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Juventus forward Alvaro Morata has a point to prove to Real Madrid
Last Updated: 05/05/15 7:43am
Juventus forward Alvaro Morata out to prove a point against Real Madrid, writes Adam Bate.
When Real Madrid visit Turin for the first leg of their Champions League semi-final on Tuesday, Juventus striker Alvaro Morata will be there waiting for them. The 22-year-old would not wish to be cast as the scorned lover, but for a young player who grew up in the Mirasierra neighbourhood in north Madrid, he is, nevertheless, a man with a point to prove.
Morata could be forgiven for thinking that point was proven last season. Opportunities were scarce among the superstars signings at Carlo Ancelotti’s Real Madrid. However, the sight of Morata emerging off the bench to score had become a familiar one - much to the delight of his admirers at the Bernabeu.
Having top scored at the 2013 European Under-21 Championship, Morata took that form into La Liga last season with his eight goals coming at a rate of one every 70 minutes. That gave Morata the best strike rate in Spain, ahead of team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo as well as Lionel Messi and Diego Costa. For Morata, the accomplishment brought with it considerable frustration.
“I do not understand what happened,” said the Juve forward, quoted by Spanish radio station Onda Cero earlier this season. “I went from playing well to being sat on the bench. I wasn't asking to be in every starting line-up, but I wanted better treatment. I barely had any relationship with Ancelotti.”
Morata’s relationship with Juventus coach Massimo Allegri is rather better. In fact, he even turned down late overtures from Arsenal, such was the Spaniard’s determination to secure the switch. “He interests us but I believe he is ungettable,” Juve general manager Beppe Marotta said in January. It was Morata’s desire to play that made it happen.
“He's very determined, he's got courage and guts,” said Morata’s agent, Giuseppe Bozzo, quoted by Tuttosport. “He is not a hypocrite, he says what he thinks. Real did not want to sell him, and then they wanted to sell him to other clubs which were offering more. But Alvaro is stubborn. He proved it, he said, ‘I want to go to Juve’, and Juve was done, despite all Real’s pressure.”
The move has gone well for him too. After biding his time as back-up to compatriot Fernando Llorente, Morata seized his opportunity after the winter break with a run of eight goals in 15 games for club and country culminating in his first goal for the senior Spain side in March. A wide forward as a youngster, Morata is not a conventional target man but brings other qualities.
He can stretch defences and build attacks, score goals and play selflessly for others. Morata’s partnership with Carlos Tevez - the man he describes it as “a dream” to be playing alongside - has shown particular promise. The two combined to score all five Juventus goals in their convincing 5-1 aggregate win over Borussia Dortmund in the first knockout stage.
Morata has endured a dry spell of late but this tie is certain to stoke up emotions, particularly given Ancelotti’s insistence that the club does not lament his exit. “He played well under me,” Ancelotti told La Gazzetta dello Sport. “He's a modern striker and plays with intensity and a high tempo. He's cool in front of goal and a hard worker but we have no regrets about selling him.”
There might be rather more regrets should Morata deny his old club as they attempt to become the first team in a quarter of a century to defend the trophy. The situation echoes that of Fernando Morientes who scored in both legs of a quarter-final to defeat parent-club Real while on loan at Monaco in 2004.
Morata might not be on loan but there is a buy-back clause in his contract that can be activated in the summer of 2016 to take him back to the Bernabeu. On Tuesday, the prospect is unlikely to be in the thoughts of player or club. A place in the Champions League final is at stake. Real Madrid will be the favourites. But an old favourite of their own is ready and waiting for them.