Morata would be just the latest Mourinho player fueled by rejection
Alvaro Morata may not be the megastar striker that many Manchester United fans, and possibly the club's marketing department, hoped to sign this summer but he is a player who fits Jose Mourinho's template.
Morata has something to prove to the boyhood club willing to let him go, having failed to dislodge Karim Benzema on his return to Real Madrid from Juventus after Euro 2016. That's something Mourinho will seek to take advantage of. Each of the finest strikers United's manager has worked with have had something similar to fire their motivation, from Didier Drogba to Diego Costa, via the likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Samuel Eto'o and Diego Milito.
All of those players reached heights working with Mourinho they had not met before; he gave them apparatus to inspire success, just as he did Frank Lampard at Chelsea, when making the notorious 2004 pep talk in a Stamford Bridge shower when the midfielder was told he was "the best player in the world."
Mourinho has enjoyed great success over polishing neglected diamonds plucked from big clubs. "It's the revenge," his biographer Diego Torres told ESPN FC. "Pedro, Thiago Motta, Wesley Sneijder, they all fit that template."
Should Nemanja Matic arrive from Chelsea, who are expected to sell him once they have secured the signature of Monaco's Tiemoue Bakayoko, then Mourinho will have added another player probably looking to show his former club the error of their ways.
Vengeance is a key resource in Mourinho man-management makeup. Pedro never got to be a success for Mourinho at Chelsea since the manager who had tempted him from Barcelona was fired just three months after the Spaniard's August 2015 arrival, but Motta, sold on by Barca, and Sneijder, surplus to requirements at Real Madrid, were bedrocks of the Inter Milan team that lifted the 2010 Champions League as part of a Treble.
Revenge has fired Mourinho's finest hours. Exquisitely sweet on the way to Inter's Treble was a semifinal defeat of Barcelona, who had passed him over in 2008 to employ Pep Guardiola. Last season, during United's indifferent Premier League campaign, the high watermark, a taste of him at his apex, came in beating Chelsea 2-0 in April, in righting the perceived wrong of his being sacked just six months after winning the title.
Players fired by a spirit of retribution seem to suit Mourinho far better than those already assured of their stardom. When the pair worked together at Real Madrid, his relationship with Cristiano Ronaldo was not much more than respectful, certainly never close, while he and club icon, captain and goalkeeper Iker Casillas's quarrels eventually created the schism in the Bernabeu dressing room that hastened his sacking just a year after winning La Liga title at the expense of Guardiola's Barcelona.
Mourinho's relationship with football's aristocracy is probably uncomfortable as a result of his own career path, when he had to fight his way up from the obscurity of being Bobby Robson's translator at Sporting Lisbon, FC Porto and Barcelona to eventually becoming the decorated boss of Porto, Chelsea, Inter, Real and United.
He acts in preference for those who similarly had to climb greasy poles and throw off adversity on the way up. Those testy relations with the likes of Luke Shaw and Anthony Martial at United repeated a pattern of Mourinho finding difficulties with young players granted instant stardom at an early age. Even Marcus Rashford, who ended up being involved in more games than other United player last season, received tough love.
Mourinho's preferred outcome is to have broken down players' egos such that they devotedly follow him. In each of his two spells at Chelsea, Joe Cole and Eden Hazard, youngsters of extravagant gifts, had to amend their ways to meet the manager's approval by committing to hard-working disciplines such as shielding the full-backs behind them on the flank. And rarely were either granted the central, creative director role they were bred for at West Ham and Lille respectively.
"You just have to take it because he is a top manager," Cole told ESPN FC in April. "It is his focus to get the best out of the players in his squad."
With players seeking some form of vindication, that moulding process is not quite so difficult. Drogba was a late-developer given his big chance at 26, Eto'o had been sold by Barcelona to pay for Ibrahimovic, while Ibrahimovic himself, when he came to Manchester last summer, was seeking to bury those who doubted he would make a success in English football at 34.
Torres feels Morata, who scored 15 goals in 26 La Liga appearances for Real, is ideal for Mourinho's type of football. "He's the perfect counterattacking type of striker," he said. "A more skilful Costa."
Perhaps just as importantly, he has rejection to motivate him.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.