Atletico Madrid striker Alvaro Morata gives the thumbs up to his team-mates after scoring twice during a 3-0 La Liga victory away to Getafe, Coliseum Alfonso Peres Stadium on August 15, 2022 in Getafe, Madrid , Spain.

Morata’s Affleck-esque redemption could be 22-23’s most beautiful story

Go on, admit it. You’d forgotten where Alvaro Morata is these days, hadn’t you?

No judgement here. Morata has had such a career of back-and-forths that we wouldn’t blame his own mother for losing track.

Were we to tell you he scored two goals on his first appearance of the season, without checking you probably wouldn’t be entirely sure whether it was Atletico Madrid’s 3-0 win over Getafe or Juventus’ 3-0 win over Sassuolo last night.

Well done if you said Atleti. Yes, Morata is back in the Spanish capital. Again.

The striker doesn’t turn 30 until later this year, yet this is already the third time in his career that he’s returned to Madrid after a two-year sojourn away.

Juventus, Chelsea, Juventus again. Atletico, Getafe, Real, Real, Atletico, Atletico. Always searching for a home, never quite finding it, not even in the city he was born in.

It’s been a career that’s existed almost entirely in grey. Never mind the Bianconeri, there’s nothing black or white about Morata.

He’s both the guy that scores a late equaliser for Spain against Italy in the Euro 2020 semi-finals and the one that misses a penalty in the shootout. He’s the guy that scores a brilliant hat-trick, only for all three goals to be disallowed.

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READ: Morata’s offside hat-trick confirms he’s the world’s saddest footballer

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You don’t lift the trophies he has or notch over 200 career goals for club and country by being a waste of space.

Yet, so rarely in his career has he ever been that guy.

Even when he scored a career-best 15 league goals as Zinedine Zidane’s Blancos secured a rare and historic Champions League and La Liga double in 2016-17, he was the poster boy for the B-Team, brought in regularly to give the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema a rest, inevitably finding himself on the bench on the biggest European nights.

He moved to Chelsea to become that guy. Time for the A-Team. Scoring a better-than-you-remember 11 league goals in his debut season – a tally Chelsea forwards have often struggled to match since his departure – he fell just short of ever quite convincing in the Premier League.

Six ft three in and wearing No.9, he should look the picture of a leading man. But those sad eyes have always painted the picture of a sensitive soul. His 2019 move to Atletico Madrid felt like casting Dawson from Dawson’s Creek as Rambo. It never looked like a natural fit.

But maybe there was twisted logic, maybe this was an inspired call. Maybe Diego Simeone was the director to get that dawg out of him. Think John Krasinski going from The Office’s Jim to Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan.

Or maybe not. Morata spent a season and a half at the Wanda Metropolitano and despite his initial loan from Chelsea being made permanent, he was then shipped out on a two-year loan to Juventus. Yet another homecoming in the search for a place to fit, while his replacement Luis Suarez led Atleti to the La Liga title. Morata scored 32 goals in two years in Turin, but they were the Old Lady’s first without a Scudetto since 2011.

In the latest chapter of a career that looks like a game of Snakes & Ladders as designed by a football administrator, here he is again. Back at Atleti, back with Simeone. Cut and paste from 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020 – maybe now is the time Morata reaches his potential.

We got a tantalising hint of that just 14 minutes into their opening fixture against Getafe. A deft ball into his feet from strike partner Joao Felix was followed by the kind of ruthless strike from the edge of the box that Simeone is crying out for.

Morata had shown he’s looking sharp and confident in Atletico’s final pre-season friendly when he scored a hat-trick in a 4-0 win against old flame Juventus. But having had more false dawns than hot dinners, it wouldn’t have been a shock to see that goalscoring touch desert him just as things began to matter.

No need to worry. Just like Gabriel Jesus, he’s carried his pre-season form into 2022-23.

Just before the hour mark, Morata doubled his tally and Atletico’s lead. He’d timed his run perfectly, getting picked out by Joao Felix’s first-time ball and put a clinical finish to the move.

It was a beautiful moment in which Morata looked every bit the dead-eyed killer he’s so often accused of not being, and that Simeone’s best Atletico sides have been built to serve. Diego Costa – Luis Suarez –  Alvaro Morata?

It’s a long season and Morata is the epitome of a confidence player. Let’s see how he responds to missing a sitter, or what happens if he goes three games without scoring. But the early signs are good and he’s started off flying.

“I think that everyone needs to have confidence to do important things, he came with a lot of humility and desire to work, without demanding anything and making an effort to earn a position,” Simeone told reporters after his striker’s statement-making display.

There have been reports of interest from Manchester United, but that’s surely the last thing he needs. He’d be eaten alive. Not least because he doesn’t want to go.

“I really want to play here. I’m excited to be here, as always, I can only work and run for the team in every game,” he said.

Atletico are always at their best when they have something to prove. Think back to Suarez after being kicked to the curb by Barcelona.

They were reigning champions last season, but they’re back to being rank outsiders – exactly where they want to be – up against the European champions and Barcelona inviting all the noise and attention after their lavish splurge in the transfer market.

With a mid-season World Cup and the trust of La Roja boss Luis Enrique, Morata is kicking off a potentially career-defining campaign.

Picture him and you probably see a pained, haunted expression. Football’s answer to a hungover Ben Affleck collecting a Dunkin’ Donuts order.

But maybe 2022-23 will be Morata’s answer to Affleck’s unexpected redemption arc. Maybe it’s the year he finally becomes comfortable as a leading man and fires Spain and Atletico to glory. Imagine how satisfying that would be after the journey he’s been on.

By Nestor Watach

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