All of us are fighting to prove someone or the other at any given point. It may be your parents or your boss or maybe even an anonymous commenter on Instagram. Few of us though are fighting to prove half a nation wrong. Alvaro Morata on the other hand is used to that battle, having fought it nearly all his career.
He is also used to playing second fiddle. To Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema at Real Madrid, Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa at Atletico Madrid, Carlos Tevez and Paulo Dybala at Juventus and now back to Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus. Only at Chelsea was he the main man and that did not end well – for him or for Chelsea.
After a penalty miss in the last match against Slovakia and an open net penalty rebound miss against Poland, the voices had grown as loud as ever. At the start of his career, half the people believed he was the natural heir to Benzema at the Bernabeu. The other half believed he was nothing more than a squad player. Euro 2020 was his chance to show that he could be the star of the show, take the heat and it was not going well.
Perhaps more serious than doubts over his quality were the threats because of the public perception of it. It is easy to forget that professional footballers are humans too. Morata’s wife and children were threatened because of his misses and that must not have made things any easier.
It isn’t the first time Morata has had to deal with immense pressure. He opened up about his struggles with the mental side of the sport after his time with Chelsea and at Real Madrid and how difficult it was to even talk to a psychologist about it. The continuous strain to be the alpha male in any sport has many victims but Morata was not going to be another one.
“Sometimes I go home, put the game on and think: ‘How can I miss that?’ It affects you; it also affects you to know your career also depends on the opinion of journalists, fans, directors, and sometimes they’re not really qualified to judge. In my position, what matters is goals. ‘Did he score? No? Una mierda de partido [a shit game].’ They don’t know the movement, everything you’ve done. Your life can change in a moment, depending if the ball goes in. In a week, I went from people shouting, ‘Leave Madrid!’ to scoring against Sporting and then, ‘Hey, saviour!’ You can’t think you’re God when you score an important goal or the worst player around when its going badly.”
168 goals and 67 assists in 448 appearances is not a bad return by any means but Morata has always been the unwanted son wherever he has gone. Two spells at Real Madrid, two at Juventus, a loan followed by a permanent deal at Atletico (two spells if you count his youth days), and of course his time in London – he has never been at home wherever he has gone, always being defined more by his misses than his goals for each club and its fans.
And it is hard for Morata to hide his apparent disappointment after a miss behind his solemn boyish face. His body language is very apparent after an awry shot – his shoulders drooping, hands on his hips and neck crowning upwards for an explanation from the heavens.
As the ball bounced on to his left foot in extra time against Croatia, his brain must have run the gamut of emotions. Every piece about him not being good enough. Every mocking chant from the stands. Every time he was transferred out to make space for a more exciting player. Every threat his family had to suffer. All of it racing through his head in the half second time he had to compose himself.
The cross from Dani Olmo was not inch perfect. It was an awkward height – too low to chest it down, too high to use the thigh. Morata though took a good touch with his right and his volley smashed into the roof of the net with his left boot felt more like a guttural outburst of all the frustration pent up over the years.
His strike had one simple message – Alvaro Morata is Spain’s number nine and he is here to prove everyone wrong.