Real Madrid better served with Morata buy-back than Lewandowski chase
International breaks generally result in a quiet week or two at Real Madrid's Valdebebas training complex. On this occasion, Zinedine Zidane has at his disposal a few more bodies than might normally be expected: keepers Kiko Casilla and Ruben Yanez in addition to Alvaro Arbeloa, Dani Carvajal, Marcelo, Casemiro, Jese Rodriguez, Lucas Vazquez, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema. Under normal circumstances at least three of those would be with their national sides as well.
Had Alvaro Morata remained at Real Madrid he would probably be with the squad this week. But the Madrid-born forward chose a different path in 2014, moving to Juventus for a fee in the region of €20 million and going on to become something of a crowd favourite in Turin. He also received his first call up to the national team the same year, just a few months after leaving the Bernabeu for the Juventus Stadium. At Real, he had been overlooked by Vicente del Bosque despite scoring at the rate of a goal a game for the under-21s, having made his debut for Julen Lopetegui's La Rojita in June 2013 in the opening match of the European under-21 Championship against Russia.
Morata scored in a substitute appearance. In the following match, against Germany, he did the same. He then scored against the Netherlands and Norway en route to the final, during which he provided an assist as Spain beat Italy 4-2. In five games, Morata started only twice but his contribution proved invaluable, the story of his career so far: caught between a bench and a regular place.
When Real Madrid sold Morata to Juve a buy-back clause was inserted into his contract, as is often the case when the club believes they have a player on their hands who isn't going to break into the first team immediately but who could benefit from top-level experience elsewhere. The 23-year-old has certainly done that, scoring 25 goals and providing 16 assists in 86 appearances for Juventus. In his first season in Turin he was worth a goal every 153 minutes in all competitions.
This season, during which Morata has struggled a little, that figure has risen to a goal every 210 minutes. Two of his most recent strikes, however, came against Bayern Munich in the Champions League. The Bundesliga behemoth escaped elimination only via a Thomas Muller stoppage time goal and some extra time heroics. Last season, in the semifinals, Real were not so fortunate, and were knocked out by Juve 3-2 on aggregate. Morata scored in both legs.
Real did not have the opportunity to bring their prodigal son back to the Bernabeu last summer but can do so either at the end of this season or next for around €30m.
A net spend of €10m to acquire a full international with Champions League experience seems too good an offer to turn down. But reports suggest that if Real do exercise the clause, Morata will be hawked to the highest bidder. Little wonder that this week the forward stressed he is happy at Juve but wants his future to be cleared up as quickly as possible.
Morata recently renewed his contract with Juventus up to 2020, in doing so becoming the third-highest earner on the books behind Gianluigi Buffon and Paul Pogba. If Juve owned him outright he would be valued at €50m or so. That's about half of what Bayern Munich will hold out to get for Robert Lewandowski, who has no minimum release clause in his contract at the Allianz Arena, obliging potential suitors to negotiate directly with the club. For Real, that would be like asking Genghis Khan to cough up for his daughter's wedding.
Lewandowski's arrival at Real would only create a new set of problems anyway. The Poland international won't take kindly to being anything other than immediate first choice and Benzema will not react well to sharing that status, or being stripped of it.
Morata has often operated from the bench for Juventus, but that has proved enough for Del Bosque to include the forward in seven of the last nine Spain squads he has been available for. In all probability Morata will make the final cut for France. He has started six of Juve's last 10 games in Serie A and the Champions League, scoring seven times. Morata also started against Italy in Udine on Thursday night. His performance was more industrious than inspired, but that's more than has been offered from Diego Costa, who has not contributed much to the Spain team after his decision to represent La Roja in time for the 2014 World Cup. The Chelsea striker is by no means guaranteed of a place on the plane for the Euros and whether or not he would keep Morata out of a club side at the moment is open to question.
Morata might be peaking at just the right time for his country. Spain were second best in the Stadio Friuli for most of Thursday's game but it was the Juve striker's intervention -- sending in a header that forced his club teammate Buffon into an awkward save -- that rescued a draw for Spain when Aritz Aduriz pounced on the rebound to smash the ball into the net from a yard. After spending the majority of the game chasing half-chances, that sort of quality will have Del Bosque's moustache twitching in appreciation. Morata can be a very useful asset in France.
He can also be one to Real Madrid. Morata's boots were never made entirely for walking. Fashioned in Madrid and polished in Milan, they are now worth more than their weight in gold. The buy-back clause was put there for a reason and the club should be applauded for their thoroughness. Juve director general Giuseppe Marotta last month described the stipulation as a "Sword of Damocles" hanging over the Italians, who are exceedingly keen to hold on to Morata.
It would be an extraordinary display of short-sightedness on the part of Madrid not to at least make Morata an offer. He can refuse of course, but the canterano has already sunk one European dream with two shots straight into the bows. Surely it would be better to have him on board next time.
Rob Train is a freelance writer who lives in Madrid and covers Real Madrid for ESPN. Twitter: @Cafc13Rob.