Fernando Morientes will be up there alongside Real Madrid’s legends if Monaco beat Porto in the Arena AufSchalke in Gelsenkirchen to win the European Cup.
Of the individual winners of European club football’s greatest prize, very few trump the former Zaragoza forward, on loan to Monaco from the Bernabeu. Madrid’s Paco Gento won it six times, Alfredo Di Stefano and Jose Maria Zarraga five apiece, Jose Hector Rial and Marquitos four each. Liverpool’s Phil Neal picked up four, as did Milan’s veteran captain Paolo Maldini.
Victory on May 26 will allow Morientes to join the ‘four’ club and go clear of Madrid team-mates such as Roberto Carlos and Raul.
He is also determined Ð a feeling perhaps enhanced by his treatment by Madrid Ð to prove he is a winner.
“Three Champions League wins could be a good omen for a fourth,” he says.
“It will be the last match of our season and we’ll do everything not to let the chance pass us by. Nobody remembers the runners-up. In a Final all that matters is who won. That’s what we have to drill into our heads.”
A great favourite in the Bernabeu dressing-room and with the Madrid fans, Morientes was increasingly marginalised following the arrival of Ronaldo from Internazionale after the 2002 World Cup.
He was then farmed out to Monaco just before last summer’s transfer deadline. The forward has already taken some measure of revenge by helping knock out Madrid in the Champions League quarter-finals, scoring in both legs. He is the competition’s leading scorer with nine goals, his latest after striding through Chelsea’s defence to crack the equaliser at Stamford Bridge in the semi-final return.
The future beyond Gelsenkirchen is uncertain. Madrid president Florentino Perez wants Morientes back, but that is unlikely to be as a replacement for Ronaldo. It is more likely Madrid will use ‘Moro’ as bait in their bid to land players such as Roma defender Walter Samuel and/or midfielder Emerson.
On the other hand, Monaco’s executive president Pierre Svara says he hopes to have the cash to buy Morientes outright. This also appears unlikely. The club are only just emerging from financial chaos, while Morientes’ value has increased over the past nine months.
Secondly, the player is cute enough to know Monaco will not be heading so far down this road again, so there is no point in hanging around. At 28 the Spaniard needs career security and stability. First, though, comes the chance to bring honours to the principality.
“It’s difficult when we are also going for the French League title at the same time,” he says.
“Look at Real Madrid and Chelsea. Go for two trophies at once and you risk losing both. But I think we have a remarkable attitude here.”
Morientes would happily swap his nine goals for a Monaco win in the Final. Not that he is underestimating Porto.
He says: “Porto have been steadily improving for several years now. They didn’t reach the Final through luck. Last season they won the UEFA Cup, this season they’ve knocked out Manchester United and Deportivo.”
The Final will be unusual: the first time since 1991 that no club from England, Germany, Italy or Spain will be competing.
Morientes played a significant role in ensuring that was the case with his goals against Madrid. But he plays down scoring against his own club, saying: “I’m a professional. I’ve played against my first club, Zaragoza, for Madrid. This was no different. OK, the stage was bigger.
‘But you go out and do your best for your team. With the national team, players from Barcelona and Valencia are your team-mates; next weekend they are your opponents at club level. You get used to it.”
Morientes had to get used – and quickly – to playing for Monaco, who signed him in a rush after a serious injury to leading scorer Shabani Nonda.
He says: “I had a confidence problem at first. I was a reserve at Madrid, hardly playing. Overnight, I found myself starting every match in a championship that had already been going for a month.”
Morientes led Madrid’s attack to Champions League triumph over Juventus in 1998, Valencia in 2000 (he scored the first goal) and Bayer Leverkusen in 2002.
But he says: “To win with Monaco would be a greater achievement than any of those.”
By Gavin Hamilton