Alvaro Morata: Born at (Real) Madrid, Made by Juventus

Adam Digby@@Adz77Featured ColumnistOctober 6, 2016

ROME, ITALY - MAY 21: Alvaro Morata of Juventus FC celebrates after scoring a goal during the TIM Cup match between AC Milan and Juventus FC at Stadio Olimpico on May 21, 2016 in Rome, Italy.  (Photo by Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images)
Gabriele Maltinti/Getty Images

After the events of the past 18 months, Alvaro Morata needs no introduction. During that time, he has scored important goals at the UEFA European Championship, as well as the finals of both the UEFA Champions League and the Coppa Italia.

He swapped the bold stripes of Juventus for the idyllic white of his hometown club, Real Madrid, returning to the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu this past summer after two years with the Bianconeri.

Yet the player who rejoined Los Merengues is different to the underused reserve who left for Turin back in 2014, improving almost beyond recognition during his time under coach Massimiliano Allegri.

The deal was, in hindsight, one that always favoured the Spanish club. As Juve’s official website revealed at the time, Morata joined at a cost of €20 million, but Real Madrid retained an option to re-sign him for €30 million in either the summer of 2016 or 2017.

That meant that should he thrive, they would effectively pay €10 million to the Bianconeri for developing the player. Still, perhaps neither club envisioned just how well Morata would blossom in Serie A.

Prior to joining Juventus, the cantera product found himself way down the pecking order, behind the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and even Gonzalo Higuain, with playing time incredibly scarce in such a star-studded attack.

Morata was often a sub in his first Real Madrid spell.
Morata was often a sub in his first Real Madrid spell.Jasper Juinen/Getty Images

His debut arrived way back in December 2010, but the following four seasons saw Morata make just 37 appearances in La Liga, with all but eight of those coming as a substitute. He grabbed 10 league goals.

Those strikes came at something of a remarkable rate, with the 2013/14 campaign seeing him score once every 69.8 minutes, with WhoScored.com showing Morata managed to do so despite taking just 1.7 shots per game.

Ancelotti preferred Benzema to Morata.
Ancelotti preferred Benzema to Morata.Gonzalo Arroyo Moreno/Getty Images

Toward the end of that season, however, then-Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti began to rely on other players, something the young striker could not explain when he discussed the matter in an interview with radio station Onda Cero.

"I still don't understand why I went from playing well to being left in the stands at Real Madrid," Morata said in March 2015 (h/t Marca). "I didn't demand to be a starter, but I did expect to be treated differently. My relationship with Ancelotti was virtually nonexistent."

Yet there would be no instant change when he moved on, Juve boss Allegri opting to start Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente up front in the early weeks of the 2014/15 campaign.

After only being used as a substitute during September and October, Morata got his first Serie A start against Empoli on November 1, 2014. Andrea Pirlo handed the Bianconeri the lead, and in the 72nd minute, the young Spanish striker doubled their advantage with the well-taken strike shown below.

Two more goals in a 7-0 rout of Parma would follow, and as the calendar flipped to 2015, Morata had firmly supplanted Llorente as the first-choice partner for Carlos Tevez. His pace was a perfect foil for the running of the battling Argentina international, and the younger man certainly received a football education from the former Manchester United man.

"Carlos Tevez often tells me that Italy is like university for strikers," Morata told La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Football Italia) back in February 2015. "He’s right, as here you become a real player in every aspect. This is a unique opportunity for me."

Morata thrived with the added responsibility, and it would be in the Champions League where he shone brightest, as his speed and direct style meshed perfectly with Allegri’s tactical approach.

A goal in each leg of the last-16 tie with Borussia Dortmund helped Juve progress to the quarter-finals, where he won the penalty—converted by Arturo Vidal—that saw the Bianconeri eliminate AS Monaco.

Then fate intervened to pit Morata and Juventus against his former club in the semi-finals. Redemption, revenge and Real Madrid awaited, with their native son more than ready to play his part in ending their hopes of silverware.

A goal in each leg followed, as the Bianconeri underdogs eliminated yet another heavily fancied opponent to earn a surprising place in the final. By the time they took to the pitch in Berlin, Allegri’s men had already secured the club’s first domestic double in two decades but were desperate for European glory.

It was not to be, but Morata got his name on the scoresheet in the defeat to Barcelona, his second-half goal temporarily giving the Bianconeri hope they could topple Lionel Messi and Co.

While he had respectfully not celebrated against Madrid, his joy at scoring an equaliser past their bitter Catalan rivals was obvious. Juve's chance of victory was soon wiped away, as Barca ran out 3-1 winners.

A summer of upheaval in Turin followed, but Morata initially appeared unaffected by it, netting against Manchester City and Sevilla to equal Alessandro Del Piero’s club record of scoring in five consecutive Champions League games.

A few days later, he netted against Bologna, but he would then begin to struggle, going a staggering 19 appearances without a goal. Lacking confidence and seemingly irritating Allegri on a number of occasions, he returned to the bench behind new arrivals Mario Mandzukic and Paulo Dybala.

But playing with Tevez taught Morata to fight, and he would do just that, returning to form with goals against Inter Milan, Fiorentina and local rivals Torino to help secure a fifth consecutive Serie A title.

His tireless running had also been a major feature of Juve’s Champions League clash with Bayern Munich, the team collapsing after Mandzukic replaced him in the second leg. The Coppa Italia final against AC Milan would then once again allow Morata to underline his importance, netting the only goal of the game to clinch yet another league-and-cup double.

Sadly for Juventus, that proved to be his final contribution to the club, returning to Real Madrid that summer. He will return to Turin on Thursday, when Spain take on Italy at Juventus Stadium, Morata undoubtedly looking forward to seeing his old team-mates once more.

Discussing the FIFA World Cup qualifier with La Gazzetta dello Sport (h/t Football Italia), he spoke highly of Leonardo Bonucci, Andrea Barzagli and Giorgio Chiellini as he prepares to face off against them on Thursday evening:

We are always in touch, sending videos, photos, messages, I want the best for them because when I got there I was pretty much a youth team player from Madrid and they treated me incredibly well.

I will always be grateful. Chiello, Leo, Andrea helped me so much. ... Especially giving me a lot of kicks in training!

In that same interview, Morata went on to say he "hopes Juve always wins. I’m still very much a Juventino, and I always will be." That should be no surprise. He learned so much while wearing the black-and-white stripes. His progression into being a highly respected and well-rounded striker would never have happened without Juventus.

He may have been born in Madrid, but Alvaro Morata was unquestionably made in Turin.

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