This week saw the nominees for PFA Scotland Player and Young Player announced. There aren't…
Most footballers hate the media. Quotes get twisted to find the best headlines, transfer rumours seemingly plucked from thin air can unsettle working relationships and dips in performances on the pitch are often highlighted far more than genuine, good form throughout the season. Every footballer at one point in their career has felt victimised by the back pages.
Yet few could sit down and lament the manner in which they’ve been treated by members of the media quite like Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos. Unlike some, who have had to justify huge transfer fees, or others that have had to overcome blips in form, this young, Colombian striker has seemingly done everything right on the pitch and still finds himself as public enemy No.1. After just one season in Scottish football, Morelos has found himself on trial by media unlike any other player in recent memory.
The tone surrounding Morelos’ first season in Scotland tended to revolve around Celtic games. Like many of the narratives circulating Ibrox these days, tempers and emotions hit fever pitch when an Old Firm derby rolls around and it was here that our national press let themselves down.
No surprise Morelos is constantly offside.
He was up late writing a column on Scottish journalism with haggis, kilts and obesity references
— Oldfirmfacts (@Oldfirmfacts1) September 23, 2017
In the build up to the first clash between both Glasgow giants in late September, the Daily Record’s Keith Jackson didn’t hold back when he crammed as many references to Colombia’s troubles with drug and human trafficking into a column about the young striker.
Jackson spoke of the young player’s Finnish agent “who first trafficked a teenage Morelos to Europe” before he “smuggled Morelos into Rangers from Pablo Escobar’s hometown via HJK Helsinki.” If that wasn’t enough, Jackson continued to state that Morelos’ talents had increased every time he “crosses the white lines of his new home” and that he had been “attracting sniffs from a cartel of English clubs.”
Later that day Show Racism the Red Card issued a statement, lamenting the tone of Jackson’s piece. “While an individual may get lost in the fervour of watching television on various media platforms, for example Narcos on Netflix,” stated the organisation, “the aforementioned references propagate a stereotype and discredit the hard work, skills and ability Morelos has, which has seen him rise to the top.”
Indeed, Jackson was defining Morelos by circumstances outwith his control: his nationality, place of birth (the article incorrectly stated he was from Medellin rather than Cerete) and the stereotypes surrounding his country. It was no different to suggesting an Irish player had an innate drinking problem or that an Italian player often forget to file his tax returns. In turn, the Daily Record columnist replied in kind with a bout of whataboutery, suggesting that the organisation should pay more attention to what Celtic and Rangers fans sing every week rather than accuse him of racially stereotyping a professional player from his position of privilege. Needless to say, that didn’t stop the press.
Two days later Morelos would miss a point-blank chance in front of the Celtic goal as Rangers went on to lose the pivotal clash against the Scottish champions. The fall-out from the match focused on whether or not Scott Brown had elbowed the Colombian striker and the Celtic captain’s confrontation with Pedro Caixinha at half time. But few would forget Morelos’ miss the next time these two teams would play.
Three months later Rangers would get revenge – or the best they could have hoped for – in a hard-fought 0-0 draw against Celtic at Parkhead. Morelos was applauded off the field by the travelling support for his hard work and constant harassing of the Celtic defence. Although he had failed to score on the day, the young striker had characterised his team’s relentless desire to claim a point. Rangers fans were happy but the Scottish Sun’s Bill Leckie was not.
“The reaction of those Rangers fans to Morelos says it all,” reported Leckie with a sour taste in his mouth. “It’s like they were saying ‘OK, so he might be a diddy, but he’s OUR diddy — and that’s what counts’! Maybe when they went back to the pub or to their living rooms and watch the replays they will have cursed him.”
For this reporter, strikers score goals and not a lot else. The concept of a forward putting pressure on dwindling central defenders, taking pressure off his own defence with careful runs and a physical defence of the ball, as well as riling up an ever-fiery home support with well-timed shoulder barges are completely lost on Leckie. Sure, once again Morelos didn’t score, but he did everything else right. Yet, rather than echo the sentiment felt from the Rangers support, the Scottish Sun opted to once again point a critical finger at this young, untested goalscorer.
In the final Old Firm clash before the Premiership split, Leckie would once again take great delight in making an example of Morelos. Following a theatrical, outstanding 3-2 clash between Celtic and Rangers, the Scottish Sun writer decided to find fault in the Scottish game by pointing out that Morelos and Celtic’s Dedryck Boyata were living proof that anyone could scam their way in to become a well-paid professional footballer.
“I mean, who’s kidding who with Morelos?” suggest Leckie, as he returned to his seemingly favourite topic, before suggesting that Brendan Rodgers only played Boyata because he felt obliged to give him the benefit of the doubt. In case you might not have noticed, one of these players scored 18 goals last season and the other spent the summer playing for Belgium at the World Cup.
Indeed, what makes such criticism so bizarre is the fact that Morelos has just enjoyed a rather outstanding season with Rangers. Only Kris Boyd scored more goals than the Colombian striker in last season’s Scottish Premiership campaign and despite playing as the lone striker for two hapless managers and constantly dysfunctional side, the 21-year-old still bagged 18 goals in all competitions.
To put that in to context, no Rangers striker has scored more goals in a single season since Kenny Miller and Nikica Jelavic bagged 22 and 19 respectively in 2011. And back then Rangers had a much stronger squad to supply those forwards with ample crosses and through balls. These were strikers at the front of a title-winning squad. Where Jelavic and Miller were a superb compliment to their side that season, Morelos has at times proved to be a superb striker in spite of the players behind him.
Even if we simply look over the fact that Morelos seamlessly hit the ground running when he arrived in Scotland last summer, we can’t move past the fact that he established himself as Rangers’ No.1 striker at the tender age of 21. At that age, Kris Boyd was still finding his feet at Kilmarnock, Kenny Miller was failing to break into the Rangers first team and Leigh Griffiths was wasting away on the bench at Wolves. The simple fact of the matter is that if you compare Morelos to Celtic’s own, young stars, Moussa Dembele and Odsonne Edouard, he may look distinctly average, but in the wider scope of Scottish football he looks like an outstanding talent with a huge amount of potential.
If you’re still unsure as to whether Morelos has been unfairly treated then consider how different he would be treated if he were Scottish or indeed white. If, instead of coming from the other side of the world, Alfredo was in fact Allan from Perth or Cambuslang.
Jason Cummings had just two Scottish Premiership goals to this name before he joined Rangers on loan last season, yet the feel-good vibe surrounding his arrival at Ibrox couldn’t have contrasted more to how Morelos had put up with to date. Alan Stubbs, his former manager at Hibs, joked that the striker – just one year older than Morelos – had the confidence to try a panenka penalty against Celtic if he was given the chance, while the Scottish Sun ran a feature celebrating his “incredible goalscoring record” for the Easter Road side.
To date, Cummings has still only scored two goals in the Scottish top flight. But his rise through the ranks at Hibs and the hype that was built around him was entirely synonymous with what happened to John Fleck, Tony Watt or Derek Riordan before him. And although there’s nothing wrong with celebrating Scottish talent, it looks a little sinister when we can’t apply that same warm spiriting to a similar-aged striker just because he’s foreign.
Nobody is suggesting that we should always give this young, Rangers striker the benefit of the doubt or that he’s without fault – his temperament and off-field behaviour is often far from exemplary – but the criticism that has been thrown his way is in no way consistent with what other players his age experience in Scottish football. Certain members of the media may take great delight in putting this kid on trial two or three times a season, but that doesn’t mean the rest of us have to go along with it.