Where did it all go wrong for Fernando Torres?

It’s hard to find another sportsman whose prolonged drop in form has been this drastic.

Meryl D'Souza March 22, 2016

Yōichi Takahashi created the Japanese manga series, Captain Tsubasa, in 1981.  In 1983, the comic series turned into an adequate cash cow for Tsuchida Production to take it on an animated TV run.

We’re not sure when it aired it Spain or for how long, but in 1991, a precocious seven-year-old from Fuenlabrada, Madrid, was sufficiently inspired by the anime series to change his position from goalkeeper to striker.

By the time he was 10, a young Fernando Torres was scoring 55 goals a season for his club Rayo 13. It wasn’t long before Atlético Madrid, his grandfather’s favourite team, came in with an offer.

He rose through the ranks and at 17, made his first-team debut at the Vicente Calderón Stadium, against CD Leganés in 2001. A week later, he scored his first professional goal for the club. Back then Atlético were languishing in Spain’s second tier. They were yet to be taken seriously. That changed after they finished the 2001-2002 Segunda División with a promotion berth to the La Liga.

Los Rojiblancos survived their first season in Spain’s top flight after finishing 11th, but by then their star man was drawing a lot of attention.

Despite multiple attempts by Chelsea in 2003, 2005 and 2006, it cost Liverpool around $40 million in 2007 to convince Atlético to part with the man who captained the side at the tender age of 19 and scored 82 goals for them.

Then Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez wasted no time and built his team around the striker. Players like Xabi Alonso and Dirk Kuyt were instructed to feed the man up front with Steven Gerrard brought forward as support. 

El Niño flourished in that first season with The Reds, netting three hat-tricks on his way to 46 goals in 33 appearances. He capped that peach of a season with the winning goal for Spain at the Euro 2008 final. That year he was nominated for the Ballon d’Or, but finished behind winner Cristiano Ronaldo and runner-up Lionel Messi.

Just let that sink in. 2007-2010 was a time when people didn’t flinch to use the name Fernando Torres in a sentence with Ronaldo and Messi. Such were the heights this man scaled.

Many believe that Torres’ fall came after he signed for Chelsea in January 2011. They will tell you the tale of the Russian oligarch, Roman Abramovich, who was courting the Spanish star since he started calling the shots at the London club in 2003.

They will tell you how a Torres at the peak of his powers swapped Anfield for Stamford Bridge because of the riches the London club promised. Although a contributing factor, that’s not the real reason why Torres fell into a slump from which he has yet to recover. 

If you were to rewind the hands of time, you’d notice the problem started at Liverpool. In 2009, Liverpool let Xabi Alonso go to Real Madrid. The following year they let Javier Mascherano take a flight to Barcelona. Those departures coupled with the sacking of his manager Rafa Benitez at a time when ownership of the Merseyside club was in turmoil, began to impinge upon Torres.

By the time Chelsea paid for his services for a then British record fee of £50million, Torres was already a man bereft of confidence and didn’t really back himself to rise again.

Chelsea only brought Torres to satiate Abramovich. The Russian forced his managers to play the Spaniard even when he couldn’t fit into the system and didn’t suit the tactics. 

It took Torres 903 football minutes to score his first goal for Chelsea. The man who was inured to playing as the lone striker was asked to play second fiddle to the likes of Didier Drogba. The force once accustomed to scoring 20-plus goals a season, took three years to hit that mark at Chelsea. He was nothing like his former self.

His constant failures at Chelsea prompted the club to sell him off to Italian club AC Milan, who sent the striker on loan back to Atlético Madrid. His career had come full-circle. But he wasn’t even a shadow of the man they remember him to be. 

On March 20 this year, Torres turned 32. He is now no more than a has-been. There’s news of him set to try his luck at a Mexican club. But ever since Liverpool, a glorified journeyman is all he’s ever been.

In sport, there is a cliché that goes, ”Form is temporary, class is permanent.”

Torres had class. The problem with him was his lack of tenacity. He was part of a team that sold its best players and left him to pick up the pieces, and he failed. He was then part of a team that overpaid for his services and didn’t bother to play to his strengths.

Now at Atlético Madrid, he’s trying to catch-up. Trying to replicate that class from his early years but can’t. He didn’t work hard enough after Liverpool and lost interest after Chelsea.