team of foreigners.
President Perez always wants to bring in every striker worth his salt (whether available on the market or not)—ill aware that Alvaro Morata fits the squad like a glove. There are multiple rumours suggesting that Madrid wants to flip the striker over for a profit, which makes a lot of sense exclusively from a business point of view. Madrid has sold quite a few players in their formative years or in their primes like Gonzalo Higuain (transferred when 25), Angel Di Maria(26), Mesut Ozil (24), Wesley Sneijder (25), Arjen Robben (25), Robinho (24) and they look to follow the same path with Morata. Besides, their transfer policy has historically been susceptible to flipping homegrown players for a more established name—a more marketable foreigner. But if we change the paradigm and gauge the situation from a footballing vantage point, this can be a foolish move. Coach Zinedine Zidane doesn’t like to experiment much with his comrades if his five-month stint is anything to go by, and he’s already got his pocket ace in Alvaro Morata. Morata is one of those rare breeds of cold-blooded, big-game players, who, despite not having the requisite goal-a-game average most elite strikers possess, is still known for his performances in the big stage. He has been on and off in the Serie A games, but has came into his own in the cup competition matches. In Champions League 2014–15, he scored two goals against Dortmund in the Round of 16, along with three critical goals in both the legs of the semi finals and finals. In Coppa Italia 2014–15, he scored the winning goal in the quarter final stage against Parma. In the 2015–16 edition of the domestic cup, he scored a brace against Inter in the semis as well as a 110-minute winner against AC Milan in the finals. In CL 2015–16 he scored the winner against Manchester City, and opened the scoring against perennial Europa league champions Sevilla. But his best game came in the Round of 16 stages. Although he wasn’t on the scoresheet, he was the best player for Juventus leading attack after attack against Pep Guardiola’s mighty Bayern Munich.
Morata is one of those rare breeds of cold-blooded, big-game players, who, despite not having the requisite goal-a-game average most elite strikers possess, is still known for his performances in the big stage. He has been on and off in the Serie A games, but has came into his own in the cup competition matches.
Considering his performance in the latter stages of cup competitions over the past two seasons with the Bianconeri as well as the Euro 2016 with Spain, the problem with Alvaro Morata’s success has the vaguest possible cause. It’s got to do with Morata’s nationality. It’s one of those too-good-to-be-true success stories, which is the biggest impediment to him attaining the levels that he truly can at Madrid. Let’s take a look at his status:
Spaniard (check); Talented, promising, young forward (check); Big game player (check); Fabrica graduate (check).
Everyone loves the kid. Everyone wishes for him to garner all the success he possibly can at the club. Everyone is aware of his knack for turning up in the very big games of the season. And all these advantages will be roadblocks in his way to be the Madrid great which he aspires to be.
The political situation of Madrid is an open secret, and bringing back Morata can give these influencers of the boardroom—the members of the media—the chance to run riot in daily newspapers. These Spanish dailies don’t really appreciate having non-Spanish players and a non-Spanish coach on the pitch. By bringing an absolutely elite Spanish striker and keeping him as the understudy to a French footballer under the leadership of a French coach can give rise to a variety of situations. Consider that Karim Benzema having a bad day in office and Morata comes on and scores a goal. It’s safe to say that we’ll see headlines splashed across Marca and Diario AS advocating for the Spaniard to be a starter ahead of Benzema. People may speculate that Zinedine Zidane is favouring the Frenchman solely due to their French connection. The exact same situation occurred in the game against Borussia Dortmund in 2003, when cantera graduate Javier Portillo was the one scoring a critical goal when the foreign Galactico Ronaldo Luis was firing blanks. This seemingly trivial hypothetical situation might snowball into a full blown issue where maybe we don’t lose Benzema, but end up with very high possibility of losing Zidane as a result of the campaign raised by the media men of the Madrid dailies. A repeat of the Ronaldo Luis–Javier Portillo episode might resurface in the near future. Similar situations have also occurred in the past under the reign of Mourinho, when the media portrayed the team to be divided into separate Spanish and Portuguese factions in the middle of a civil war. Morata is a marketable, handsome player. That makes it really hard to keep him on the bench with the masses screaming that Madrid is a Spanish team and should solely star Spanish players.
If we take an optimistic approach to the situation, we can see that Morata left the club on account of being the second choice after Karim Benzema in the starting lineup. However, his move to Juventus wasn’t as conducive to increased game time as he had planned. He was behind Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente in the roster in 2014–15. He trailed Mario Mandzukic and Paolo Dybala in the starting lineup in the subsequent season. Now back at the club and pending a final decision on his immediate future, Morata is aware that the game time he’ll be afforded will be roughly the same that he received at Juventus. Zinedine Zidane’s tactics call for one striker, and the coach has no proper backup for him. And if we factor in the injuries, the rotations, the suspensions, and the Cup games, game time for a quality backup striker eventually rises.
However, Morata still has a lot left to be achieved, considering the expectations when he made his debut in a Clasico. If he truly wants his own development, he might as well go on with a transfer to the Premier League. There, he would be guaranteed higher wages and also might get more minutes than what is guaranteed in the Spanish capital. In the process, he might help his home club earn a few extra bucks as well. Currently, this method seems to be a win–win situation for both the player and the team.
Now, after exploring the various facets of Morata’s stay or departure, we can arrive at an inference. Morata is a cracking striker. The pros of having a cracking striker clearly outweighs the cons that may surface via the media dailies. A close examination of his season at Juventus should definitely make for a strong case for a stay at his home club. He was inconsistent for the major part of the season and finally found his feet as the season approached a close. He was easily Juventus’ best player in their UEFA Champions League game against Bayern Munich as he toyed with the German defense. Pep Guardiola’s men only found a way back into the game when Morata was substituted off, and Juventus retreated into a defensive shell looking to drag the game to the penalty shootout. Juventus had two strikers ahead of Morata in the roster—Real has only one and that should definitely encourage the young Spaniard to work hard in the training grounds for more game time.
In an ideal scenario, one that might only be adhered to on FIFA or Football Manager, the media dailies should focus on being media dailies, Alvaro Morata should stay at Madrid and be the understudy of Karim Benzema. The Frenchman is in the midst of his peak years at the club and will continue to do so for the next three odd years. By that time Morata can take over his designated role at the tip of the attack, with young Borja Mayoral stepping up to be his understudy by the time the 2019–20 season rolls in.
Morata was tied second in the list for the highest goalscorers in the recently concluded Euro 2016. The unfortunate injury to Real Madrid’s talisman Cristiano Ronaldo in the final might also guarantee starting minutes to the striker in the European Super Cup against Sevilla in August. These should tempt the team to keep him in the squad. However, there’s always a chance that the club will be more tempted by the amount of money on offer by other Premier League clubs.