Fernando Torres is back in the town and back with a bang. The ex-Liverpool striker shone brightly on a big night against an old foe thus making all his fans happy and proving his doubters wrong, atleast for the time being. On loan from AC Milan, the Spaniard returned to his boyhood club starting against Real Madrid in the Copa Del Rey last 16 clash at the Vicente Calderon. He looked comfortable for the 59 minutes he played in which his team won 2-0. The next fixture against Barcelona didnt go well for him and his team, they were outplayed by Messi & Co which they lost 3-1. But in the second leg Torres stepped up on the platform built by his team in the first leg landing the suckerpunch to eliminate the holders. After going through one of the worst phases of his career at Chelsea and an uninspiring stint at AC Milan El Nino looked happy for the first time in many years.
A Different Landscape:
When Torres left Vicente Calderon back in 2007, Atletico were a club with all kinds of problems. Financially they were on the brink of bankruptcy owing millions of euros to several parties. As a team they were a struggling mid-table side with Torres as their crowning jewel. They were in dire need of money and several sections of club protested against selling him to Liverpool. But Torres promised the Atleti faithful that he was only leaving to return one day. He kept his word, so did the fans. He was greeted by 45,000 people at the Vicente Calderon which clearly tells how much he is loved by the fans. While back in 2007, the side were ridden by defensive problems and shaky midfield, now they are the defending champions of La Liga and a formidable side known for their disciplined midfield and rock solid defence. Back then, Torres was the only player with notable quality in the team, whereas now clubs across Europe are willing to pay big bucks for Atletico’s stars. 4 European titles and 4 domestic titles in the past 5 years along with a wise transfer policy of the club has stabilized the financial condition to a great extent. Torres returns to his hometown club in what is viewed as a last chance to resurrect his career, but to Atletico he is just an addition to provide depth to the squad. What has changed over the years at the club and the player is one of the interesting stories in world football.
Torres made a sensational start to his career in the Premier League as he scored 33 goals in 46 goals for Liverpool in his first season. It was the most by any foreign player to score for Liverpool in his debut season. He forged a formidable partnership with club captain Steven Gerrard guiding the Reds to a fourth place finish in the league. The Spanish forward enjoyed his best season with Liverpool as the Merseyside club finished second in the 2008-09 season. At the same time Atletico struggled following their talisman’s departure and it took time for Uruguayan striker Diego Forlan to replace Torres. Next season saw Atleti and Torres on opposite sides of success. Liverpool were stuck in a loop of mediocrity which also resulted in Torres’ gradual decline. Meanwhile, Atletico went on to win the inaugural Europa League and the UEFA Super Cup in 2010 but their domestic form wasnt good as they finished 7th in La Liga. During this time Atletico developed a tradition of making world class strikers. Diego Forlan,Sergio Aguero,Radamel Falcao,Diego Costa all followed in the path of Torres to earn big money transfers to Europe’s elite clubs in the next few years.
Move to Chelsea and Arrival of Simeone:
2011 was the year when the club’s story and their beloved player’s career took sharp turns. In January 2011 Torres made a big money move to Chelsea for an Undisclosed fee. But it was known to many that Roman Abrahamovich shelled out nearly 50 million pounds for the striker’s services. That move by the Russian tycoon, proved to be one of the worst transfers in football as the Spaniard failed miserably at Stamford Bridge. The forward was a shadow of his former self as he finished the 2010-11 season with only 10 goals to his name. His career at Chelsea hit an all-time low when he fired wide with an empty net gazing down at him in a match against Manchester United. This infamous miss made him the centre of jokes on the internet to such an extent that even Chelsea fans poked fun at him. Two months after this incident, 1060 miles away from London, Atletico Madrid signed Diego Simeone, a former player of the club and proven coach in Argentina. Five months later he landed the club their second Europa League trophy. Chelsea won the Champions League in which Torres scored the crucial second goal in the semis against Barcelona before defeating Bayern Munich in their own backyard.
Destinies crossed paths when Chelsea and Atletico met in the Uefa Super Cup final. The Red and White Stripes hammered the Blues to submission with Falcao’s perfect hattrick winning them their 4th European title. 2012-13 season didnt help Torres’ low self-confidence as his crucial goal in 2013’s Europa League final did little to save him from the ever-growing criticism. Atleti on the other hand defeated Real Madrid to win the Copa Del Rey but it was just the start to their sensational rise in club football.
Against All Odds:
Atletico Madrid produced one of the miracles of the decade as they clinched the Spanish League ending the long standing Duopoly of Real Madrid and Barcelona. Diego Simeone led his team to their first La Liga crown in 18 years as they famously drew Barcelona on the final day a feat many believed to be impossible. They reached the Champions League Final defeating the likes of Barcelona, Chelsea on their way. A goal scored by a non-celebrating Torres couldnt prevent Atleti’s march to the showpiece in Lisbon. Despite losing the final in extra time to cross town rivals Real Madrid, Simeone’s leadership and the team’s courage were praised by the footballing community. Torres in the meanwhile had fallen down in the pecking order as Jose Mourinho did not trust the striker with his plans. Time changes everything, Torres is not the feared striker once he was and Atleti are the not under achievers of Spain anymore.
Is Redemption On The Cards:
Following the incredible success last season, Atletico lost Diego Costa, Filipe Luis and Thibaut Courtois to Chelsea all of whom formed the spine of the side which won the league. David Villa’s move to MLS further weakened the strike department. But once again the Argentinian built a team with the same transfer policy employed in the past few years. And to add depth to the squad, he requested the management to make a move for Torres which didnt materialize in summer transfer window. There is lot of sense in El Cholo’s idea of bringing Torres into this Atleti side. They clearly miss the sheer physicality and pace of Diego Costa in the central position, but Torres’ darting runs into the box can be put up to a good use with the pace of Antoine Griezmann to play the counter attacking football Simeone desires. He used the same tactic against Real Madrid which resulted in two first minute goals in both halves at Bernabeu. While its not wise to judge a player’s form based on one good game, the conditions surrounding the world cup winning striker are mostly in his favour. There are no demanding fans of Stamford Bridge to abuse him for every small mistake, no nitpicking British media to judge his every single movement on the pitch. Can he carry on this newly acquired confidence to his future performances or is it just the celebratory mood of home-coming? Well, only time will tell.