His smile broadening, Alvaro Morata reels off some of his managerial influences.
‘Last week I saw a photograph from the FIFA coaches’ conference and as I scanned across, I’m thinking, “I’ve played under Zinedine Zidane, Carlo Ancelotti, and Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid.” Then there was Max Allegri at Juventus,’ he says.
‘Now I am with Antonio Conte, who originally signed me for Juve. I am only missing a Guardiola or a Klopp!’
Morata, the strapping new Chelsea forward signed for £58m from Real Madrid this summer, is not intentionally name-dropping here.
This 24-year-old has simply enjoyed a remarkable start to his career in football. For Real Madrid and Juventus, he scored over 100 goals and won 12 major trophies including four league titles.
He was part of two Champions League winning squads at Madrid and in the black and white stripes of Juventus, he scored in the 3-1 final defeat by Barcelona in 2015.
He has shared dressing rooms with football’s most recognisable names; from Cristiano Ronaldo to Gianluigi Buffon at club level and a host of World Cup winners with Spain.
It goes some way to explaining why this engaging Spaniard is not fazed when asked to comment on one of the week’s more delicate topics.
Chelsea fans have taken rapidly to their new frontman but controversy arose when the terrace chant for Morata at Leicester City last Saturday included an anti-Semitic reference to Spurs supporters.
Chelsea have described the chants as ‘unacceptable’ while Morata had already tweeted to ask that supporters ‘respect everyone.’
‘It’s clearly a sensitive issue,’ Morata begins. ‘There are many ways to enjoy yourself at a game and to cheer on your team or your favourite players. But I am clear. I am against any songs that will offend people on the basis of religion or race. We need to cut it out.
‘Football is only a sport, let’s use it as a positive vehicle. It’s not just that but kids who follow us and who want to be like us one day and we need to set the best example to them in the stands. By all means, cheer me on, sing my name, sing songs about Chelsea but let’s avoid this chant. The fans have been extremely welcoming to me and hopefully we can move forwards together now.’
Morata is sincere in his views and thoughtful company. This is his first newspaper interview since joining Chelsea and it is not often that he has had the chance to pause and think as he comes to terms with the helter-skelter pace of English football.
In a lavish summer window where £58m (rising to beyond £70m) does not appear extraordinary, it is worth remembering that Morata’s transfer makes him the most expensive player in Chelsea’s history and the most expensive Spanish footballer in the world.
‘When I first came, I felt a lot of pressure. The price tag is a big deal. I missed an important penalty in the Community Shield. I knew straight away I would need to grit my teeth and that there would be a load of criticism. It only made me more determined to prove any critics wrong and work harder than ever before.’
Morata arrived amid a backdrop of unease during a peculiar summer at Chelsea. It featured the Diego Costa episode, several stories of transfer targets that went awry and an opening day defeat by Burnley at Stamford Bridge.
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‘Lukaku a better striker than Morata’
The Red Devils had been keen on a man who eventually traded Real Madrid for Stamford Bridge, but are considered to have got the best deal overall.
Alvaro Morata has impressed during his short time at Chelsea, but Graeme Le Saux feels Manchester United got a “better striker” in Romelu Lukaku.
Two Premier League title rivals identified the central striking berth in their respective sides to be in need of reinforcement over the summer.
United had set their sights on Morata at one stage, while Lukaku was being heavily linked with a return to Stamford Bridge for a second spell.
The Belgian was, however, to move to Old Trafford from Everton for £75 million while Morata traded Real Madrid for west London – with both having settled quickly in new surroundings to open their goal account early and offer an immediate return on the investment made in them.
Pressed for his opinion on two leading marksmen, former Chelsea defender Le Saux told Betfair: “Alvaro Morata has shone in those two games [against Everton and Leicester], scoring in each.
“Chelsea were obviously in for Romelu Lukaku in the summer and missed out, but Morata is certainly doing enough to justify his transfer fee.
“At the moment you might say that Lukaku is the better striker, based on amount of goals scored, but Morata has huge potential.
“His movement is exceptional, and offers a different challenge to his predecessor at Chelsea, Diego Costa – who has tormented Arsenal in recent seasons – as he likes to get away from players and into space where he can do the damage.
“A few people in the summer questioned whether he would score goals in the Premier League but he has already proven them wrong which must delight everyone at Stamford Bridge.”
Morata was brought in to fill the void created by the decision to move on from Costa – although the AWOL Spain international remains on Chelsea’s books after failing to secure a summer switch.