Manchester United’s lengthy pursuit of Alvaro Morata appears to be reaching a conclusion, with the news that the Real Madrid striker has returned early from his honeymoon in an effort to push through a move. Spanish newspaper AS is reporting that the newlywed has flown back to Madrid, leaving his wife in Ibiza, as the two clubs negotiate a transfer fee.
The same article says United have offered €74 million (£66m), with Real currently holding out for between €85m (£75) and €90m (£79m). Nevertheless, there appears to be a desire on all sides to strike a deal, particularly with Morata keen to be reunited with Jose Mourinho, under whom he made his debut for Madrid in 2010.
With Zlatan Ibrahimovic having been released after suffering a cruciate knee ligament injury, Mourinho is intent on landing a top-class striker to fill the void. With 28 goals in all competitions, Ibrahimovic was United’s leading scorer last season and his absence leaves a void.
Morata, who rejoined Real last summer after a two-year spell at Juventus, netted 15 La Liga goals despite being used sparingly, with manager Zinedine Zidane preferring Karim Benzema or Cristiano Ronaldo in the number nine position. Tellingly, Morata was overlooked for the Champions League final last month.
Mourinho is known to be a keen admirer of the 24-year-old, whose arrival at Old Trafford would add firepower to the club’s attacking options. However, it would potentially have implications for Marcus Rashford. The homegrown youngster made 32 Premier League appearances for United last season, but many of those came as a substitute.
As a result, the 19-year-old scored only five goals – the same number as the previous campaign where he played in 21 fewer matches. Owing to an injury crisis, then manager Louis van Gaal had picked Rashford as an out-an-out striker, with his scintillating performances earning him a call-up to the England squad for Euro 2016.
Ibrahimovic’s goal return justified his selection, but there is no doubt that it consequently stalled the progress of Rashford, who had to make do with impact substitute appearances – often on the wing. Throughout his managerial career, Mourinho has been accused of neglecting young talent by purchasing ready-made stars.
The signing of Morata would be further evidence of this philosophy and a blow to Rashford, who is widely regarded as one of the most exciting prospects in English football.
So meteoric was his rise to prominence in the 2015/16 campaign that it caught everyone by surprise. Rashford struggled to live up to expectations last season, but this could be ascribed to being played out of position.
At 19 years of age, this is a key phase in his development. Spending the majority of next term on the substitutes’ bench would be detrimental to his progress.
United fans love nothing better than seeing one of their own lighting up Old Trafford, which Rashford has done on many occasions in his fledgling career. But if Morata’s anticipated arrival drops him down the pecking order, then maybe a loan move would be beneficial to all parties. United would certainly not be short of takers – and Rashford would get the game-time he needs.