During Spain’s epic 5-3 win over Croatia in Copenhagen on Monday, the camera panned to two fans holding up a homemade sign, which read: ‘Morata yo tampoco la meto’.
‘Morata, I don’t score either’.
(Yes, the double meaning is essentially the same and fully intended).
The gag caught on camera, ironically right after Alvaro Morata’s cracking strike to put Spain 4-3 ahead in extra time, felt like a definitive shift in the narrative around Spain’s starting number nine.
It was a Je Suis Morata moment. Spain was laughing with him, not at him.
For some time before the first ball was kicked – or delivered by a tiny car – at Euro 2020, Morata had already become the default butt of jokes, and the obvious excuse for Spain’s shortcomings in the dry years post 2012.
He was the striker who couldn’t finish. The flop. Al-VAR-o Morata.
It was all great bants, until it wasn’t.
In a pre-tournament friendly against Portugal, Spain fans chanted ‘Morata, how bad you are’.
The Juventus star was then whistled and jeered as Spain struggled to a 0-0 draw against Sweden at a sparse La Cartuja (a stadium not famous for its atmosphere) in their Group E opener.
For a striker with a one in two record internationally, it seemed a bit much.
After the group stages, in which he scored once but also missed a penalty, Morata revealed the levels of abuse and threats he and his family had received (apparently from Spain fans) as a result of a couple of supposedly subpar displays.
“I went nine hours without sleep after Poland,” he said. “I have received threats, insults to the family, saying ‘we hope your children will die’.
“I understand that you criticise me for not scoring, but people should put themselves in my place, understand what it means to receive threats, to tell you that your children must die.
“When I arrive at the hotel, I put my phone away, but the thing that bothers me is that they say these things to my wife and children at the stadium.”
It speaks to his mental strength – something that has also been questioned in the past – that Morata was able to put all that aside and continue playing at all.
Despite the public mood, Luis Enrique never wavered in his support of his front man, starting Morata in all three group games and appearing mildly confused about having to answer questions about his selection.
“Morata gives us a lot – a lot more than you think,” was his rebuttal.
As has been evident throughout the tournament, and at club level, there are few (if any) Spanish options better suited to Luis Enrique’s system than Morata. He has great feet, he wins fouls expertly (eight vs Croatia) and he is a striker who can link up play by coming short to create angles and spaces.
And he does score goals (21 in 44 for Spain), even if not as many as he could.
But, anyway, when has having a truly prolific central goalscorer been the only way to form a successful attack at international level?
Olivier Giroud didn’t score in 2018, but was essential as Didier Deschamps’ side romped to the World Cup in Moscow. 20 years before his compatriot, Stephane Guivarc’h set the standard for strikers who don’t score.
Flemming Povlsen played every minute up top during Denmark’s remarkable Euro 1992 win without a single goal.
Even the great Fernando Torres scored just once at Euro 2008, despite starting five out of six matches. Granted, his one goal came as the winner in the final.
After two turgid group games, Spain are now the tournament top scorers, with 10 in their last two outings – two more than in their entire World Cup 2010 campaign. And in a game that had almost literally everything, Morata’s decisive fourth against Croatia may well be La Roja fans’ lasting memory of Euro 2020.
Not only was it an important strike in the context of the game, but it was exactly the sort of chance Morata would be expected to miss.
Bringing it down calmly from Dani Olmo’s searching cross, Morata let the ball bounce high before slamming the finish past Dominik Livakovic and into the roof of the net.
Bam! How’s that for not scoring?!
It was great drama and even better vindication.
Morata does score – he now has more Euros goals than David Villa – and he does a lot for this Spain team.
It seems the Spanish fans are starting to realise that, or at least learning to love him even when he isn’t exactly what they want him to be.
Whether the new found love lasts long if Spain fail to keep the goals flowing remains to be seen. Morata knows the fragility of the arrangement.
He told AS, via the Guardian: “The ball going in or not can take you from the front page to eating all the sh*t in Spain.”
With Switzerland in the quarters on 2 July, there’s a decent chance Morata will be on the front page again, scoring even if you don’t…