All football players must fall from the limelight eventually as age catches up with them and reduces them to a shadow of their former selves, but it’s a rarity for a man to be on top of the world and find himself falling from grace on three separate occasions. Yet that is what has happened to Fernando Morientes, once one of a deadly strike duo at world renowned Real Madrid and now finishing his career in France with Olympique Marseille, having failed to make much of an impact as yet. Morientes’ career has been blighted by two major problems: a failure to adapt and an over-willingness of coaches to sign players to take over his place. Why the coaches have chosen to do this whilst El Moro was on form is unclear but it has stunted the career of what would’ve otherwise been a clinical and extremely successful career.
Morientes’ early career was impressive enough; he broke through at Albacete aged 17 and spent two seasons looking an impressive talent at the club before being snapped up by Zaragoza. At Zaragoza Morientes further made his name with 28 goals in 66 games and performances that caught the eye of Spanish giants Real Madrid who quickly snapped him up and tied him to the most memorable part of his career – a career that has led to him still being in the hearts of many Real Madrid fans given how well he did for them. Morientes proved one of the best in the world at headers and was deadly from them and also proved a good all-around goalscorer throughout his career.
Morientes, just 21 when he arrived at Real, was originally meant to simply be a backup for first choice strikers Davor Suker and Predrag Mijatovic – despite being signed for a fee which would now stand at over 25 million euros – but, along with current club legend Raul, Morientes instead impressed enough to become a first team regular, scoring a impressive tally of 12 goals in his first season for Real, outscoring all the other strikers. Thus began a love affair with Madrid and a deadly partnership with Raul which saw Morientes score at least 10 goals almost every season and become highly successful, winning 3 Champion’s Leagues and a few league titles while playing a big part in his club’s success. Morientes’ Real career was effectively ended in 2002 when Real signed Brazilian hit-man Ronaldo from Inter Milan, clearly aiming to replace Morientes despite the striker having a lot to offer.
Despite this, Morientes decided to stay at the club and fight for a club despite the fact that Ronaldo was clearly preferred to him. It was only after Morientes had fallen even further down the pecking order to behind the likes of Guti and Javier Portillo that Morientes accepted that he may have to leave the club and in 2003 he moved on loan to French side Monaco.
It was at Monaco where Morientes re-established himself as a top class striker, scoring a decent tally of 10 goals in 28 league appearances but it was his performances in the Champion’s League that got the Spaniard his rave reviews as he proved the competition’s top scorer as Moanco reached the final, even helping to knock out Real Madrid with 2 goals over 2 legs against them in the quarter finals. Morientes won the 2004 European Striker of the Year award and there was belief that he’d go back to Real as a genuine contender to usurp Ronaldo in the first team, he clearly still had the goalscoring ability.
It wasn’t to be though as Morientes’ return to the Bernabeu coincided with Real’s signing of Michael Owen from Liverpool and, whilst Owen himself couldn’t secure a first team berth ahead of Ronaldo or Raul, Morientes must have known that his exploits at Monaco had not been enough to get him back into favour at Real. In the following January he left the club to join Rafa Benitez’s new Spanish revolution at Liverpool for a meagre £6.3 million.
The second of Morientes’ descents from grace occurred at Liverpool – big things were expected from the striker and he never delivered. Morientes looked slow and didn’t adapt to the pace of the Premiership, plus he was moved out of position to a role slightly further back the field and couldn’t play the way he was used to – having to help create attacks rather than lurking around the box waiting for a cross to come in. Morientes only managed 12 goals in 61 appearances in his season and a half at Liverpool, leading to fans declaring him a big name flop as he hadn’t done anywhere near as well as anticipated.
Morientes then returned to Spain to join Valencia where he began to put his career back on track once again, forming a good partnership with David Villa. Morientes enjoyed a couple of good seasons with the club where he managed to grab his fair share of the goals but once again he found himself shunted out of the team by new arrivals and the likes of Nikola Zigic and then emerging talents like David Silva and Juan Mata resulted in Morientes again being reduced to a regular spot on the bench. It was clear that Morientes was not going to remain at the club much longer and left on a free transfer this summer to join Marseille where he is yet to make much of an impact.
Morientes’ fall is a curious one; the fact that he re-established himself a few times proves that his talent and goalscoring ability was always with him but yet clubs seemed only too happy to replace him with new players even when he was on form. Desperately unlucky with new signings at Real Madrid, a real failure to adapt to English football at Liverpool and then age catching up with him at Valencia – that’s the story of Morientes’ fall from grace. On his day he was a deadly striker whose aerial ability was second to none. Unfortunately Premiership fans will remember him more for being a big name flop at Anfield which is a shame given what El Moro achieved in his earlier career. His career failed to flourish as it progressed and his heydays were earlier than most. A premature ending to a football career, poor old Fernando.