There are few tougher finishing schools in world football than Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid.
Training under Don Simeone is akin to something out of the Navy SEAls or Royal Marines.
Diego Costa, a man who uses fireworks as an alarm clock and eats nails for breakfast, enjoyed the punishing schedule so much that he signed up twice.
With that in mind, there are few strikers in Europe seemingly less suited to Simeone’s school of hard knocks than Alvaro Morata.
The Spaniard currently plays with the air of a lost soul whose game is set to unravel the second his shoelaces untangle.
Gianluigi Buffon, a former team-mate of Morata, knows a thing or two about strikers, having played with the likes of Alessandro Del Piero, David Trezeguet and Filippo Inzaghi.
It’s telling that Buffon believes Morata could be one of the world’s best strikers “if he could get over his mental hang-ups”.
There’s a serious side to Morata’s struggles that shouldn’t be dismissed as a quirk of character. Last year he lost a close friend in a car crash and was dogged by a mystery injury, all while his family were in another country.
The fashion in which he went from scoring six goals in his first six Premier League appearances to going four months without a league goal saw the Spaniard become something of a punchline in England.
However Morata’s CV is nothing to be sniffed at. He’s contributed to league titles in Spain and Italy, won domestic cup competitions in Spain, Italy and England and lifted the Champions League twice, not to mention winning the European Championships with Spain at Under-21 and Under-19 level.
Indeed, during his last campaign in Madrid only Cristiano Ronaldo could top his 20-goal tally.
But there’s no getting away from the fact that, aged 26, Morata has now been bounced out of Madrid, Juventus and Chelsea.
So why Atletico?
In Fernando Torres, Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan, Antoine Griezmann and Costa, Atletico have a fine track record when it comes to recruiting strikers, although the recent signings of Jackson Martinez and Nikola Kalinic prove that not every forward is a hit.
Morata will be in the best shape he’s ever been if he can survive Simeone’s training sessions. There’s also an emotional pull, given Morata started his career at Atletico and was often a ball boy at the Vicente Calderon.
The 26-year-old will be fitting into an already established style and pattern of play, giving him less to think about during games. When playing on instinct, Morata can shoot it out with all the game’s top strikers.
Morata will have no shortage of supply either, with Griezmann, Saul, Thomas Lemar and Koke all buzzing around creating chances. At Chelsea he was often blunted by wingers in Pedro, Hazard and Willian who cut in and looked to shoot rather than cross.
On the surface there might not be a striker less suited to Simeone-ball. But football isn’t played on the surface.
A return to where it all started and some of Simeone’s notorious tough love might just be the key to unlocking the Morata enigma.
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