Mateu Morey might have a relatively small physical stature, but he has been blessed with a better footballing brain than most and an appreciation for the beautiful game. What's more, he possesses a characteristic that is held in especially high regard in our part of the world: he is a battler who will pressure his opponent until he gives the ball away. The young Spaniard was the surprise of pre-season – until he was sidelined by a shoulder injury, that is. Now though, as autumn gives way to winter, the Mallorca native is back in action and eager to put himself at the team's disposal.
Your first competitive appearance for a new club is always the most important. And Mateu Morey has fond memories of his debut – partly because it had a favourable outcome and partly because his performance for the 50 minutes he spent at right-back was exactly what BVB had been hoping to see. He tackled uncompromisingly, took his defensive duties seriously and delighted in attacking whenever he ventured over the halfway line.
"Many thanks to my team-mates, they really helped me," said the diminutive, curly-haired Spaniard, who chuckled briefly before adding "that it wasn't easy after a long spell out but it did me a lot of good to finally get back out on the pitch again". That said, he is aware that his competitive bow did not come on the big stage. His team-mates were not Marco Reus, Axel Witsel and Jadon Sancho, but Kolbein Birgir Finnsson, Magnus Kaastrup and Joseph Boyamba instead. Morey had helped the U23s to a 2-0 victory over Rot-Weiß Oberhausen on Matchday 11 of the Regionalliga West in front of 800 fans at the Rote Erde Stadion.
The return to action had been a long time coming for Morey, who had been sidelined for the entirety of last season due to a meniscus injury and was then hit with another setback before the new campaign had even started. When he won the U17 European Championship with Spain in 2017 and the UEFA Youth League with FC Barcelona the following year, one English media outlet labelled him "the next Lahm". Much like Philipp Lahm, the former captain of the German national team, Mateu Morey has a relatively small physical stature but is blessed with a better footballing brain than most and all the top clubs – Bayern, Juve and Man United – from the top international leagues were chasing his signature while he was still in the Barcelona youth setup.
Ready for the next step
Mateu Morey does not dwell on the past. What's done is done. He's obviously proud of his earlier achievements, "but they offer no guarantee that you'll absolutely make it big in your career". Yes, he could have stayed in Barcelona after spending four years in La Masia, probably the most famous youth academy in world football. He had grown fond of the Blaugrana and was living not too far from his Mallorcan hometown of Petra; there was no urgent need to move. A degree of criticism was aimed at Barca in the Spanish media for letting another talent from their youth academy leave the club for pastures new. But Morey, who turned 19 in March, felt "I was at the stage where I was ready to take the next step". In his case, a move to Dortmund. "It wasn't an easy decision, but after much consideration I made the decision with my family to end my wonderful spell at FC Barcelona to begin a new and exciting adventure."
Amid all the deals that went through in an exciting summer transfer window, Mateu Morey was not the biggest-name arrival for the Black & Yellows. But he certainly was an exciting one. A full-back who plays in the attacking style espoused in Barcelona since the Cruyff era. Short passes and few touches, always with an appreciation for the beauty of the game. Cruyff's protégé Pep Guardiola perfected this principle in the first decade of the new century. And while the famous tiki-taka style of play has been slightly watered down under his successors, it is still widely regarded by observers of the beautiful game as the standard-setter. "Tiki-taka is the art of making the ball and your opponent do all the work," explained Mateu Morey. "The great thing about Dortmund is that we always want to have the ball too." He admits to having already fallen a little in love with the BVB way.
It is perhaps worth mentioning that while Lucien Favre fell in love with Brazilian football as a young boy, it was Johann Cruyff who commanded his attention as a young coach. Favre spent a defining period of his coaching education with King Johann in Barcelona. To this day, the BVB coach retains a love for quick play with creative solutions. So he didn't need much persuading to sign a player developed at La Masia, even if he had been out for a long time with a knee injury and had been forced to extend his spell on the sidelines after the joint had acted out on his return. Other criteria were more important to the BVB boss.
What's your opinion of Mateu Morey, Mr. Favre? "He's okay!"Anyone who is familiar with Favre's high standards will regard this short sentence as an extravagant compliment.
