El Nino to El Traidor

Fernando Torres

You’ve probably opened this page and thought, “El Traidor. What the hell does that mean?” For those who can’t speak Spanish, it directly translates as The Traitor. Traitor. It’s a word with extremely negative connotations. The dictionary definition of this is a person who betrays someone or something such as a friend cause or principle. You have probably already put two and two together with regards to the Spanish link and the person whom this article will centre around.

This was an accurate description of Fernando Torres at the time for many Liverpool fans though. Torres was Liverpools main striker at the time, the number 9, El Nino. He was adored by the Kop. Kids around the city wore red shirts with his name emblazoned on the back. He talismanic, he was symbolic of what we wanted to be and where we wanted our club to go. He was the man who was going to take us to the upper echelons of club football, not just in Britain but in the world.

Torres signed for Liverpool in July 2007 for a reported £20 million. At the time it was a transfer that was seen as a bit of a risk. He was 23 years old but hadn’t played much in Europe as Atletico were not the force they are now. But he resonated with Liverpool fans. In a way, he had had a career similar to Steven Gerrards. Torres had played and captained his boyhood club. He had made his debut the season Atletico were relegated, in 2000/01, and had taken them back to La Liga at the first time of asking. Although he would eventually leave Atleti, it was clearly a wrench which was demonstrated in his leaving press conference on the day he signed for Liverpool.

Torres’ debut season cast aside any doubts anyone could have about the Spaniard. He scored a record-breaking 33 goals in 46 games, helping Liverpool to a 4th place finish and a Champions League semi-final. Torres was the clearly a cut above any other striker at the club or in the league for that matter. He was a born finisher. Sometimes it was obvious what he intended to do, but there was no stopping him. His finishes also varied. He was equally adept with his head as he was at hitting 25-yard volleys of left foot tap-ins. He had pace which terrified defenders. Once he caught them square, which is what he loved to do, a goal was a foregone conclusion. He was deceptively powerful. He looked slightly and his feminine features falsely portrayed someone who could be bullied, yet this was rarely the case. He looked the closest thing to a complete striker.

Torres’ electric form continued into his second season, where Liverpool finished a close second to Manchester United. He now looked possessed. He looked determined to be successful. He was taking on big players and forcing them to submit to his class. Defenders like Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand were being battered whenever they faced him. But in his third season, 2009/10, something changed. Liverpool became poor. That season they finished 7th. This was the beginning of the end. At the end of that season was the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, which Spain won at a canter. Torres came back to Liverpool injured. But he had changed. He no longer looked like he enjoyed playing football. He was again reminiscent of Steven Gerrard but not in a good way. He was reminiscent of the Gerrard that nearly signed for Chelsea in 2005. He looked disillusioned and occupied during every game.

On 27th January 2011 Chelsea lodged a bid of £40 million for Fernando Torres which was obviously rejected by Liverpool. Torres responded by handing in a transfer request. This was stunning. Chelsea came back a few days later with a bid of £50 million. This time Liverpool didn’t resist. Late on deadline day in January 2011, Torres signed for Chelsea and was paraded on Chelsea TV with a blue shirt. We had bought Luis Suarez with the clear intention of partnering the two, with Suarez’s creativity and work rate complimenting Torres’ natural forwards intuition and finishing. Could you imagine how devastating that would be? But our worst nightmares had come true. Here was our star striker, the man who was meant to win us uncountable amounts of trophies, speaking of his excitement at pulling on a blue shirt and running out at Stamford Bridge for Chelsea. He was no longer an idol. He was now an enemy.

It was hard to watch. It was a clear sign that the club was going backwards. Maybe that’s why it hurt so bad for some fans. It forced us to face up to a reality that so many didn’t want to accept – that maybe we weren’t as big a club as we thought we were. It also hurt that, over the next 2 and a half years, Torres was vindicated in his decision. In that time, Chelsea won the Europa League, the Champions League and the F.A Cup. For a man who was determined to be a success, he now had exactly what he wanted which was medals around his neck. That made it worse.

But over time it became easier. One reason for this was that Torres was clearly struggling. Liverpool were tactically built around the Spanish striker. But he was no longer the main man. He now faced competition from Didier Drogba and the Chelsea team was built around the Ivorian target man. Torres had to adapt to winning flick ons for teammates and holding the ball up to bring others into play. He now had to play with his back to goal and he was finding it difficult. Due to this he suffered a crisis of confidence. He was clearly trying hard but the goals weren’t coming. Torres looked a shadow of the player Liverpool had sold. £50 million now looked a great bit of business.

Another reason the bitterness eased was because of the man Liverpool had bought to partner Torres but became his replacement. Luis Suarez was an immediate success. He was just what was needed a testing time for the club. We had got rid of a guy who blatantly wanted to be out of the club and now had a lad who looked like he was loving being here. Suarez had an infectious enthusiasm. He was a delight to watch even in his the early days. He later went on to famously be a roaring success but it would a reasonable argument to suggest that Luis Suarez may not have been the player he turned out to be if Fernando Torres would have stayed due to the extra demand that may not have been placed on him. He was never meant to be the goal machine he turned out to be, that’s for sure.

Torres eventually left Chelsea and went to A.C Milan but he continued to struggle. It was at this point that the bitterness subsided and everyone began to feel sorry for him. It was such a shame that this once unstoppable force had now been reduced to this ineffective burden on whichever team he turned out for. It was sad to see. It was now fair to say that Torres’ move to Chelsea was probably not the right the decision for his career and that the medals he had won were tainted. Torres himself admitted his mistake and said there were times when he didn’t care if Chelsea won or lost. He also consistently said that promises made to him by the club were broken.

Time is a great healer. Over time and after reading this comments, people began to forgive Torres. In the context of the situation at the club at the time, it was understandable that an ambitious 27-year-old would not want to wait around to see if the club may or may not be successful. It was understandable he wanted to move and, with only one club willing to pay the money, he had no other choice. Yes, he could have waited until the end of the season and given the club time. But he didn’t owe the club anything. He scored 65 goals in 102 games for Liverpool. There was no debt to be paid here.

On 29th March 2015, Torres returned to Anfield. Not only did he return, but he finally got to partner Luis Suarez up front. It was what Liverpool fans had wanted to see. At first he was greeted with trepidation. Everyone accepted he was back and quietly wanted to cheer him, but no one wanted to be the first for fear of being shot down. But that quickly disappeared. The Torres bounce was soon being belted out once again on the Kop. It was a remarkable moment. Both sides seemed to have closure to the situation. It was like a divorced couple who had learned to become friends although there was no chance of them ever getting back together. Both sides had moved on but there was a mutual love and respect there.

Fernando Torres will always be remembered as a fantastic player. For 3 and a half years, he lit up Anfield with an unparalleled ability and love of scoring goals. He looked like the man who was going to win us trophies. But that’s what hurt so much when he left. We were never going to see Torres lift the trophies he deserved in a red shirt. To see him do it in blue hurt even more but you could tell it hurt him too. To see Torres end up the player he became was sad. Even nowadays, back at Atletico Madrid, Torres still is not the player he was at Liverpool. The story of Fernando Torres should never be the tale of a traitor, but simply one of what might have been.

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