Alvaro Morata has played over 50 games for four of the biggest clubs in the world.
Morata played 52 games for Real Madrid to start his career before moving to Juventus where he played 93 times, then he went back to Madrid for a season to bring his total for Los Blancos up to 95. Then he managed 72 games for Chelsea, 61 games on loan with Atlético Madrid and he’s now on his second spell at Juventus where he’s played 77 times.
This past January transfer window, Barcelona tried to add themselves to that list. While it would have been a loan move and thus wouldn’t have added to his massive cumulative transfer fee of £156.8m, the Blaugrana would have been Morata’s fifth super club.
Such a CV sounds impressive. Surely this is one of the world’s greatest talents that we’re talking about, or at least a Spanish legend? Well, no, Alvaro Morata is neither of those things. And not because he didn’t end up becoming just the third player in history (after Bernd Schuster and Miguel Soler) to play for Barcelona, Real Madrid and Atlético Madrid.
Many, especially Premier League fans, are left wondering how a 29-year-old forward, who has never lasted more than two consecutive seasons at the same club and never scored more than 15 league goals in a season, has achieved such high-profile moves.
Unlike others, it’s not solely down to having a good agent. Former Atlético defender Juanma López represents Morata as his star client, but his portfolio’s most-recognised names are limited to Dani Olmo, Tiemoué Bakayoko, Jonathan Ikoné and Paul Onuachu.
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Much has to do with his roots. Morata’s career began at boyhood club Atlético Madrid until the age of 15, before a year at his local team, Getafe, and then joining Real Madrid at 16. An impressive 34 goals in his first campaign for the club’s under-18s led to Jose Mourinho taking him on the club’s pre-season tour and giving him his debut at just 18.
Having impressed and being desperate for regular first-team football, his move to Juventus only further cemented his reputation as a top-class talent. Many in Spain saw little of him during his time in Italy, the most memorable moment coming as he scored against parent club Real Madrid at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu in both legs of a Champions League semi-final. But he scored the goal to win the Coppa Italia in his last game of that season, so it was no surprise when Los Blancos sought to hide their blushes by exercising a buy-back clause.
The next season was the one that truly cemented Morata’s reputation in Spain. Despite starting only 14 La Liga games under Zinedine Zidane, Morata racked up 15 goals. It was a glorious season for the club, winning La Liga and the Champions League, and Morata’s brilliance in domestic matches during the run-in made it possible.
In order to retain the Champions League, Zinedine Zidane rotated his stars out for rest around European games (notably star striker Cristiano Ronaldo) but Morata was such an excellent performer that Los Blancos didn’t really miss the Portuguese forward as they powered their way to a first European Double since 1958. But Morata only played 25 minutes of Champions League football in the knock-out rounds, and was seen as hard done by, mistreated and undervalued.
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Today, Morata remains Spain’s first-choice centre forward under Luis Enrique. He is the eighth-highest goalscorer in the national team’s history, and as his coach pointed out at the time, when he reached the milestone figure of 40 caps with 19 goals in the summer, only David Villa had ever scored more for Spain, and only Harry Kane could compete among Europe’s top nations.
At Euro 2020, he came in for heavy criticism from fans as Spain struggled to get going early on. Luis Enrique came out all guns blazing to defend him. “I don’t think there’s a single coach in the world who doesn’t admire, value and praise a player like Álvaro Morata,” the much-respected coach said. “He’s able to dominate games, to win aerial battles, to keep the game flowing, to defend like a centre-back. We’re fortunate he’s Spanish.”
That has an impact. Much like Morata’s former team-mate Kieran Trippier was the butt of many jokes when on England duty because Premier League fans remembered him for his defensive lapses at Tottenham (despite his subsequent improvements at Atlético), Morata’s praises were sung despite struggling for Chelsea and Juventus.
Another significant factor is that Morata is a rare breed of traditional number nine in modern Spanish football. Gone is the era of Fernando Torres, David Villa and co. A look at Spain’s most valuable players on Transfermarkt lists Morata as the only centre-forward in the top 50. It may not necessarily be that Morata is a world-class forward, but he’s the best that Spain has to offer.
At Barcelona, compared to existing options of Luuk de Jong or Martin Braithwaite, it’s hard to argue that he wouldn’t have been an upgrade. Especially as Xavi wanted a centre-forward who can provide a physical presence in attack, to hold the ball up and bring others in with pacy runners from out wide, and also to get on the end of chances in the box himself.
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Just as attractive for any prospective coach is Morata’s ability to press. In the Premier League, Morata developed a reputation as being reactive, but his game in Spain and Italy has been far more proactive. He often leads a press, ranking among the highest number of presses per game for a forward. That element is crucial in the modern game and does help explain his popularity.
Morata’s shot-conversion rate of 12.1% this season is far from impressive (he has just five goals) but his role is primarily to provide the foundations for others to score. As Enrique said, he’s a player that makes a team stronger.
In the end, Barcelona weren’t able to get the move over the line (largely because Atleti weren’t keen to strengthen a rival for fourth place) and instead had to settle for a deadline day move for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The Gabonese striker has a similar profile to Morata, albeit he is a much more potent goalscorer, so things may have worked out in the end for Xavi and his side.
That doesn’t mean Morata has been left in the cold, however. The Spaniard is still an important part of a Juventus side fighting in the Champions League and desperately trying to climb as high as they can in the Serie A table.
In fact, recent reports indicate that Juve want to sign him permanently, perhaps to pair him with their new star striker Dusan Vlahovic. Morata’s movement and selfless link-play would make him ideal to play that role like he has in the past.
Despite being from Madrid, growing up an Atleti fan before coming through at Real Madrid, Morata has never looked more comfortable than he does in the black and white stripes of Juventus. Staying in Turin and forming a deadly partnership with Vlahovic might be exactly what Morata needs to finally get recognised.
And hey, who knows, maybe another super club will move for him come summer time? Manchester United might need a No. 9, right? Maybe PSG will prioritise getting the most out of Lionel Messi and Neymar and move for him? Neither move would be a surprise, such is Morata’s appeal to super-clubs.