COMMENT: What did you do? What did you DO?! The finger pointing. The panic. It’s beginning to set in at Real Madrid. Why oh why did we sell Alvaro Morata?
He did warn them, did Morata. A recycled story first run last month enjoyed a fresh airing yesterday. And why not? Real are reeling. They’ve dropped four points from their past two home games. Karim Benzema is out with a thigh injury. Cristiano Ronaldo remains suspended. And the only recognised No9 available to coach Zinedine Zidane is young Borja Mayoral. Who…? Exactly.
Morata, upon leaving Real, did warn president Florentino Perez he’d regret letting him go – as this week’s story claims. But there was more to the conversation. Morata’s reps, as they signed off on a deal with Chelsea, made it clear to Perez that Zidane playing favourites with Benzema would haunt the club this season. And after Saturday’s events, the Morata camp can feel well justified.
For as Morata was scoring his third Premier League goal in four games at Leicester City, his old teammates were drawing with little Levante in front of a frustrated home crowd. And as the banned Ronaldo watched on from his private box, off limped Benzema with a thigh strain. The early diagnosis is a four-to-six week recovery.
A scrambling Perez hit the local airwaves yesterday, pleading his innocence.
“I would have liked him to have stayed,” he confessed. “Madrid is his home and it would not be a problem for him to return. He is a close friend of Carvajal, Isco, Asensio, Nacho … I see all the Chelsea games and I’m happy when he scores.”
Of course you are, Florentino. To be fair to the president, he didn’t usher Morata out the door. But Perez did fail to assure him of his value to the club. Morata wanted to stay. That was his priority. But he also needed some assurances. Assurances that never arrived. Morata is Real through and through. You only have to see the emotion he expressed upon his final day at training (check below) to recognise his commitment.
“Everytime Real are on the TV, I watch them,” he said last week while away with the Spain squad. “The wife complains because I stop everything so I can watch Real play.”
But at Real, he felt such loyalty was being taken for granted. More attention and opportunities were granted Benzema and Gareth Bale. Not due to form or merit, but simply because he – Morata confessed to friends – wouldn’t kick up a fuss. That he’d be a good little Madridista. They had him pegged at Real. There was no changing the perception.
“I went to Chelsea because I needed to take steps forward in my career,” said Morata in the same interview. “I’m lucky that I’m already playing.”
That’s where Morata’s wrong. “Luck” has nothing to do with what he’s achieving today. Leading the line at Chelsea. Getting amongst the goals. Morata’s early season success is down to mentality and attitude.
It’s barely a month since that fluffed spotkick at Wembley in the Community Shield. Then came the doubts expressed publicly by his manager, Antonio Conte. Soon stories surfaced in Spain of Morata confessing to his old Real teammates in a WhatsApp group that he feared he’d made a big mistake. And then came the pile on from across town.
At his lowest point, with boxes still waiting to be unpacked at his apartment, the last thing Morata needed was to hear from Mauricio Pochettino.
“He said to me: ‘Why do you want me if you have Harry Kane?’,” the Spurs manager revealed, fighting to control a sly grin.
“You know, if you go to try to sign a striker, they will say ‘Eh gaffer, you want me for what? To be on the bench? Because it’s Harry Kane, I can’t compete with Harry Kane…”
So he bottled it. That was the wash up. Morata bottled a move to Tottenham because of Harry Kane.
Conte was questioning openly his tactical awareness. Pochettino was questioning his courage. And he was being mocked for blowing a Wembley shootout against Arsenal…
Yet today, a month later, he sits second in the Premier League’s scoring charts, boasting two more assists than leader Romelu Lukaku, of Manchester United. And the frightening thing for opposition defenders is that he’s still new to this. The pace. The power. New tactics. New teammates. Morata is still adjusting. He will only get better.
Which, at the minute, is not what Perez and Zidane can say about Real’s striker options. Oh Florentino, what did you do…?