23-year-old Spaniard whose full name is Álvaro Borja Morata Martín has twice displayed respect and restraint in a huge public setting, noteworth in times that largely trivialize all that is not rage. Martín is a soccer player who on the field is known by his paternal name Morata. Last year he played for Real Madrid. This year he plays for Juventus of Turin. He is an attacking player. His goal is to score goals. At all levels of football (and sport), scoring is cause for extreme celebration among players and fans alike. Carnival-like jubilation helps dissipates pent-up anxiety.
But in April, Morata found himself faced with a quandary: his new team, Juventus, had been paired against his old team, Real, who would play each other twice to determine which one would go through to the Champions League final, club soccer’s top honor. In the end, Juventus earned that right, defeating Real in Turin and drawing in Madrid. In both cases, Morata scored vital goals.
This is where Morata’s response to the quandary comes in. Though a member of Juventus, he still possessed deep respect for his old team, its players and coach. And they for him, warily so, since Real had specifically sought a transfer clause that would have prevented Morata from facing his old club in Champions League play, a clause he rejected.
Instead, he decided that if he scored against Real he would not celebrate. He would do whatever it took to help Juventus win, but he would refrain from glorifying the act.
It was choice that ran against most soccer logic — players are a form of merchandise, shifted often — and reflected old school awareness of respect, discretion and restraint, all of which are at odds with a sports, political and entertainment complex governed by instant and unthinking emotionalism in keeping with the “shoot first, ask questions later” bromide. Insults, the logic goes, can be immediately repaired through swift public apology, no harm done — save that it has been done.
Morata bypassed the potential morass by thinking his situation through ahead of time. He would belong to his new team, yes, but he would not hate his former one, let alone embarrass it. His awareness, an admixture of parental upbringing and temperament, produced a non-show show of almost unsettling maturity — since few knew how to recognize it, let alone respond.
In Turin, he scored the game-winner, but allowed his Juventus teammates to celebrate for him. In Madrid, he scored the goal that tied the game, as good as a victory for Juventus. Again, he backed away from cartwheels. A handsome young man, he looked almost sullen.
After the Madrid game, Morata was philosophical, and honest, which is to say adult. “It was an important goal, but I have a bittersweet feeling,” he told reporters. “I want to thank the Madrid fans, because the always treated me well. If only I could have scored against another team, but life it like that.”
Yes, life is like that.
Often like that.
When Morata was removed from the game in the second half, Madrid fans rose to give him a standing ovation. Spain is loud but fathoms loyalty.
This honorable interplay between a young Spanish player, his new Italian club (with teammates who appreciate his skills), and his old Spanish team, calmly ran against the vein of the vain, the loud and the vulgar, components of “do it” world in which words and deeds are often disengaged from both self-control and self-censorship, and as a result from self-awareness. Presence is an accessory of volume.
Until someone insists on seeing it differently.
Morata rose to the occasion, controlling volume on his terms, and giving a fine tussle between two good teams an additional and welcome sense of dignity.