It was like winning the lottery. On February 2nd 2018, Loren Morón’s name was listed on the Real Betis teamsheet for the first time ever. This was a start. He had his ticket ready and he had the first of the five numbers. Next he received the ball in the centre of the pitch in first-half stoppage time. He had the second number too.
Now this is where it got difficult. There was a little bit of space to his right. Although he didn’t see it, he could feel it and took a small gamble, teeing the ball up for a shot. Had it been pinched by a defender? No. There was nobody there. He had the third number in this footballing lottery.
Now he was really sweating. If two more lottery balls fell the right way for Loren Morón then he would have hit the jackpot and have saved his career. He shot. The ball evaded the two Villarreal defenders who were closing in on him and his shot was on target. The fourth number? Tick.
Now this was it. This was the difference between a paltry prize, the pat on the back for a half-decent shot on target, and the jackpot, a goal on his debut. For Loren Morón, he needed this. In many ways this was his last chance saloon. Already 24 years of age, time was running out if he was to make it at the very top level. Until that point the highest category he had played at was Spain’s third tier, where he was at the time representing Real Betis’ B team, but now his 17 goals in 23 third-tier games meant he’d been given this golden opportunity to start up front in a LaLiga match against Villarreal. His lucky ticket was already taking him far, but a goal would really prove to be the icing on the cake, the credit in the bank that would put him on the footballing map.
He just needed this fifth number and the lottery ball was rolling down the chute, with the football flying through the air. The goalkeeper dove and reached out, but didn’t quite get there. The football rippled the net. The lottery ball revealed the magic number. Five out of five. Loren Morón had hit the jackpot. His life would never be the same again.
The 24-year-old B team player went on to also score the second goal of that game, his own little bonus ball, making him the hero of the day as his boyhood club Betis overcame Villarreal 2-1. The following week he played once again and again he found the back of the net, scoring the only goal as the Andalusian side overcame Deportivo La Coruña 1-0. There were no more goals in his next three outings, but then the striker came up with a brace in a 3-1 victory at Alavés to mean he’d scored five goals in his first six top-flight appearances. No other Spaniard had scored so many so quickly in the 21st century, while only four foreigners had done so, namely Radamel Falcao, Cristiano Ronaldo, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Marco Di Vaio. It’s safe to say he was in esteemed company.
Would it all have worked out like this had that first shot failed to hit the back of the net? More than a slight fork in the road, that moment was a T-junction in young Loren Morón’s career. By scoring that long-range effort to give Betis a lead, he was allowed to finish the match and to score another, while he was almost certainly only put in the following week’s starting lineup because his name had marked the scoresheet during his debut. So many careers in football are launched, or not, based on the finest of margins. Loren Morón’s strike against Villarreal maybe wasn’t the several millions to one shot of winning the lottery, but he certainly wasn’t playing the percentages. There are surely more talented players than him who haven’t had the right luck at the right time and there are several worse than him who have gone even further based on a fortunate goal at the most fortunate moment. Loren Morón is one of the lucky ones. He clearly has – and had – talent and was able to display enough of it to stay in that game and to make himself a regular at one of the best seven or eight clubs in the country.
There are lessons to be learned from the Andalusian forward’s tale. For other footballers in their mid-twenties, where time is running out for them to showcase their skills and where fewer and fewer scouts believe they’re still on an upward trajectory, this story will be an encouraging one. “There are some players who need a bit more time to develop and to find their place,” Betis’ B team coach José Juan Romero explained. Yet not all scouts and coaches are quite as forgiving of aging players. They key is to never give up.
George Orwell wrote the following in his book 1984: “There were some millions of proles for whom the lottery was the principal if not the only reason for remaining alive.” For footballers around that age of 24, the chance of winning the footballing lottery by scoring two goals in a massive game to kick-start a career is the reason they’ll keep playing. It’s the reason they won’t give up on their dreams of making it to their country’s top division.
If 24 is 168 in dog years, then 24 is around middle-aged in football years. But it’s never too late to make it and, as Loren Morón’s extraordinary couple of hours on February 2nd prove, a career can be completely revolutionized in a matter of moments. He would advise all other players in their mid-twenties to keep dreaming.