Battling with Jadon Sancho
The Swiss tactician has a reputation for studying video footage for hours on end, and he obviously took a look at Mateu Morey's highlights reel too. Those bursts of speed down the right flank each culminating in at least one dangerous cross (low or high), the split second he needed to make the right decision. At the U17 European Championship in Croatia in 2017, Morey scored an incredible goal against France in the quarter-final. He went on to find the net in the semi-final penalty shootout victory over Germany and then in the final against England, having already scored in normal time. Morey, playing on the right side of defence, still remembers his opposite number in that final: a certain Jadon Sancho. "Jadon can become one of the best players in the world," he says. He is naturally delighted to be playing alongside such an exceptional talent two and a half years after being on opposite sides in that final.
There's a video of Morey following his return from the European Championship final. The mayor of Palma de Mallorca welcomed the young hero – wearing shorts and a polo shirt with his gold medal around his neck – into the time-honoured town hall, where the dignitaries in attendance were fawning over him. A proud Mallorca welcomed home its European champion. Mateu Morey reacted with a modest smile, looking past the camera and at the mayor.
His next achievement came the following year as he won the UEFA Youth League. Barca's U19s ruled Europe and, arguably, the world. Morey's stock was sky-high, but then his knee went. A conservative treatment was recommended instead of an operation, but his season was over. Then came the offer from BVB. Michael Zorc said: "Mateu Morey is a top defensive talent from the Barcelona academy who possesses exceptional technical quality. We see this transfer as one for the future and we're greatly looking forward to developing Mateu as part of our first-team squad."
It was all going well in the first few weeks in Dortmund. Mateu Morey was in tip-top shape and doing what he loves and does best: attacking and defending. Even in his first friendly with the senior team against FC Schweinberg, he adapted seamlessly to an unfamiliar position on the left flank, setting up a goal and scoring another. In Barcelona, he had his own unique celebration whereby he crossed his arms in front of his chest. But there was no sign of that at BVB – clearly he didn't want to cause too much of a stir after what was not the most significant sporting victory over a Kreisliga team, and who wants to over-celebrate a goal against Schweinberg just because it's your first for a new club?
Morey was one of the standout performers during the pre-season tour in the USA, while back in Germany he proved to be the surprise of the summer and was firmly earmarked for the Super Cup final against FC Bayern. Favre had factored him into his plans as defensive cover for Achraf Hakimi, whom he would play behind so that Dortmund could make greater use of the Spain-born Morocco international's abilities going forward. They tested it out in the friendly match against FC St. Gallen, the final game of the training camp in Bad Ragaz.
The match was actually already done and dusted with BVB 4-1 up when one final attack was launched down the right flank. Achraf Hakimi played the ball into the path of Mateu Morey, who accelerated forward towards the halfway line but then lost his footing on the slippery surface – it seemed like he was falling for an eternity but it was really only a second – and hit the ground with a thud. He had not been anywhere near an opponent at the time he fell. Hakimi immediately waved over to the bench, tentatively at first and then more vigorously. Morey shook his head, stood up, took a few steps and then made his way off the pitch.
The diagnosis itself was not overly dramatic. Shoulder dislocations are a semi-regular occurrence and do not require surgical intervention. But there were consequences: first of all, a harmless dislocation still means you are out for a few weeks; and secondly, another spell on the sidelines following a year-long injury setback does not exactly work wonders for the self-confidence of a fledgling professional.
Nicknamed the "terrier"
The way Mateu Morey dealt with the latest setback set him apart from the rest. He was the one who received the diagnosis first. He then immediately approached the BVB media department to ask whether he could communicate his injury via social media; he didn't want to go against protocol. The issue was quickly resolved, but Morey had made a lasting impression as a mature professional capable of taking a broader view.
For two months, Mateu Morey worked on his comeback – both on the pitch and in rehab – while simultaneously attending a German course and using his mobile phone to read WhatsApp messages in a new language. Among his support staff within the first team set-up, he quickly acquired a nickname that could have hardly been more German: the terrier. The man who bites at the ankles of every opponent until he gives away the ball. "I'll fight for my chance at BVB," says Morey. And who could possibly doubt his resolve?