Alvaro Morata is not the first Chelsea No 9 to flop at Stamford Bridge, but he is definitely the striker to have suffered the most during his time in west London.
Those who have worn that shirt number for the Blues have endured bad Chelsea records. The likes of Fernando Torres, Radamel Falcao and Tammy Abraham have crumbled under that pressure. There are even concerns about the form of its current holder, Romelu Lukaku, after a slow start to the season.
But Morata’s Chelsea story has ultimately revealed how tough life as a first-choice striker can be, while also raising awareness about mental health in football. As he prepares to Chelsea for Juventus’ Champions League clash on Tuesday, Morata will be reminded about a time that haunted him and his family for 18 months.
Alvaro Morata will return to Chelsea for Juventus’ Champions League tie on Tuesday night
Morata endured a difficult 18-month spell at Chelsea which nearly led to ‘depression’
The Spanish striker arrived at then-Premier League champions Chelsea for £60million amid a back-drop of controversy. Diego Costa, who was the Blues’ top scorer in their title-winning season, was surprisingly told by boss Antonio Conte he was surplus to requirements.
Morata was not only the striker to fill the popular Costa’s boots, but was under the microscope following Conte’s contentious call which dominated Chelsea’s title defence in the 2017-18 season.
The striker, who had netted 20 goals for Champions League winners Real Madrid in the previous season, began his Chelsea career in fine fashion.
By November, he was one of the front runners for the Golden Boot award alongside Mohamed Salah and Harry Kane. It all looked like money well spent.
Morata’s £60m move to Chelsea in 2017 started well and was in the Golden Boot race
But Christmas time in his first season saw a back injury emerge and while Morata continued to play through the pain, his form stuttered. After netting nine goals in his first 15 league games, Morata would go on to score just twice in the second-half of the season.
Continued faith in Morata cost Conte his job at Chelsea in the summer of 2018, while Morata had a price to pay for this poor form as well. The striker was snubbed by Spain for their World Cup squad that year, a feeling which left the forward broken.
‘I had lost confidence in myself previously,’ Morata said recalling his first season at the Blues. ‘I was very upset by the opinion of the people in England. I think they caught me in the middle of everything.
‘I didn’t quite feel loved or appreciated by the club or the fans. I started very well at Chelsea, but an injury in the end leaves you a bit stuck.
But the Spaniard’s form soon dropped which led to him being dropped by Spain in 2018
‘As bad as it was, I still scored 15 goals (for Chelsea in the 2017-18 season) and won the FA Cup… but I was out of the World Cup, and for me that was the hardest thing that could happen to me in my life.
‘I’ve dreamed of being able to play in a World Cup since I was 10 years old, and I chose Chelsea because I thought it would be the best club to later be able to play in the World Cup.’
The drop in confidence carried on into Morata’s second season at Chelsea, this time under Conte’s compatriot Maurizio Sarri. Not even his change in squad number from nine to 29, to commemorate the birth date of his twins that summer, could not change his fortunes.
By January 2019, Morata’s confidence was shot – to the point where he verged on depression.
Morata’s poor form and critics continued in the 2018-19 season and his mental health suffered
‘I had a very bad time in London,’ he told Goal in 2019. ‘In the end I was training alone. I was very nervous. My wife was in shock with me. I could not even go out in London!
‘I’ve never had depression and I hope I never do, but I came close. I don’t believe it is given the importance that it should.
‘When your head doesn’t work well, you are your worst enemy. During those times, it doesn’t matter what you do, you are always fighting against yourself. Depression is an illness just like breaking your ankle.’
Chelsea brought in Gonzalo Higuain and Olivier Giroud in the January transfer window which allowed Morata to leave on loan to Atletico Madrid for two seasons.
Morata sealed a move to Atletico Madrid in January 2019 where he rediscovered some form
Morata rebuilt his confidence in LaLiga again, scoring 16 goals in his second season for Diego Simeone’s side. But a burglary in his Madrid home with his wife and children alone while he was on international duty in June 2019 shocked the family and ultimately influenced a move back to Italy that summer.
With the family rocked, Morata’s Atleti form allowed him to return to Juventus in 2019 – a place which is close to the striker’s heart.
Morata is married to the Venetian influencer Alice Campello whom he met in Turin during his first spell at Juventus between 2014 and 2016.
They have three sons in Alessandro, Leonardo and Edoardo and family has been the support system the striker has fallen on during the tough times of his career.
But a burglary in his Madrid home stunned Morata (right) and his wife Alice Campello (left)
Morata (left) moved back to Juventus soon after the burglary to reinvigorate his career
The Spaniard fell in love with Turin during his first stint at the club – where he shone when the Old Lady reach the Champions League final in 2015 – and it is no surprise that Morata’s form has re-emerged since moving back to the Italian city last season.
Morata netted 20 goals and 12 assists during his first season back at Juventus, which briefly ended the critics that started at Chelsea and followed him to Atletico Madrid too.
But the past six months have seen the abuse return. Morata hit out at supporters for targeting him and his family when Spain endured a slow start to Euro 2020 with two draws – while the forward also missed two penalties in the group stages.
Morata got his redemption by scoring a crucial equaliser in the semi-final against Italy at Wembley but Spain’s penalty shootout defeat, where the striker missed from 12 yards again, saw more critics appear.
But Morata’s critics returned when during Spain’s Euro 2020 campaign and the semi-final exit
Since the start of this season with Juventus, the 29-year-old has crumbled under the pressure following Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit to Manchester United over the summer.
Morata’s form for Juventus the year before elevated him to first-choice striker at the Old Lady once again and while two goals in three Champions League matches is a good return, two in 12 in Juve’s poor start to the season has seen the personal abuse continue.
Earlier this month, Morata said: ‘There have been times when I didn’t even want to get out of bed. I’ve often said I’ve had a lot of bad times and, with another mindset, maybe I could have been a better player.
Morata (right) has admitted to feeling the pressure after Cristiano Ronaldo’s Juventus exit
‘But I also have great willpower to get out of the dark times, otherwise I wouldn’t have had the career I had.
‘We are all under pressure after Ronaldo left. Myself maybe more because I am on loan. But when you are the master of your own destiny, the only thing you can do is work.’
His return to Chelsea on Tuesday will remind him of darker times, but a goal to secure Juventus’ place in the last-16 in a difficult season for the club will be a milestone moment which could put the negativity behind him.