“We needed someone like Morata to come in for Benzema,” was the response of one Real Madrid fan, when asked by Spanish TV how Tottenham had been able to leave the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu with a point last Tuesday night. “I don’t know why [club president] Florentino Pérez sold Morata,” added another. “If I’m being honest, I miss Morata,” said another wistful Madridista.
It’s understandable that Real Madrid fans wish their club had kept last season’s second-top scorer during the summer transfer window, especially given that he’s already scored more Premier League goals (six) this season than the combined LaLiga tally of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo. However, there is another player who Real Madrid fans should similarly be singing Blink-182 lyrics towards: Mariano Díaz Mejía.
The Dominican centre-forward moved to Lyon for around €8m last summer – curiously recommended to the Ligue 1 club’s president Jean-Michel Aulas by Karim Benzema. Just like Morata, he has hit the ground running in a new country and he has seven league goals to his name already, after just nine outings. Every 94 minutes of Ligue 1 action he has played he has scored a goal, a minutes-per-goal ratio which is almost as impressive as the one he boasted while at Real Madrid last season. Of all members of Los Blancos’ 2016/17 first-team squad, Mariano needed the fewest minutes to score, netting every 60 minutes he was on the pitch. Morata, who scored 20 total goals and one every 94 minutes, was next on that list and was obviously a higher-profile departure, but Real Madrid will surely come to regret letting the backup striker who scored five times in just 302 minutes leave in the same summer, especially as they have tried to replace those two players with one Borja Mayoral. And what was Mayoral’s minutes-per-goal ratio while on loan at Wolfsburg last season? An uninspiring 213…
Of course, Mariano wasn’t playing in the big games last season and four of his five goals came in the early rounds of the Copa del Rey. Although his strikes would have still beaten most top goalkeepers, this does help explain the better goalscoring frequency than superstars like Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale. Yet nobody was expecting Mariano to force his way into Zinedine Zidane’s starting lineup or to seriously compete for minutes with the BBC front three. Mariano’s job last season was to offer some energy and verticality from the bench and to start the easier matches to allow for those ahead of him the pecking order to be rotated. Had he remained in the Spanish capital, he could have done a similar job this season and Real Madrid might not have struggled as much as they have done. To lose backup Morata was always going to be detrimental. But to lose Morata’s own understudy in the same transfer window was a very serious blow.
What makes Mariano’s departure all the more sickening for Real Madrid is the fact that they do not have a buy-back clause in his Lyon contract, as revealed by the French club this week. “We wish to make clear that there was no repurchase clause in the transfer of Mariano Díaz, contrary to some assertions that have been made by parts of the Spanish media,” a club statement read. That’s because these clauses don’t exist in Ligue 1, meaning that Real Madrid cannot bring Mariano back in a year or two, as they did when letting Morata go to Juventus. Perhaps they didn’t expect the 24-year-old to be performing as well at the Parc Olympique Lyonnais as he has been, but if Mariano was playing even half as well as he has been then he would have been an asset for a Real Madrid squad lacking in the striking department.
While the players’ desire for increased playing time clearly factored into their summer departures, it is still baffling that the Spanish and European champions would allow both of their backup strikers to leave at the same time and to try to replace them with Borja Mayoral and nothing more. Letting Mariano move to France, where a buy-back clause could not be inserted into his deal, makes this piece of business all the more peculiar. They could have used someone like him last Tuesday night and they could use someone like him in the coming months.