Rangers striker also speaks about avoiding a life of drugs and crime in his native Colombia; full interview available on Sky On Demand
By Craig Slater
Last Updated: 03/02/20 6:10am
Rangers striker Alfredo Morelos discusses racism, life in Glasgow and why he believes he is sometimes misunderstood in an exclusive wide-ranging interview with Sky Sports News’ Craig Slater.
Racist abuse from the stands and in the streets of Glasgow will not drive Morelos away from his adopted city, as the Colombia forward describes how he’s adjusted to the Old Firm goldfish bowl.
He explains why referees and the media misunderstand him, but admits he needs to improve his discipline or risk missing out on a move to one of Europe’s top leagues. Not that he has any plans to leave Steven Gerrard’s side, who he reckons are still capable of ending Celtic’s title dominance.
Morelos also reveals how football enabled him to give back to his community and helped him dodge a life of drug dealing and crime that many in his neighbourhood fell into.
- Rangers drop more points in title race
- Police arrest man over Morelos ‘car-tampering’
- Rangers sign son of Romania legend Hagi
‘Living in Glasgow is great but it is also complicated’
Morelos signed for Rangers in June 2017 yet this is the first time he’s spoken at length about his time on Clydeside. His goals and the red cards have kept him in the headlines. Now he’s opened up on a sinister side of his life in Scotland.
“Yes I’ve felt racism both on and off the pitch,” he says. “It’s very sad to feel that way but it’s not something that affects me much. I just try to focus on my job which is scoring goals and winning matches.
“Sometimes it’s frustrating when a crowd is throwing coins at me or throwing drinks at me, obviously saying racist things to me and making chants about my mother which is obviously very offensive. Those things affect my family and are frustrating but I am a strong person and I always believe things can be overcome with hard work. I just focus on my job and try to forget about these things.
“Playing in Old Firm games is the best feeling I’ve had in my football career. It’s an incredible intensity and when you feel that passion from the crowd it makes you want to give everything you can on the pitch.
“Living in Glasgow is great but it is also complicated. The passion for football is incredible. Half the city loves me but half the city probably doesn’t like me so much.
“I’m a person who likes to go out and meet people and go shopping and eat at restaurants but it’s become difficult. Even though it’s great to have people waiting for photos and to speak to you, it’s also frustrating when people are insulting.”
‘I won’t be driven out of Scotland’
Morelos’ family is about to increase in number with wife Yesenia expecting their first child, so is he actually worried about his safety? Could the pressure-cooker environment drive him out of Scotland?
“No. At this point my goal is to stay focused on my play and help Rangers stay focused on winning the title and trophies and if I do that I think everything will be calm and good for my family,” he says. “I’m generally unfazed and it’s more about my family and them feeling nervous about the situation.”
Morelos’ eyes lit up at the mention of Steven Gerrard. The Rangers boss is clearly a big part of the club’s appeal. “It’s very motivating playing for a legend like Gerrard,” he adds. “Playing with my team-mates and this coaching staff feels like having my second family and now it’s trying to implement those things to make sure we do the right things on the pitch.”
Morelos on disciplinary record and being misunderstood
Morelos has arguably been Rangers’ problem child. His goalscoring record has been eye-catchingly prolific and consistent. Fourteen goals in this year’s Europa League before Christmas – including six in the group stages – saw him set a new record. Yet it is his red card tally that gains more attention. Talking about his disciplinary problems for the first time, he accepts he’s got work to do.
He said: “Yes I feel there are times that I probably get treated differently from other players if they were in the same situation, but I also realise and the staff have been great to help me realise that I have to change my behaviour too. I’ve learned from some of my mistakes.
“I characterise myself as a player who is very physical. That’s been a benefit to me over time as I’ve been able to withstand rough hits and hard tackles. I’ve never had any fear or been scared of any player in the opposing team or any rival.
“I think here in this league because of the physicality and because of the passion for football there’s been times when I’ve been physical with my play and therefore I have received yellow cards and red cards perhaps sometimes unjustly.
“Now I’m working with my team-mates. I’m working with the staff here and I think they always have my back and are supporting me. Hopefully, I can solve this issue and learn to play in the way they are looking for here.”
After five red cards last season he had been free from controversy this campaign. That is until December and the “up yours” signal at Motherwell and the “throat-slitting” sign at Celtic Park. Morelos claims neither gesture was intended to be offensive.
