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Man United are keen on Morata but signing him will not be straightforward

Manchester United need at least one more forward and Jose Mourinho has made a No. 9 his priority.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney, the two principal strikers at the start of last season are unlikely to be at the club in August. Meanwhile, Marcus Rashford, United's best player in the last couple of months of the season, is still just 19 and Antony Martial, who many think will end up as a centre-forward just as Cristiano Ronaldo did, has been too inconsistent.

Mourinho likes 24-year-old Real Madrid striker Alvaro Morata. United's manager worked with the player during his time in charge at the Bernabeu, giving him his debut in a 2010 game at Real Zaragoza four months after the Portuguese manager had arrived at the club.

Morata had just turned 18 at the time and his primary role at the time was as the main striker for Madrid's B team, who he helped get promoted to Spain's second tier in 2011-12 for the first time in five years.

The 6-foot-2-inch Madrileno was prolific in the third and second divisions but, with the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gonzalo Higuain, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale blocking his way, it was clear that he would have to leave to get regular first-team football.

Morata won Champions League and Copa del Rey medals in 2013-14 but just six of his 34 appearances -- he scored nine goals overall -- came as a starter. A move to Juventus followed, but he never fully established himself as leading striker ahead of Carlos Tevez during his first season and his overall tally was a less-than-prolific 15 goals in 46 matches.

"Alvaro plays unbelievably well in the Champions League but it has been more difficult for him in Serie A, where it is more tactical," Patrice Evra, his teammate at Juve told me last year. "He needs space, but his finishing is brilliant, he can be strong when he wants, he's powerful. He can run over distance and in short bursts. He's got a great future ahead of him."

Alvaro Morata
Alvaro Morata has played for two of Europe's biggest clubs and now a third, Manchester United, is interested in him.

Indeed, Morata improved in Turin as the 2014-15 season went on and he scored in both legs of the Champions League semifinal against Real Madrid, goals which knocked out his parent club. While he didn't celebrate either of those, he certainly did express his delight after scoring Juventus' goal against Barcelona in the final.

Evra added that Morata is a confidence player: "Sometimes before the game he said to me: 'Patrice, tell me something. When you tell me something I feel confident and I score.' I would tell him that he's the best; that he can score, that it depends on him and not what I say to him. He's a good lad, I like him."

After winning a second straight Italian league and cup double in his second season with Juve, in which he scored 12 times in 47 games, Morata returned to Spain a year ago when Madrid exercised an option to bring him back for €32 million. His buyout clause in his new Bernabeu contract was set at €75 million and he went on to score 20 goals in 43 matches.

He started in 19 of those and his goals to minutes played ratio in La Liga -- one in 88 -- was only bettered by Lionel Messi, who managed to find the net every 76 minutes. Moreover, many of Morata's tallies were vitally important -- he scored at Villarreal, Alaves and Deportivo -- but he remains behind the "BBC" in the pecking order, while other young forwards like Marco Asensio and Lucas Vasquez also saw increased game time.

Morata was an 89th-minute substitute in last weekend's Champions League final vs. Juventus, having played just two minutes of 180 in the semifinal against Atletico, the club where he started out as a youngster. He didn't play at all against Bayern Munich in the last eight.

At 24, it's understandable that he wants more but what would moving to England mean? A large pay increase for a start. And if he's first choice for Manchester United as centre-forward, then his place in the Spain team is likely to be more secure. He had an admirer in former coach Vicente del Bosque and has scored three times for new boss Julen Lopetegui, including a late equaliser in Wednesday's 2-2 draw vs. Colombia.

Signing a Madrid-born, Madrid player won't be easy, but footballers like to play. Physically, Morata's size and strength would be better suited to the Premier League than to the tactical nuances of Serie A, but let's not get ahead of ourselves. Transfer speculation does not automatically lead to transfers being made.

The facts are that Mourinho likes him, knows him, wants a No. 9 and has the money to buy the best that are likely to move this summer. Morata, meanwhile, likes the idea of playing in England but isn't that often the case when players are trying to strengthen their status at Real Madrid?

Andy Mitten is a freelance writer and the founder and editor of United We Stand. Follow him on Twitter: @AndyMitten.

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