I suspect most have forgotten that Fernando Torres now hasn’t lost to Real Madrid since March 2006.
Including the latest, a 2-2 Copa del Rey draw with Real on Thursday, it’s now been six games and nearly eight years since he last tasted defeat against the club he always swore he’d never join because of his indelible allegiance to Atletico Madrid.
I suspect that most have forgotten that “El Nino” has now scored four goals in his past five matches against Madrid for Liverpool and Atleti.
Decent, credible stats.
It also seemed to me that Gary Lineker, the Grampus Eight legend, had forgotten the majority of Torres’ previous achievements. On finding that the 30-year-old opened the scoring after barely a minute of the Madrid derby on Thursday, he tweeted:
It’s a snide, cheap shot that I only reproduce because it’s emblematic of the remarkable, sneering schadenfreude that has greeted the Spaniard’s loss of form and confidence over the past season and a half.
Yes, there was a storybook element to Torres’ brace at the Bernabeu, goals that ensured Real Madrid were eliminated in the Copa del Rey and Atleti were guaranteed another shot at Barcelona, to whom they’ve done such damage before Sunday’s mauling in La Liga.
Torres’ extra-special bond with Los Rojiblancos stems from the fact that his beloved grandfather made him swear, not long before the old man passed away, that he’d remain steadfastly loyal to Madrid’s “other” club all his life. “Promise me, kid,” Eulalio Sanz implored El Nino.
“I spent loads of time at my grandad’s house and he always told me he’d rather die than see a Madrid badge hung up in his house where he had a ceramic plate with the Atletico badge and colours on it,” the striker has explained.
“That plate fascinated me when I was very young. My granddad told me I must always be ‘anti-Madridista’ and that to be ‘Atleti’ was the best thing in the world. But I think I’d have been Atleti anyway. I identify with what they represent — doing the tough things, doing the things nobody expects you to achieve, being the ‘other’ side of football. Madrid is everyone’s team, the so-called best, while Atleti is the poorer one, the one which suffers, the one nobody else loves.”
Maybe it’s right then that El Nino set himself up for a life in football where, yes, he’d do the tough things nobody expected, but also that he’d suffer and not be universally loved.
So to storm the citadel, score twice, gain a small measure of revenge for the Champions League final last season, Torres provided that special cocktail of magic (“morbo,” we call it here in Spain) that football has an endearing habit of shaking, mixing and serving.
But let’s remember: it’s only just over a year and a half since this guy, who captained the club he loves as a teenager, captained by Diego Simeone if you’ll credit it, was scoring in a winning Europa League final for Chelsea. A tournament in which he hit six in nine games.
What Lineker’s “What are the chances of that?” tweet ignores is that games like this with a brace at the Bernabeu are emblematic of Fernando Torres, not the lost confidence and dimmed brilliance in some of the Chelsea years.
Those who couldn’t imagine that Torres might possibly be revitalised by working for two ferociously competitive ex-teammates, Simeone and Mono Burgos, at the club he loves have a dim imagination indeed.
Perhaps only a sociologist or psychologist could explain the vindictive glee some have found in a decent, articulate, honest, talented, high-achieving guy getting the football yips.
What clearly has been forgotten, it seems, is Torres’ metronomic ability to meet the biggest challenges with a goal. Beyond the nine major titles he’s won for club and country, it’s important to understand that he’s responsible for winning goals in the UEFA European Championship finals at under-16 and under-19 level, plus the UEFA European Championship 2008 final.
He scored in the 2012 European Championship final and also gave an assist in that 4-0 win over Italy, scored in the Europa League final win and also in the UEFA Super Cup draw with Bayern Munich, and he’s notched goals in three different Champions League semifinal ties.
Cometh the hour, cometh “The Kid.”
If he’s been gifted a flaw by his maker, along with his gifts, it’s that he feels too much. Easy-going, articulate, thoughtful about the game from which he’s earned a living, it’s true that he needs to feel wanted, valued — admired, even — to function at his best.
It’s no coincidence that his very best football came at Liverpool when manager Rafa Benitez deliberately set up the entire team’s philosophy to play to Torres’ strengths.
“I’ve been ordered not to drop back too deep to help win the ball back, to be up, on the shoulder of the defence, ready for the team to supply me when they win it back” Torres said before taking Euro 2008 by storm.
He told me, too, that part of the reason he and David Villa took Spain to world domination as paired strikers was that they had played together since they were kids at international level, liked each other, bonded in football terms and then found that their respective wives got along. Partnership, friendship — these helped Torres excel. Not all players need or even care about that.
Torres cared too much, too. While with Liverpool, he stayed on while injured against Benfica in the Europa League, thus damaging his knee, forcing surgery and then causing him to rush back for the World Cup in 2010.
It was too much, but he was determined to give his absolute utmost for club and country. At Anfield, on that ruinous night for his future, he persevered to score twice and turn a 2-1 quarterfinal deficit into a 5-3 aggregate victory.
“If I’d put Spain first, if I’d been desperate to shine in South Africa, then I’d have come off in the second leg against Benfica when I felt the pain, but trying to get Liverpool to the final mattered too much to me,” Torres said.
Perhaps when conditions haven’t been set fairly, recently, his mood, his body language, his expressive face have all reflected despondence, but not surrender.
And so to his dramatic return to his native city.
Real Madrid, admittedly, became the stone in his shoe at one time. He scored in his very first match against them for Atleti, a friendly in January 2002 when the two sides were managed by Vicente del Bosque and Luis Aragones, the only time the two men coached against each other.
But by the time he left for Anfield, shortly to conquer Europe and the world, he’d not managed to defeat Los Blancos. It hurt.
When he was still a youngster, shy and easy to blush, he was the star of a beer commercial with late Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano. “The star I see at the moment is Torres — he’s a terrific player. He’s setting new standards,” said the man who made Atleti’s enemies the greatest in the world.
I guess people forget that too.
The boy in red and white being ordained by the cranky old hero who made Madrid’s white shirts world-famous.
Respect across the barricades like that is deeply unusual.
Di Stefano could be a cranky old man; ask anyone. And he’ll have been spitting feathers watching his celestial television.
But Torres’ old Abuelo — the grandfather who was an Atleti fanatic — will have been banging on the wall of Di Stefano’s heavenly mansion. “That’s my boy!”
That’s El Nino.