La Liga

Fernando Torres: Portrait of a Fallen Star

Earlier this month Fernando Torres announced that he would be leaving his boyhood club Atlético Madrid, whom he returned home to in 2015 after an eight-year spell abroad. 

Torres has won almost everything there is to win, for both club and country, and although a cliché, it really is true. With his country he won the World Cup once and European Championship twice, not to mention his previous success as a youngster;  rising through Spain’s unstoppable youth teams along with an incredible selection of peers.

With Chelsea he won a host of prestigious cup competitions, such as the Champions League, English FA Cup and, more recently, the Europa League.

 Torres has performed at the top level since he broke into the first team at Atlético Madrid in 2001 – an incredible 17 years ago. Now at 34 we should be celebrating Torres as a legend of the modern game akin to players like Gianluigi Buffon, who recently announced his retirement. But why aren’t we?

Well, one could argue that it’s because Torres’ career, for the most part, hides a hint of mediocrity, of failed opportunities on the pitch, and of frustration.

The Boy From the ‘Burbs

A boy who grew up in Fuenlabrada on the outskirts of Madrid, Torres had his dreams come true at an early age. Born into a family of Atlético fans, Torres had already joined their youth system by the age of eleven.

He quickly began to rise through the ranks, and the scope of his talent soon became clear. There was no question of where he should play – he was born to be an out and out striker. 

At Atlético, now a team well known for producing and nurturing top-class strikers, Torres learnt and plied his trade. But that was a different Atlético, an Atlético that was struggling.

As they rose back into La Liga, Torres began to excel, helping his club finish eleventh in their freshman season back in the top flight. Torres was stepping up to the challenge and meeting it with a wide, ferocious gaze. 

Despite Atlético refuting repeated offers from foreign clubs, they eventually yielded and decided to cash in on their homegrown talent from the suburbs of Madrid. Torres was on the rise, as he always had been. There was no doubt about it.

A Chance at the Big Time

Torres made the lucrative switch to Liverpool and immediately exploded onto the scene. No longer at a mid-level Spanish team with modest ambitions, Torres became part of a Rafael Benitez side who were looking to consolidate and improve on their position, both in England and Europe. 

Though not totally consistent, under Benitez Liverpool had managed to lift the Champions League in 2005 and to prove it wasn’t a fluke, made another final in 2007.

Under a Spanish manager, playing free-flowing football and with strong forward-thinking ambitions, it’s easy to see why Torres chose Liverpool to succeed with. And succeed he did. Over three and half seasons at Liverpool Torres made over a hundred appearances for the Reds, netting over 65 – an incredible ratio of just over 1 in 2 – in one of the hardest leagues in the world. Little did we know, but this would be the peak of his career.

Spanish peers, Spanish cheers

Ambition is important, but it doesn’t count for everything. That’s something that the 26-year old Fernando Torres understood only too well. For his country, he’d risen through various youth levels with what would become a world-class team. He went on to claim the Under-16 and Under-19 European Champions. They progressed together at senior level to claim the European Championship in 2008, where Torres himself scored the winning goal in a difficult match against a top-class Germany side.

In 2010, in South Africa, he and his peers won football’s greatest honour – the World Cup. Torres featured heavily but failed to score, while his compatriot David Villa netted five goals to become the tournament’s top scorer. 

And yet, there’s a discrepancy here. Up until this point, Fernando Torres had won everything for his country, yet in two major competitions, he only managed to score a total of two goals. While in his club career he’d excelled to become one of the world’s most clinical strikers with Liverpool. And yet, the discrepancy is: he’d won nothing with clubs up to this point. Well, unless you count a Segunda Division title in Spain where he played a bit part. Yet, all the while his peers, the boys he’d risen with in the national team were winning everything. Everything. With Barcelona and Madrid. There was such a surplus, and to some extent there still is in Spain, that many players had to leave Spain’s shores to find clubs of a decent stature, deserving of their trade.

Thirsty for Success

In January 2011, Torres, flying high with Liverpool in the Premier League, saw his opportunity. He jumped on a potential switch to Chelsea — at an inflated £50 million pound price tag — and saw a £30 million pound Andy Carroll come in as his replacement. A crazy time. Chelsea was a fantastic match for Torres. He knew he could perform in England, he knew he had a taste for winning, and he knew Chelsea was a team that didn’t just have ambition but delivered on them. 

And yet, this is where it all, sort of, petered out.

At Atlético Torres scored 82 in 214 appearances –  an incredible achievement for a player starting at the age of 13, and yet, at Atlético he won nothing. At Liverpool he scored a mammoth 65 goals in 110 appearances, working towards the peak of his career. And at Liverpool, he won nothing. By this point, Fernando’s individual honours and goals began to dry up.

A striker in distress

Everything was pointing towards success. At Chelsea, Torres netted a paltry 20 in 110 appearances. That’s more appearances than he made for Liverpool. But it here Torres won the Champions League, club football’s most prestigious honour. In comparison to his World Cup success, he barely scored and was only a bit part player. The only goals he managed to net were in a 5-0 rout of lowly Genk. Just like he played second fiddle to David Villa in the World Cup, he was an understudy to Didier Drogba.

It didn’t get much better from there. Torres slipped out of London quietly, going on loan to Milan in 2014 never to return. The less said about that the better. This was followed by another loan spell and then a permanent move back to his boyhood club, Atlético. The fact of the matter is, Torres has scored less than 50 goals in seven years since he joined Chelsea. To put this into perspective, Mohamed Salah (who has just broken his record) has scored nearly 40 goals – in one season!

It may sound harsh but for much of his career, Fernando Torres has flattered to deceive. The stats are there for everyone to see.

A Fresh Start Needed

Liverpool missed Torres because he was so prolific, but Chelsea and Milan barely batted an eyelid. Neither will Atlético. It looks likely that Torres will move on to the MLS this summer, to see out the rest of his career. But if Torres is to succeed in the USA, he needs playing time, and will need to be the main man for the first time in the better part of a decade.He needs a change and he needs a slower league to play in.

At his peak, Torres was an unstoppable force. He was a lethal striker who gave everything, and his passion and commitment is something we can still see plainly to this day. It’s a real shame that we didn’t get to enjoy him at his prime for longer. Hopefully, a move to the MLS, or even a fresh start somewhere else will reignite his eye for goal.

Editorial credit: Christian Bertrand / Shutterstock.com

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