Two years ago, Paul Pogba left Manchester United for Italy, seemingly set to sit on the sidelines with little hope of finding significant playing time in the star-studded Juventus midfield. Having gone the entire 2011-12 season undefeated, it was almost unthinkable that he could displace Claudio Marchisio, Andrea Pirlo or Arturo Vidal. Just three months later however, the youngster Sir Alex Ferguson refused to trust had won over Antonio Conte with a string of sensational displays.
Very few players possess the talent of Pogba, who is now being discussed as perhaps the player who will set a new world record transfer fee if and when he decides to move away from Turin. Even rarer is seeing a young player earn a place in the Juventus starting line-up, the Bianconeri – like most of Europe’s giant clubs – always appearing to prefer to purchase players who have already proven themselves.
Yet Pogba could merely be the tip of the iceberg for Italian football’s grand Old Lady, with the likes of Domenico Berardi, Daniele Rugani and Simone Zaza expected to become part of Massimiliano Allegri’s squad in the coming years. But another young player has already followed in the Frenchman’s footsteps, with Álvaro Morata now regularly in the first-choice XI for Juventus.
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The pair have much more in common than it first appears, arriving from another of Europe’s most famous clubs and then quickly replacing better-known and more experienced players. While Pogba cost Juve a meagre sum in compensation, Real Madrid youth product Morata arrived at a cost of €20 million, quite a fee for a 21-year-old who had made just eight starts in four years with the Spanish giants.
In his path at Juventus stood the partnership of Carlos Tevez and Fernando Llorente, who had combined to score no fewer than 39 goals in the previous campaign, drawing comparisons with some of the club’s greatest ever attacking duos. The club had already shown some faith in him however, allowing Fabio Quagliarella and Mirko Vucinic to move on, and Morata quickly jumped ahead of local-born Sebastian Giovinco.
The latter has now also left town, terminating his contract to join Toronto FC after realising the Spaniard was always going to be ahead of him in the pecking order. Watching Morata on the field it is easy to see why, and his increased playing time has seen him already begin to develop into a fine player, possessing all the attributes required in a modern striker.
Saturday’s win over Milan saw him showcase his entire repertoire, easily turning in his best performance for his new club as he tormented the struggling Rossoneri with a man of the match display. Starting in place of Llorente, he is much more incisive than his compatriot, bringing his direct style and impressive pace to a side lacking both prior to his arrival. That speed and energy were too much for Milan’s defence, and when Juventus lost possession, Morata followed the example set by Tevez as he hounded opponents in order to win it back.
It was his pass which sent the Argentinean through for the game’s opening goal, his third assist of the season, and he would get his name on the scoresheet with a true striker’s goal midway through the second half. A shot from Marchisio struck the post, with Morata reacting far quicker than those around him to finish past Diego Lopez, and it was nothing less than he deserved after working tirelessly throughout the game.
“I am in a place where the history of football was made, so I can improve as a player here better than anywhere else. I am truly in love with Juve and want to spend much of my career in the Bianconeri jersey.” - Álvaro Morata to La Gazzetta dello Sport
It took his tally for the season to five, and was the kind of display that raises the question of the buy-back clause in his contract, set at around €30 million in each of the next two summers. Real Madrid could see his performances and decide he needs to return to the Spanish capital, while Juventus could replace him with Zaza, the 23-year-old Italian international who is shining brightly at Sassuolo and available at half that sum in a similar arrangement.
Should Carlo Ancelotti and company look elsewhere for attacking talent, Morata could remain with the Bianconeri or indeed move elsewhere, with Champions League clubs from England and Spain surely monitoring his status closely over the coming months. Having put their faith in him and nurtured his obvious talent, Juventus will hope to keep him of course, but he would certainly not look out of place in Arsenal or Manchester City colours.
Here again there are echoes of Pogba’s situation as the future looks increasingly bright for Álvaro Morata.
It just remains to be seen where he spends it.
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