As the young blond ‘Niño’ strode out into the limelight for his full Atlético Madrid debut, years of hard work, dedication and passion were finally about to be realised. The 17-year-old raised his head to gaze around, star-struck by the masses of adoring fans surrounding him in the Vicente Calderón.
Although the club were in the Segunda division at the time, the relentless singing, passion, and population of fans made the occasion surreal to the youthful Fernando, who made his bow against Leganes.
244 appearances and 91 goals later, adulation of fans and playing staff followed, as did the prestigious status of club captain at only 19 years of age.
Torres left for greener pastures when Liverpool came calling, despite interest from Chelsea and Newcastle United. Although he had captured the hearts of the Atleti fans, the £26.5 million was necessary to improve numerous areas of the squad.
The fans understood, ‘El Niño’ had become ‘El Hombre’, and the iconic image of a dumbfounded and distressed Torres who had just been on the receiving end of a 6-0 thrashing at the hands of Barcelona, seemed to be the last straw.
As soon as images leaked of the words “You’ll Never Walk Alone” scrawled onto his captains armband, all bets were off, and Merseyside became the new stomping ground for the Atleti superstar.
Upon arrival at Anfield, Torres pledged that he would return to his boyhood side one day, and after a successful time at Liverpool, and mixed spells at Chelsea and then AC Milan on loan, he is set to fulfil his promise and return once again to a blossoming Atleti squad under the guidance of former team mate Diego “Cholo” Simeone.
Describing Torres as a ‘middle point’ between the old Atleti and the new Atleti is fitting. Torres aspired to play alongside Diego Simeone when he first broke through into the Atleti first team, and he was a role model for the canteranos like Koke, still developing at youth level
Torres, now 30, has undergone a drastic change in his style of play over the last few years of his career. A number of reasons have been suggested for his decline. Between muscular injuries that have hampered his pace, a change in system from Liverpool’s to Chelsea’s, and of course psychological issues, the striker simply hasn’t recaptured his magnificent goalscoring form.
In terms of injury, the knee cartilage injury which required surgery in April 2010 has been the main issue, as it was the second major surgery of his career. Despite showing his physical presence throughout a successful World Cup campaign later that year, it was only in bursts and starts, and the following season, under Roy Hodgson, the real issues became more evident.
Still a predatory finisher, his goals convinced Chelsea to gamble £50 million on him that January, a gamble that many feel has failed to pay dividends. With Didier Drogba leading Chelsea’s line as a lone striker, Torres was left to suffer on the substitutes’ bench, a position he certainly hadn’t been used to throughout his career.
The psychological trauma associated with becoming the Premier Leagues most expensive player, only to spend the majority of his time warming the bench, certainly affected the Spaniards mindset.
“I understood nothing of what had happened,” he told French magazine So Foot. “I started to get to know the bench. I reassured myself by saying things would soon change.”
“Villas-Boas arrived, then Di Matteo but it was always the same: one day I played, the next not. When you play, you do not ask yourself how it feels to be on the bench. You have to live it to understand how difficult it is to be there without being there. To enter a match knowing you do not have the confidence of the coach. To play when you simply don’t have the habit of playing.”
“Me, I felt bizarre, I had the feeling of getting tired quicker, of being heavier. I had no gas. You have to fight against a lot of things to get off the bench, sometimes even against yourself.”
Following on from his spell at the Blues, a move to AC Milan (which is to become permanent in January) has seen Torres score one goal in 10 appearances. Not exactly setting the world alight. The 18-month loan to Atlético will be perhaps his last chance to prove himself again as a truly great striker.
Fernando seems to have been in a better psychological place of late, however. Tweeting from his official account, he posted this tweet on Monday.
— Fernando Torres (@Torres) December 29, 2014
A return home seemed the most likely outcome for Fernando, and with Alessio Cerci, who has struggled with Atlético so far going the other way in the deal, returning to the Calderon could prove to be a blessing for Torres.
The system employed by Diego “Cholo” Simeone should well suit Torres as well. A 4-4-1-1 / 4-4-2 formation, in which there are no clear standout individuals but a dedicated, hard-working XI will help to ease pressure on Torres, even if he is not scoring goals. That’s not to say that he isn’t surrounded by exceptional talent. In fact, he has Antoine Griezmann, Koke, Mario Mandzukic and Arda Turan, some of Europe’s finest players by his side.
Sharing the limelight and benefitting from the service of these high quality players, as well as developing a strong team and work ethic, will be key to Torres’ make-or-break move. In what is a youthful enough squad, the experienced Torres may well thrive off a leading role as both a mentor to youngsters like Raul Jimenez and Angel Correa, both on and off the field.
The fans will certainly be behind El Niño from the off, respecting the return of a former idol to his boyhood side, no matter what the past circumstances were. His relationship with Simeone will be interesting to examine, particularly as the two have been good friends for a number of years. A professional attitude from both will no doubt be key, while maintaining the friendly balance to maximise performance.
Torres’ new team mates are convinced that his old friend Cholo can get the best out of him.
Full back Juanfran, who featured for the Spanish national team with Torres, quipped: “Like all our fans, I want to see the signing of Torres confirmed. Fernando is a brilliant player. I’m convinced that, with the desire he has as a Rojiblanco, and the help of the boss, we’re going to see a great Fernando. Hopefully he can be here for the derby [against Real Madrid].”
Assistant manager and Cholo’s right hand man German Burgos is also convinced that a revitalised Torres is making his way to the Vicente Calderon. Speaking with AS, Burgos said that “he will be a very important reinforcement for the second half of the season. We will get the best out of him, the same as everyone, as he knows where he is coming to.”
It looks as if everything is falling into place for the lovable goalscorer. He has all the support available from each and every ‘colchonero’ out there. Whether or not he can recapture the sparkling form that led to him finishing 3rd place in the Balon d’Or, I very much doubt.
But it would be achievement enough for him to be amongst the goals, and I would be content to see the Niño back firing once again, and playing with the childish, innocent smile on his face.
Ironic that he signed on “Día de los Inocentes” then, eh?
You can read more from Seán Tansley by following him on Twitter @ManquiIIo