Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata has said he almost gave up football and took up tennis when he became disillusioned as a youngster in the Atletico Madrid academy.
Morata was in the Atletico youth setup along with Koke and Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea but left amid frustration at not being a first choice.
He then spent time at other local clubs before joining Real’s La Fabrica and then progressing from the Castilla side to the first team.
He told Real Madrid TV: “Both Atletico and Real Madrid called my dad, but at that time I wasn’t doing too well at school and they wouldn’t let me go until my grades improved.
“They both called back and, since Atleti was closer to home, I joined their football academy.
“It was the start of a period where I stopped enjoying football — I lost the love for it. I started thinking about choosing tennis, because I used to play that too and I think I was better.
“I didn’t have the head for it, though — I was too impatient.”
Morata, linked with a move to Chelsea this summer, said that when Real Madrid had come back in for him “it was a dream,” adding: “It was a case of choosing — keep being and kid and enjoy playing football or trying to become a professional. Since then, time has flown by.”
After breaking into the Madrid first team set-up but being behind the first-choice strike force, Morata spent two season at Juventus before being brought back to the Bernabeu last summer.
During his time with Juve he scored in both legs to eliminate Madrid from the 2014-15 Champions League in the semifinals and feels he owes the Bernabeu crowd a big performance on a key occasion in return.
“When the draw was made, my stomach turned,” he recalled. “I did not want Madrid. I would have paid to have scored those goals against any other team.
“I am in debt to Madrid and the Bernabeu — I owe them a night in the Champions League like the one I took away from them.”
After the semifinal first legs in this year’s competition, Madrid appear likely to face Juventus in the final at Cardiff.
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan