[dropcap]M[/dropcap]aking the decision to leave a club with the stature and venerable history of Real Madrid takes a lot of nerve for a 21-year-old; especially one who has been touted as the Spanish giants’ next striking sensation.
However, for Juventus forward Álvaro Morata, saying Adiós to the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu has propelled him from an exciting prospect to an international-quality centre forward.
With the predatory marksman set to lead the line for Juventus in tonight’s Champions League quarter-final against Monaco, Morata’s decision to leave Madrid, turning down interest from Arsenal in the process, has been well-and-truly vindicated.
After stints in the Atlético and Getafe youth academies, a fresh-faced Morata ended up at the current European champions in 2008 and quickly progressed through the Los Blancos ranks.
Like legendary homegrown heroes before him, the promising starlet excelled for the capital city outfit’s Juvenil and Castilla sides; it quickly became apparent that a potential local heir to Raúl’s throne could be emerging.
These glowing reports were only accentuated by stunning performances at Spanish age-grade level, with Morata winning the Golden Boot accolade at European Championships tournaments at both under-19 and 21 grading.
As momentum started to build, the clinical striker faced the unenviable challenge of staking a claim in the Madrid first team ahead of a glut of Galácticos.
Under both José Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti it appeared that the time had come for the young star to be handed a consistent chance, but the eager attacker had to make do with bit-part roles as time ticked on.
As the rest of his Madrid team-mates celebrated winning La Décima last May, it was a bitter-sweet achievement for substitute Morata, who had already made the decision to leave the Bernabéu for a fresh start.
When the centre forward opted to depart the Spanish capital last summer, despite having a presence in the first-team squad for three years, he had only started eight La Liga games.
Morata’s agent has since revealed that the Spaniard refused offers from Arsenal and Wolfsburg in favour of a Turin switch, which is starting to reap significant dividends.
Initially the going was tough for the young striker in Italy, with injuries and extreme competition for places taking its toll.
Ironically it was and still is compatriot Fernando Llorente who provides the biggest threat to Morata receiving regular action with the Bianconeri as Carlos Tevez’s strike partner.
It appeared that Max Allegri preferred the more experienced of the two forwards in the early days of the campaign, but as the season has progressed Morara has started to feature much more prominently.
Despite only starting eight Serie A games this season, the 22-year-old has netted seven goals.
Perhaps more importantly, Allegri has given the former Madrid attacker the nod to start in the Champions League in recent games, with Morata repaying his coach’s faith in spades.
Goals in both legs of Juve’s elimination of Borussia Dortmund in the last round of European football’s elite competition only served to bolster his budding reputation even further.
While Llorente has been largely overlooked at national level over the years, the same fate does not seem likely for Morata.
The Juventus man was handed his first senior Spain cap by Vicente del Bosque in a Euro 2016 qualifying clash with Ukraine last month, starting the clash and scoring the only goal on his debut in a 1-0 victory for La Roja.
With the Spanish side losing seasoned campaigners over the last couple of years and suffering a humbling at the World Cup in Brazil last summer, a transitional period is underway; future world-class stars like Morata will build a new side to fight for major honours.
Although the striker’s predatory nature and intelligent movement off the ball have been mainstays of his play since he first emerged as a teenager, the Spanish attacker has added to his game since moving to Italy.
The 22-year-old has benefited from playing alongside Tevez, with Morata’s link-up play and holding up of the ball visibly improving in recent months.
His brave decision to forsake the potential to become the next Raúl or homegrown Madrid hero should serve as a lesson for other promising youngsters in the Spanish capital, such as Jesé Rodríguez.
While Jesé sits on Ancelotti’s bench tonight against Atlético, Morata will be centrestage for Juventus in the famous Italian club’s attempts to replicate their domestic dominance on the continent.
After overcoming initial doubts, Morata is a player that is full of confidence and seemingly set to play a major role for club and country for the foreseeable future.
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