x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 December 2017

Alvaro Morata leaves Real Madrid for Chelsea to take his chance as the leading man

Spain striker moves to the Premier League champions for a club record fee and the pressure is on him to deliver.

Alvaro Morata will become Chelsea's club record signing when he completes his move from Real Madrid. Daniel Tejedor / AP Photo
Alvaro Morata will become Chelsea's club record signing when he completes his move from Real Madrid. Daniel Tejedor / AP Photo

It probably wasn’t part of the £60 million (Dh285.5m) agreement, but the brief video Real Madrid posted on Thursday should whet Chelsea appetites.

As the departing Alvaro Morata, baseball cap reversed, said his goodbyes, it was apparent the respect and affection he commands at the world’s most glamorous club. As Zinedine Zidane was the first to hug Morata, it is safe to presume that Chelsea will not look to emulate them with a similar social-media tribute when the more divisive Diego Costa’s move to Atletico Madrid is ratified.

It illustrated Morata is comfortable in the company of superstars. It was a reminder that he has played in three of the last four Uefa Champions League finals, scoring in one, whereas Romelu Lukaku, Chelsea’s other striking target this summer, has never struck in the most prestigious competition of all. Chelsea are getting a blue-chip recruit.

That Antonio Conte signed Morata for Juventus in 2014 and hoped to take him to Stamford Bridge last summer suggests a lengthy pursuit is being concluded, a goal realised. Morata may be the best choice to take over from the more temperamental Costa.

But it is safer to say he was the only remaining one. Lukaku, with his proven record in the Premier League, was the first choice until Manchester United hijacked Conte’s move for the Belgian.

Morata won what became a one-horse race. Others abandoned, were disqualified or never entered to begin with. Borussia Dortmund were adamant Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was going nowhere.

Arsenal have voiced the same sentiments about Alexis Sanchez. Manchester City certainly would not sell Sergio Aguero to domestic rivals. Chelsea and Morata were thrust together by an absence of choice.

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It nevertheless promises to be a more harmonious relationship than that with melodramatic Costa, which concluded with Conte dumping the forward by text. Morata ought to bring the goals, but not the hassle.

He actually outscored Karim Benzema, who kept him out of the Madrid team, last season. Morata’s tally of 20 came at a rapid rate: he averaged a goal every 90 minutes in the Primera Liga and one every 56 in the Champions League. He could not break up Madrid’s BBC of Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo, but that speedy progress bodes well for Chelsea’s MPH: Morata, Pedro and Eden Hazard.

Chelsea have belatedly shown some acceleration. Conte seemed aggrieved when their slow start in the transfer window was compounded by United’s coup in seizing Lukaku from under their noses. It feels telling that the Italian finally signed his improved, though not lengthier, contract as they closed in on Morata.

He should be placated by the presence of £135m of new signings, along with Antonio Rudiger and Tiemoue Bakayoko, even if there is a clear requirement for at least two more newcomers. Morata’s Madrid teammate Danilo, also wanted by City, could be one of them.

And yet a couple of cautionary notes are required. Morata has coped with the pressure of representing two super-clubs and has delivered his share of goals against elite opponents, with notable late winners among them. But he has never been the top scorer or the main striker anywhere. He will have a seniority at Chelsea that he lacked at Juventus and Madrid when Carlos Tevez, Paulo Dybala or Cristiano Ronaldo were the primary scorers. Morata needed to escape others’ shadow but, in contrast, Lukaku is accustomed to the expectation to deliver.

And Morata’s club record fee means the focus on him will be greater. Some, even those with a track record of scoring elsewhere, have failed in such circumstances.

Chelsea have a decidedly mixed record in striker signings. Costa and Didier Drogba were successes. Andriy Shevchenko and Fernando Torres certainly were not.

Each, like Morata now, was a club-record buy. It helps that the Spaniard’s career is on an upward curve, unlike theirs, and that he is a player his manager wanted. Yet Chelsea know their fortunes can rise and fall depending upon their premier forward. So they surely will again.