Amid the furore concerning Jose Mourinho’s apparent neglect of the Real Madrid cantera, there was little wonder the Spanish Press were gleeful when youth team graduate Alvaro Morata headed the winner against Levante. With his lanky frame and ability in the air, Morata has already been compared to Fernando Morientes. However, he may find it difficult to replicate the former Real Madrid star’s success at the Bernabeu.
Despite his youth, Morata already boasts an impressive CV. Last summer he lead the line and was top scorer as Spain lifted the European Under-19 Championships. Domestically, with 34 goals in 70 games, he performed so well with Real Madrid Castilla that Mourinho ‘made sure that he stayed’ for the current campaign. And the Coach was rewarded for his faith with the late winner on Sunday that made Morata the fourth youngest goalscorer from the cantera in the club’s history. Nevertheless, at 20, he is entering a crucial point in his career. Either he pushes on at Madrid or has to take one step back elsewhere to improve his overall game and ultimately move forward.
Given the depth of quality possessed by Mourinho, it will be difficult for an untested youngster to become an established member of his first-team squad. That challenge was little different for Morientes who competed with local talents Raul, Dani and Guti as well as Slav stars Davor Suker and Predrag Mijatovic for a striking slot. Comparing the two at similar points in their careers, it is telling that Morientes already had 51 Primera Division games and 18 goals under his belt. Joining Los Blancos at 21, he was sufficiently experienced to command a regular spot in the first team, appearing 45 times during his first season at the Bernabeu.
Despite the strength of competition, Morientes was able to carve out a regular role by getting the best out of his teammates. Raul in particular benefited from his synergy with the front-man and Morata, at 6ft3 may offer something different that nobody else can provide at the Bernabeu. Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain will surely remain first and second choice, but Morata may be able to establish himself as a valid third pick if he demonstrates the back-to-goal ability and prowess in the air that saw Mourinho previously secure Emmanuel Adebayor on loan and elsewhere invest so much tactical faith in Didier Drogba and Diego Milito.
However, with just the solitary goal to his name, perhaps the more likely comparison is with previous cantera graduates Roberto Soldado and Javier Portillo. Like Morata, both scored their first goal in a Blancos shirt at 20, but were fairly one-dimensional footballers and it was no surprise when they were sent out on loan and each flew the nest within three seasons. Despite all the potential that Soldado has since realised, his inability to develop a career at the Bernabeu is a disheartening tale for Morata to contemplate. If he is to follow a different path, he must emulate Morientes and bring something different to Mourinho’s table.