Having been heralded as the saviour of Atlético’s midfield not so long ago, Óliver Torres has become something of a forgotten man this season.
His last appearance for the red and whites came a year ago today, and ended after just three minutes as he dislocated his shoulder straight after coming on against Rayo Vallecano.
Since then he has been farmed out on loan to Villarreal and Porto, working his way back to fitness and getting some valuable La Liga experience with the Yellow Submarine whilst his parent club marched to a famous title win.
However, it’s in Portugal where he has really begun to flourish, linking up again with Julen Lopetegui, the man Óliver refers to as his “footballing father” and helped propel him to stardom in the Spanish youth set-up.
A regular in the Dragons’ midfield alongside Hector Herrera and Casemiro, the young playmaker is establishing himself as one of the team’s most important players and showing a maturity that defies his tender years.
Now 20 years of age, he has improved physically and no longer resembles the child-like figure that debuted in the 2012/13 season opener away at Levante.
Even when dominating at youth level for Atleti, goals were something that often eluded Óliver’s game, but he has added that to his armoury this year with a total of 6 strikes in 15 league games.
After Jackson Martínez he is Porto’s top scorer, and started 2015 on fire with three in consecutive matches. His strike against Belenenses is particularly worth watching, finding the bottom corner with a shot that recorded 86km/h on his weaker foot.
The progression he has made just since the start of the season is quite astounding, and the fact that he has shown his value in a number of different roles bodes well for Atlético.
Early in the season, he spent a month on the sidelines with his second dislocated shoulder of the year, but worked his way back ahead of schedule and has since gone from strength to strength.
His return came at rivals Sporting in late September, and his half-time introduction was praised as a turning point when Porto came from behind to salvage a point in the José Alvalade.
It’s Benfica who lead the way in the Primeira Liga though, and Porto’s defeat at Maritimo last night leaves them with lots of catching up to do. Óliver wasn’t at his best, with some fans going as far as saying that when he plays well, the team plays well.
In the Champions League, despite losing the ball for a goal conceded against Shakhtar, he helped his team qualify as group winners, and played a key role in particular away from home in wins against BATE and Athletic Bilbao.
Next month Lopetegui’s team take on FC Basel in the last 16, so it will be interesting to see how Óliver performs in the latter stages of such a prestigious competition and against the very best in the continent.
The question is, how does he fit into Simeone’s Atlético?
Many see Óliver as a number 10, but his future lies at the heart of midfield. There is little doubt that his qualities are best utilised playing behind the ball rather than ahead of it.
For Atleti though, that position requires sacrifice. Players who, with all due respect, don’t have the technical qualities that Óliver has, make up for it in fight, hard work and tactical nous.
Others have suggested the Arda Turan role for him, but thinking from the player’s perspective rather than the team, you can’t help feel that would be a waste of his supreme abilities.
There is also always the possibility that we adapt to fit in Óliver, something that had to be done this year to an extent with Mandžukić replacing Diego Costa, but of course, for Simeone the collective comes before any individual.
If the youngster continues growing as he is, you do have to wonder whether rumours of a move to Barça will come to fruition. With Xavi and Iniesta ageing, he could definitely be a candidate for their midfield in 2016 when their transfer ban expires.
Porto fans are also very keen to keep him around at the Dragão, at least for another season. Given that 25% of his rights are owned by super-agent Jorge Mendes, you can’t rule him out of also having a say in Óliver’s future.
Atleti will have to play it right as they will not want to risk losing one of the biggest talents. There are already rumours of Saúl not being happy with his lack of involvement, so the situation will have to be managed very carefully.
What is clear right now though is that we have a player on his way to fulfilling his potential and becoming part of the new generation of Spanish stars. With a bit of luck, he will be starring at the Calderón in the not too distant future as well.
Have you been watching Óliver this season? How do you see him fitting in at Atleti in the future?