By Andy Hall
When Fernando Morientes enters the pitch at the Santiago Bernabéu, he is usually accompanied by a deafening roar from the Real Madrid CF crowd. In one sense, it is an acknowledgement of the player's devotion to the club he left to spend a year on loan at AS Monaco FC last season.
Having scored nine goals in the 2003/04 edition of the UEFA Champions League - including two which helped knock out Madrid - Morientes made a massive contribution to Monaco's run to the final. And the striker has kept the boots he wore throughout that campaign as a special memento.
"I still have them," he told uefa.com. "
For a striker, if you score lots of goals with one pair of boots then it's quite difficult to stop wearing them. I suppose I have hung onto them in case I ever need them to bring me luck again in the future."
Perhaps he could do with some luck now. Since returning to Madrid, he has slipped down the striking pecking order, with Ronaldo, Michael Owen and his old strike partner Raúl González seemingly the preferred choices of new coach Mariano García Remón.
Rumours have abounded that Morientes will leave Madrid when the transfer window opens in January, but the player is not looking that far ahead. His main priority now is to help keep Madrid buoyant in the Champions League, amid competition from AS Roma, Bayer 04 Leverkusen and FC Dynamo Kyiv.
'The right track'
"I think we are on the right track and, fingers crossed, should have no problem in qualifying for the knock-out phase," said Morientes. "Of course the job isn't finished yet and we have three tough games to get through, but so far everything is going according to plan.
"The [1-0] victory against Dynamo [on Matchday 3] was a huge relief," he added. "When you are winning there is a lot less pressure and for a club like Madrid, it's vital that the team gets results. When we lose a couple of games people think something odd is happening and spend the whole week talking about it. Naturally, that is unsettling for the players."
With Madrid having been in unpredictable form all season, there has been plenty of chatter for Madrid players to contend with, but Morientes has not allowed himself to be deflected from the task at hand. And the main task now is to win in Kyiv next week.
By playing three centre-backs - Goran Sablic, Goran Gavrancic and Rodolfo Dantas - Dynamo have given Madrid's strikers plenty to think about. "Dynamo play three centre-backs and all of them are great players," said Morientes. "They man-mark all the way through the match, which can be a bit uncomfortable at times. If you have a defender following you all over the field and you know that he is also a really good player, then that is unsettling."
Even more unsettling is the prospect of failing to reach the knockout stages. "For a club like Real Madrid, it's vital the team gets to the latter stages of the tournament and we'll be giving everything we have to put ourselves in the last 16," said Morientes.
Morientes, meanwhile, is aiming for the first XI. And when he finally gets there, he knows he is assured of a hero's welcome.
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