Getting old is something that all of us, sadly, have to go through. The migration of hair from the top of your head to your back, the greying of said hair and the fabled middle aged spread. People make this transition from young to old with varying degrees of grace. Many make it without a hitch. They realise it is happening, accept it and go on with their life with no real difference other than a noticeable rise in their stock of trousers with an elasticated waist. Others don't take it so well. They panic, tanning beds are fired up to keep their skin radiant; they buy a convertible German sports car to show the world that they're still "with it".
Tragically, this does nothing but make this person look like an overgrown Oompa Loompa cruising around in a car that shows off his bald spot on the top of his head like nothing else could. Aging footballers can behave in the same way. They desperately try to cling to the type of game that gave them their name, the game which earned them their millions. Up until recently Fernando Torres was one of those players who was clinging to something he clearly no longer had.
Torres Announces His Intention to the World
The 2003-04 season was when Torres announced himself to the rest of Spain. In that season he netted nineteen goals in thirty five appearances in the league, joint third highest scorer, only five behind a certain Brazilian Ronaldo. Not a bad return for an eighteen year old. At this point of Fernando Torres' career having bids rejected from Chelsea was already a theme. Two sizeable bids had already been turned down from Roman Abramovic and he was about to have a third thrown out in the summer of 2005. Liverpool was the club El Niño fancied himself playing at. They had just lifted the Champions League under Rafa Benitez, a Spaniard, who had assembled squad of, for the most part, only Spaniards. On paper the ideal place for a young, ambitious kid from Madrid to take his career to the next level.
On a personal level for Torres this was very much the case. During his time at Anfield he became one of the best strikers in world football and really woke people up to how good he good he truly was, including myself. He would brush off defenders as if they weren't there. After he'd brushed off a player of Rio Ferdinand's calibre he'd then still be able to compose himself, have a cheeky look up at the keeper and slot it where he wouldn't be able to reach it. That's what made Torres a cut above everyone else at the time, he had it all. Torres bursting through on goal, shrugging off a defender and finishing across a goalkeeper is a sight in football that simply never gets old. However, the 2005 Champions League success didn't lift the Merseyside club up another level, they sort of stagnated after it. The reached another European final in 2007, but lost it to Milan this time around and they also got close to the league title in the 2008/09 season. Other than that though, no trophies were won at Liverpool while Torres was there which didn't sit well with the ambitious Spaniard.
Torres was subject of a £40 million bid in January 2011, which was promptly rejected by Liverpool. Seeing that Chelsea were winning trophies every other season Torres decided to call time on his Anfield career and pursue pastures new. He joined Chelsea in a transfer worth £50 million, making him the sixth most expensive footballer in history at the time. Chelsea was where the gloss was taken off Fernando Torres' career and he wasn't even at fault for it. It's clear that Roman Abramovic had an infatuation for this player. During his time as Chelsea owner he tried at least three times - that we know of - to buy El Nino at before eventually nabbing him for a cool £50 million.
Unwanted Striker Free To Good Home
It's no secret that Carlo Ancelotti, Chelsea manager at the time of Torres' arrival, didn't actually want him, and who could blame him? It was clear that Torres had begun to physically decline. His pace wasn't what it used to be. He seemed to have lost that ability to burst through players in the last six months of his Liverpool career, why would anyone in their right mind play him over a still firing Didier Drogba? That is where the problem lied during Torres' Chelsea career.
It was the perfect storm of things he didn't need to happen at that critical point in his footballing life. He had a manager who didn't really want him, a team built around a totally different style of striker and a club who changes managerial and backroom staff like the weather. Not exactly an ideal place to be when you need to totally adapt your game to a new style after being playing the same way since you were a kid. El Nino desperately tried to cling onto the game that made him the player that the world feared, but it was clear he would never be able to recapture the potency he showed at Liverpool if he continued in this vain.