“In the match against Motherwell we were winning a very important match and I scored a very important goal and I celebrated – I didn’t mean to offend anyone,” he insists.
Rangers drop more points in title race
Rangers dropped more points in the Ladbrokes Premiership title race after being held to a goalless draw by Aberdeen at Ibrox
“I think if you look back at the video I have done this celebration at home and at away matches, it is just part of my celebration in the moment and I don’t even think about it. I think it was misunderstood if people think I was trying to offend someone or direct it at the opposing crowd.
“In the match against Celtic we were winning in extra-time. I fell down, whether that is simulation or not that’s up to the referee but afterwards it was very frustrating to hear elements of the crowd screaming at me saying offensive things and racist words. I wasn’t trying to instigate or incite anything else.
“I just wanted them to stop and it was sort of a symbol saying ‘come on guys the game’s over, this doesn’t need to continue during the match. I understand if you are criticising but now it’s over’. I’m not someone who wants to start a fight with anyone, I don’t have any problem with any fans, any race and any religion and so I hope to be treated that same way.
“I don’t pay any attention to the press here because I know people are going to say positive and negative things about me but this doesn’t really affect my life or my family.
“I try to take everything they say negative and use it as a positive as motivation or as a reminder that I am doing things on the pitch and that’s why I am receiving so much attention from the press now.
“I am trying to raise a family, I am someone who I consider to be very calm off the pitch and nothing anyone can write about me can change who I am.”
‘I never shy away from fights on the pitch’
Morelos can talk about cultural differences but can only hide behind that excuse for so long. Yet does his upbringing at least illuminate what makes him snap? Faced with confrontation in a pressure situation does he return to the streets of Cerete, the Colombian town he grew up in?
“I never shied away from any fights ever since I was a kid when I was on the pitch but off the pitch, it’s very different,” he says.
“On the pitch, I try to show my passion to make the defenders feel my presence to fight for the crowd. Here playing for Rangers when I hear the crowd screaming my name or when I hear the supporters for the club it motivates me, inspires me to fight even harder for the club.
“I think anyone who knows me and watches me on the pitch knows I will do anything to win and you might see me on the pitch with a serious face because when I’m in the moment that’s all that I feel, but when the game is over and we win I am smiling and I’m happy.”
Avoiding a life of drugs and crime
Where Morelos came from was an unforgiving place. He returns to Cerete now regularly to oversee the foundation he’s started, distributing food parcels and lecturing the young on better ways to live their lives.
“Cerete is a town that’s poor, there isn’t much infrastructure or opportunities for most people so most people are working just to afford food, just to afford the basics,” he says.
“In my home, I didn’t have electricity, we didn’t have air conditioning in a place that averages 40 degrees every day and because of that people choose to go down a different route where there is faster and easier money.
“A lot of people I know didn’t have opportunities so decided to work in the drug business and work in crime. I hope I can be an example to the people in my town so that people in Cerete can go down a different route and focus on improving their lives in a way that doesn’t involve crime.”
‘My target is 50 goals this season’
What route will he take? Morelos’ short-term ambitions include a goal against Celtic, which he believes God has ordained to come at the right time and a title with Rangers.
Beyond that, he’s confident he could score goals in any of Europe’s leagues. Linked with the Premier League and La Liga in recent transfer windows, is his disciplinary record a handicap to any move?
“Yes I can see how it could affect a potential move but I also know that scoring goals can always open more doors,” he says. “Right now I feel that there are a lot of games left and hopefully, I can score 50 goals in the season and if I do what I need to do on the pitch with Rangers then everything will take care of itself.
“We have a saying in Colombia – ‘goals are love’ – and when I went to Finland I was able to score 30 plus goals and people wondered whether it was the strength of the league.
“Now I’ve come to Rangers and scored 30 plus goals and I feel that someone who scores goals like this scores goals anywhere.
“If I have the opportunity to play in another league I will score goals there as well. I’m a player who likes to be in the box and I like to finish but right now I am just focused on scoring as many goals for the rest of the season and this project with Rangers.”
‘Morelos is no angel, but he’s no demon either’
Sky Sports News reporter Craig Slater…
“Maybe Morelos should have done more interviews like this earlier in his Rangers career. In their absence, he’s become a caricature. His unsmiling volatility on the pitch lending him a surly, menacing image.
“He can hardly blame the media, having done little to contradict it. He’s no angel, yet sitting opposite him there’s nothing demonic about him either.