When it comes to Alvaro Morata and Spain, the big question remains unanswered: is he – are they – strong enough to overcome obstacles and win Euro 2020?
The round of 16 showdown on Monday with Croatia (Noon ET; Stream LIVE on ESPN) will no doubt be a test as they’ve been a thorn in his side over the years.
Morata is without question one of the most personable, affable, “natural” superstar footballers you will ever meet. Let me share a few anecdotes.
Five years ago, Spain stayed in a beach hotel on the Ile de Re off the west coast of France to defend the European Championship crown, which they had so memorably won in 2012.
Security was strict; Last November, Paris had suffered a terrible terrorist attack with targets such as the Bataclan Theater and a friendly between France and Germany at the Stade de France.
The Spanish squad was guarded by several heavily armed members of RAID – a tactical arm of the French National Police – Including two men who were involved in the rescue of hostages from Bataclan.
While we were there, we talked a little while I waited to either record material or broadcast it from a room in the Spanish headquarters. One of the men showed me where one of his fingers had been swept away in the Bataclan shooting and told me how he managed without it and felt that he had narrowly missed a worse fate.
I asked how they were doing with their VIP guests. They admitted that, for the most part, Spain’s players did not chat with the players, show any interest or say “good morning” to them, who were protecting them.
With one exception: Morata paused or smiled, joked or raised a hand in appreciation when he and La Roja passed by. They liked the boys Madrid, those toughened, tough, “seen all” types.
I was reminded of this the other day when Andoni Otxotorena, a Real Sociedad fan, responded to Morata revealing the damage caused by the perpetrators who wrote all sorts of horrific things on social media about the striker and his family, simply because he had failed to seize some chances for Spain.
Otxotorena used Twitter to remember the occasion when he, along with his father, uncle and cousin, managed to get to a national team hotel before a game and sit on a couch at reception, hoping to do one thing or the other Get a photo or autograph.
Most of the squad passed them while a couple, somewhat reluctantly, posed for a quick photo and then turned their backs without much grace. At least Sergio Ramos and David Silva could smile and take a few minutes to say, “Nice to meet you.”
Morata was different. Not only did he happily stop and pose for a photo with family members, but he also went to this stranger when he saw Otxotorena’s father sitting alone and not interfering in the screaming.
Morata asked the father how they got there, the two chatted about Spain’s shape and had a few coffees before the striker hugged the older man and went to his room. What he left behind was an aura that one would unfairly expect from all footballers, but which turned a chance encounter into a life event.
The occasion? It was before Spain lost 2-1 to Croatia in Bordeaux during Euro 2016, a game in which Morata scored a goal, then was leveled by the game, watching from the bench as Ivan Perisic won a late breakaway.
The result condemned Spain to face Italy in the round of 16 in Paris, where Giorgio Chiellini, Leonardo Bonucci and Gianluigi Buffon had no trouble dealing with their 22-year-old Juventus teammate. They bullied Morata that day and Spain went out toothless.
All of these are reasons for this what Morata said last Thursday should get our attention.
“I understand that I’m being criticized for not scoring goals. I’ll be the first to know and accept that,” Morata told Cadena COPE after Spain beat Slovakia 5-0 but missed a penalty . “I wish people would be able to see what it means to receive threats and insults against your family. ‘I hope your children die.’ [This week] I had to put my cell phone down.
“[Memes] doesn’t bother me, but what bothers me is what my wife is going through, “he added.” My children go to Seville with their father’s name on their shirts. Yes [they’ve had things said to them]. I understand criticism because I’m not doing my job well. But there is a limit. “
Morata admitted he was awake for nine hours after Spain drew with Poland, “angry because I had a chance and Spain couldn’t win”. When he dealt with failing to live up to his own expectations, online abuse and threats came from – and this is as polite as I can be – idiots.
The 28-year-old received great gifts in life. He’s tall, handsome, and athletically superior. He is beyond the imagination of most, the winner of dozens of important trophies, including championship titles in Spain and Italy and two Champions League titles. And still young he has the world before him.
But he is also a husband and father of three children. He has doubts and worries and feels criticism. He’s basically human. Yes, he’s dedicated to victory and has been a path to victory over the years for Spain, Atletico Madrid, Real Madrid, Juventus and Chelsea, but he wasn’t just one of those guys who are “winning is absolutely everything”.
But maybe there is evidence that he’s changing. After highlighting the rubbish he was exposed to recently, he said, “I’m fine; I might have really gotten a few years ago,” before coming out fighting, “I’m attacked more than other players. I had two options: to remain silent or to confront it by coming out and talking about it. “
That speaks well of him; he is obliged to fight back when injustice reaches his family.
Sid Lowe describes a breakup between Spain and its fans, in particular the fans’ treatment of Alvaro Morata.
Granted, Morata is still a little wasteful in front of goal, but that shouldn’t detract from his ability to keep getting into goal positions. A literal example was his goal against Poland – do you remember the game after which he couldn’t sleep? – when pleasant anticipation and movement were followed by a sweet finish.
Luis Enrique supported his striker on Sunday, said police should investigate the abuse, and Morata has also spoken of the benefits of talking to Spanish sports psychologist Joaquin Valdez, a longtime member of the (notoriously adamant) Luis Enrique.
“Joaquin is helping us all a lot,” said Morata last week. “It’s great to have someone who understands you, who listens when you need them. I’m even a little afraid of flying, but he and I joke about it and just talking to him helped me. “
Such a confession could explain why Morata chose to speak of his injury and anger over the abuse he suffered, but now his attention will be focused on opponents who have been a thorn in the side not only of his team but also of the national team.
Croatia not only started to bundle Spain from the last European Championship, but two years later and months after a 6-0 defeat in the next meeting of the teams, Luka Modric and Co. inflicted even more pain by knocking La Roja from the first UEFA Nations League. Morata played in both defeats but didn’t come off the bench when Croatia was struck with the sword.
On Monday in Copenhagen, Zlatko Dalic’s team will have players who think they can bully Morata and who think they are tougher than Spain in general, that they are more committed to victory.
Who knows, they might be voted right, but I suspect Morata is no longer the guy it was told by Buffon in 2015 that “once he stopped feeling sorry for himself he would become a great player” and “Forget his mental blocks.”
Spain’s national team is neither as tough as Teflon or as ruthless as it was a decade ago when they included Gerard Pique, Sergio Ramos, Carles Puyol, Xabi Alonso and David Villa in their ranks and won trophy after international trophy.
Meet the current squad and you will find them friendly, articulate, and spirited without the cold, determined, “getting out of the way” personality so often needed to outdo yourself. And yet there is an inner strength that corresponds to talent, which is why Monday will not be the last word in this tournament.
As for Morata? I hope it is his Night in the Parken Stadium; I hope he wins one for the good guys in life.