Torres' Chelsea career wasn't all bad. He did score the winner in the second leg of the Champions League semi-final in 2012 setting up the opportunity for the London club to win their first Champions League against the formidable Bayern Munich. They took that opportunity, winning on penalties with Drogba sticking home the decisive spot kick. All of which could not have been possible had Torres shown how composed he is in front of goal in the dying seconds of that game at the Camp Nou. However, it would be foolish to suggest that El Nino's time in London was a success on an individual level. However, he left to win trophies and that is exactly what he had done. He won the Champions League and the Europa League, which a bad return for a player who was wrongly made into a laughing stock by the vast majority of the British Press.
El Nino Returns
Then came his resurrection. Loaned out to Milan by Chelsea to shift him off the wage bill, we could discuss his time at Milan, but it was unspectacular. That was also a club, at that time, who had a penchant for buying aging, past-it, former superstars and I refuse to put El Nino into that bracket, but I digress. Torres signed permanently for Milan in December 2014 and immediately went on loan to Atletico Madrid. A move that raised a few eyebrows around the footballing world. The kid had returned home, forty five thousand people turned up to just watch the unveiling of Torres at the Calderon. You could see right then and there that it lit a fire under him. A man who undoubtedly had lost some of his love for the game as his body began to fail him.
Simeone and Torres clearly have an outstanding personal relationship. They both played alongside each other before Torres embarked on his journey to superstardom and that is where a deep foundation of respect and trust was formed. If there was a coach in the game who could "fix" Fernando Torres it was Diego Simeone. Many thought that he was mad, and to be fair they were right, but that's what makes Simeone unique. He's not scared to take a ridiculous gamble because ninety nine times out of one hundred he pulls it off.
The first thing that is clearly noticeable is the self-belief that Torres has regained. Every time he steps out onto the football pitch he believes that every touch he takes is vital. He believes that he has his fear factor back and that he can affect games in a big way once again. That belief has come from the trust that Simeone has placed in his abilities. Torres comes across as the kind of man who is more emotive than your average footballer. It's clear that Simeone making him an important striking option when he joined last January has given him a massive boost. Playing ahead of Mandzukic on a number of occasions would have been massive in getting him back to the player we are seeing now. This would have shown him that bringing him back for the Calderón was more than just to sell a few shirts. He was an important part of Simeone's plan.
The second and perhaps most important thing that has changed about Fernando Torres is he has finally adapted his game to his physical abilities. As was touched on earlier he is no longer the lightning quick player he once was. El Niño's pace is no longer of that rip-snorting ferocity that took him away from defenders like it did in his prime. He has adapted his game from playing on the shoulder of the last defender to play with a "head up" approach. The system at Atletico suits this style of forward down to the ground. The thing that made Diego Costa such an asset to Los Rojoblancos during the title winning campaign was his work ethic and his ability to bring his team mates into play. Fernando Torres now does that to a similar level to Costa, and this season has added the goals that he desperately needed too. Torres has adapted himself from an explosive forward who gave defenders nightmares with his ability to run in behind, to a workhorse who wears defenders down with his almost sickening work rate. His vision has improved to such a degree too that you could argue he's one of Atletico's most creative players.
Not The Main Man
The final thing that Torres has benefitted from at Atleti, which many thought would be his downfall is the fact that he's not the main man. The likes of Antoine Griezmann, Jackson Martinez and Koke have taken the pressure off Torres. He now has the freedom to go out and play his own game without fear of an entire country's press and the ever draining "lad-bantz" accounts taking the mickey out of him if he plays poorly. The players around him are of a sufficient calibre to step up and win the game in his place. This is one of the first times in his career that he has not had a massive level of expectation placed on his shoulders when he steps out onto the pitch.
The case of Diego Simeone and Fernando Torres is something that reflects well on the two men and also as Atletico Madrid as a club. They value not only the players as tradeable commodities but also the relationships that are forged during their stays in the better half of Madrid. Torres came back to Atleti as a shell of a man, he'd lost everything. Love from the fans, attention, mentorship from Simeone and hard work from the man himself has got him back being one of the top strikers in La Liga, and I couldn't be happier to see one of my favourite players of all time back where he deserves to be. Firing teams towards titles.