Alvaro Morata is one goal away from becoming Spain's leading European Championship goalscorer of all time
Credit: Stuart Franklin, Pool Photo via AP
Alvaro Morata has scored 21 goals in 44 appearances for his country. He has won 14 major trophies in club football. He has played for four of the biggest clubs in the world, and he has been transferred between them for a combined total of more than £170 million. If he finds the net against Switzerland on Friday evening, he will become the highest scorer in Spain’s European Championship history.
Everything about his CV, and his list of accomplishments by the age of 28, therefore suggests that Morata must be one of the continent’s elite forwards. And yet, for many people, the former Chelsea striker still seems to be regarded more as a punchline – or indeed a punchbag – than as a top-level predator.
Outside of Denmark, few players at this summer’s European Championship have endured an emotional journey as testing as Morata, and few players wear those emotions as visibly as the Spaniard. Morata has always exuded an air of sheepish sensitivity, and for a footballing superstar he has generally come across as someone who remains remarkably, openly human.
For some, this triggers a sort of strange sympathy. “He has got that vulnerable look about him, almost like he needs a cuddle,” said Gary Neville earlier in the tournament. For others, it leads to opprobrium. He has been accused of being soft and weak, and was once described as mentally “fragile” by former Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri.
Morata’s mentality is a frequent source of discussion and, to his credit, it is a topic he has never shied away from in public. Earlier this year he revealed he had come close to suffering depression during his first season at Chelsea, and he has also spoken candidly about using psychologists to help him cope with the pressure of being a leading centre-forward.
Morata had a frustrating time at Chelsea
Credit: Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images
In a less cruel world, such honesty would provoke a sense of understanding from the wider population. But this is international football, and it is unforgiving. When Morata missed a handful of chances in a pre-tournament friendly against Portugal, Spain fans sang “Morata, how bad you are” at the forward.
More opportunities were wasted in the group stages, including a penalty against Slovakia, and the abuse continued. Morata’s wife and children were shouted at by supporters in the stadium at Seville, and he has endured sleepless nights because of the reaction. “I would like people to put themselves in my shoes and think what it is like to get threats towards my family, people saying: ‘I hope your children die,’” he told Spanish radio station Cadena Cope.
Ahead of Spain’s round-of-16 tie against Croatia, manager Luis Enrique called for the police to take action against those who have abused Morata and his family. Morata went on to issue a strong response of his own, scoring the crucial fourth goal in the dramatic 5-3 victory in Copenhagen.
The finish, in itself, was a reminder of what Morata is capable of producing. Drifting to the back post, he controlled a swirling cross with his right foot and then unleashed a searing strike with his left. "The goal is for my wife, my kids, my family and everyone who supports me,” he said. “Often you have to go through difficult moments, to suffer, to enjoy the good moments."
Morata nets his side's fourth in the quarter final against Croatia
Credit: Stuart Franklin/POOL/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
More of those good moments could be on their way for Spain, who have suddenly emerged as the most dangerous attacking team in the tournament. Having scored just one goal in their opening two matches, they have since plundered ten in the last two. Luis Enrique has found a way to unlock the attacking potential in his side, with Manchester City’s Ferran Torres and Paris Saint-Germain’s Pablo Sarabia both excelling, and Switzerland have plenty to fear.
The absence of the suspended Granit Xhaka, another player who has faced regular criticism from the terraces in his career, will not help Switzerland’s cause. The Arsenal midfielder has not missed an international game for more than three years, and last missed a competitive international in October 2016.
Xhaka provides stability for Switzerland and, without him on the team sheet, Morata should feel hopeful of more chances coming his way. If he takes them, his own personal tale of redemption will continue. If he does not, he unfortunately knows what will be coming his way.