His last Real Madrid game was the 2014 Champions League final against Atletico Madrid and the Real Madrid game in which he’s had the greatest impact was the semi-final a year later. It’s just that he was playing for the opposition, Juventus, at the time. Alvaro Morata made a minimal contribution as Los Blancos beat Los Rojiblancos in Lisbon in May 2014 but a far greater one 12 months later.
Morata got little more than 10 minutes of normal time and the 30 minutes that followed in a game Madrid eventually won 4-1, not scoring any of the goals and not even warranting a mention in UEFA’s official report of the final. Now it’s a starring role, headlines in Spain and Italy – and perhaps recriminations at Santiago Bernabeu.
When Barcelona beat Bayern Munich in the other semi-final it appeared the script had been written – Madrid defending their trophy, and ask anyone at the club and they will tell you the European Cup really is their trophy, against their eternal rivals, the side about to pip them to the League title. It was their chance to one-up the Catalans, as they did to Atletico last year when they had the indecency to win the title.
It was one of the other storylines that came to pass. It’s not only that the former player proved decisive on his return home, but that the money and star-obsessed Madrid were penalised for overlooking a home-grown talent, for not realising what they had on their doorstop until it was too late.
Morata’s successful season for Juventus has led to speculation Madrid will try and bring him back this summer, exercising a return clause in the transfer agreement, much as they did Dani Carvajal and Bayer Leverkusen.
It shouldn’t have taken a prolific six months in Serie A for Madrid to wake up to what they had in Morata. He scored plenty of goals at youth level, right up to Real Madrid Castilla. When given half-a-chance, which is all it was in his last season as back-up to Karim Benzema, he took it as best he could with nine goals in 34 appearances, and not all of them starts.
It wasn’t enough. Morata was never going to dislodge either Benzema or Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo, and Carlo Ancelotti couldn’t drop one of his stars for some kid. He wasn’t even afforded the time to make him feel wanted. Accommodations could be made for James Rodriguez, the World Cup’s top scorer, without a doubt. But not Morata – and, if he hadn’t been hit by a serious injury, probably not Jese either.
Carvajal is very much the exception – he’s a right-back, toiling away in a position that hardly ever generates headlines. The message is clear – forwards at Madrid are judged on their star power, not their goal return. It’s been that way for a while and Wednesday night confirmed as much. And it’s not as if Madrid had a pack of strikers waiting to take Morata’s spot – the arrival of Javier Hernandez confirmed the need for someone to take Morata’s place in the shadow of the bigger profiles that dominate the capital.
Few now expect Ancelotti to remain in his post past the end of the season. Barca are potentially only a game away from the title – they may have already won it if the strike goes ahead – and Madrid are ending the season empty-handed. If the well-liked Italian does go the reasons will extend to more than just the club’s failure to retain Morata. Few expect Ancelotti to stay but the chances of the bigwigs at the Bernabeu shouldering their share of the blame are unlikelier still.