Nando's new start

Fernando Morientes finds himself in the position of needing to undo the damage to his reputation inflicted by an unhappy 18-month spell at Liverpool, writes Neale Graham.

Fernando Morientes could be forgiven for thinking he has nothing left to prove.

A career that has taken in stops at some of Europe's most successful clubs, appearances at World Cups and European Championships, winning trophy after trophy and scoring goals at every possible level suggests he is a man whose record speaks for itself. Yet, he finds himself in the position of needing to undo the damage to his reputation inflicted by an unhappy 18-month spell at Liverpool.

Until his arrival at Anfield in January 2005, Morientes was considered one of the most feared strikers in Europe. Twenty-eight goals in 43 appearances for Spain saw to that.

When he left in the summer of 2006, Morientes' stock had fallen to the extent that pretty much any half-decent offer Liverpool received would have been accepted.

One such bid — understood to be in the region of GBP2.5 million — was made by Valencia and `Nando' was off. "When I signed Morientes it was because he scored goals, he could hold the ball up and was good in the air and he had the qualities we needed," explained Reds boss Rafael Benitez.

"Unfortunately he never played at his level in England and the move to Valencia is good for him."

Morientes joined Real Madrid in 1997 after catching the eye at Albacete and then Real Zaragoza.

The goals flowed — from his left foot, his right foot and, often, his head. Lacking the pace to put defenders on the back foot, Morientes' strength was his guile and awareness, allied to a sure touch that would often give him the yard he needed to get a shot away. Over the duration of his seven-season stay in Madrid, Morientes won three European Cups, a Primera Liga title and three Spanish Super Cups, amassing 96 goals in 249 games.

But, never the showiest of players, he fell foul of Real president Florentino Perez's doomed galactico project and he was farmed out to Monaco for the 2003-04 season.

His impact was immediate and, predictably, at the highest level — the Champions League.

A phenomenal 12 goals in 11 games — including two strikes that knocked Real out of the competition at the quarter-final stage — fired the Principality club to an unlikely final, where Porto defeated them 3-0.

Recalled by his chastened parent club that summer, Morientes' 2004-05 season never got going and his future at the Bernabeu appeared in doubt.

A bid of GBP6.3 million was accepted that January for the proven goal-scorer to move to Liverpool.

European-Cup tied, Morientes missed out on a fourth European Cup that May when Liverpool beat AC Milan on penalties, but looked forward to 2005-06 with understandable optimism.

His six-month bedding-in period had shown what a different proposition the rough-and-tumble Barclays English Premier League would be, despite arriving with the tag of `an old-fashioned English centre-forward.' In truth, he was anything but, struggling to get used to the physical nature of the defending and always appearing to want the extra touch on the ball that he would have got in Spain or France.

This would have mattered a whole lot less if he had been among the goals, but the Kop's chant of `Mor Mor Mor' — sung to the tune of The Andrea True Connection's 70s hit — went virtually unanswered.

A paltry 12 goals in 59 games, allied to sluggish performances and the return to Liverpool of the idolised Robbie Fowler, spelt the end of Morientes' time on Merseyside.

Despite protests to the contrary, the 30-year-old eventually accepted he was on his way out and a bid from Valencia suited all parties.

"I'm keen to get started because this is a new start, a new team and a new city," Morientes said. "I want to help win a trophy for the club and its fans." Now at the Mestalla, he has shown that his goal-scoring instincts have not gone for good, getting the first in the 3-0 win over Salzburg that helped Los Ches into the Champions League group stages.

There, if nowhere else, Morientes should feel at home.

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