Who is the most underrated player in La Liga?
How about Levante captain Jose Luis Morales, whose two goals in Saturday’s draw with Granada made him the second Spanish player – after Villarreal’s Gerard Moreno – to reach double figures in scoring this season. Not bad at all for a left winger.
This kind of productivity is nothing new for a player who is an absolute icon for fans of Valencia-based Levante, with his affectionate nickname ‘El Commandante’ summing up his warrior-like qualities.
Morales was a very late bloomer. He started out in amateur football and even in his mid-twenties he was still only playing in the semi-professional third tier with Levante’s B team.
His big breakthrough came in the 2013-14 season with a loan spell at Eibar, where he played a key role in leading the Basque club to their first ever promotion to the top flight.
Unsurprisingly, Morales’s excellent form that season led to Levante recalling him and promoting him to the first team squad…and he has stayed there ever since.
In the last seven seasons, Morales has been an automatic selection for the Granotas, never making fewer than 35 league appearances.
And he has consistently produced the goods, with his career totals since that loan season at Eibar of 52 goals and 35 assists holding up very well against the figures of some far better-known players who have had the opportunity to represent Spain’s biggest clubs.
It’s not just about the quantity, because Morales has also put together a highlight reel of goals of which any player would be truly proud.
His habit of scoring absolute bangers started in November 2014 in Levante’s biggest game of the season, the home derby against cross-town rivals Valencia, when he cut inside from the right to fire home an unstoppable bullet, giving an early indication that although right-footed, he is perfectly capable of netting screamers with his left foot.
Perhaps the best goal of Morales’s career came at Real Betis in August 2018, when he led a counter-attack after a corner was cleared, picked up possession inside his own half, dribbled past four defenders and rolled a calm finish past the advancing goalkeeper.
Earlier this season, Betis were again the victims when he scored two sensational goals in the space of two minutes and 11 seconds, once more showing his ability to finish with either foot. First, he met a looping ball with a stunning right-footed half-volley, and then he latched onto another ball dropping out of the night sky with an unbelievably clean left-footed volley.
A couple of weeks ago, Morales continued his scoring spree with a spectacular strike to help his team earn a famous victory at Real Madrid, stroking a deliciously classy half-volley past Thibaut Courtois.
His latest golazo, a right-footed thump into the roof of the net against Granada on Saturday, came a day after Levante fans were given the news they had been hoping for: a new contract for Morales, keeping him at the club until 2023.
He will then be nearly 36 years old, so it seems very likely that Morales will finish his career with the only club he has ever represented in the top flight.
That’s great news for Levante, but it’s a shame that such a great player has never been given the chance to shine on a bigger stage either for club or country.
In particular, maybe Barcelona should have reacted to the departure of Neymar in 2017 by splashing out the relatively modest sum it would have taken to fill the gap with another creative, goalscoring left winger who would have arrived with the added benefit of being a tireless worker.
Would Jose Luis Morales have succeeded at the Camp Nou? We’ll never know, but Levante will remain forever grateful to their Commandante that it never happened.