CHAPTER FIVE: The Day He Came Back
At Liverpool, Torres continued to get better and better. He became a Merseyside icon in his own right as Liverpool’s number nine. He spawned a legendary Nike ad and became the subject of arguably the catchiest fan chants of the century.
After another big money transfer to Chelsea, Torres suffered a complete loss of form, becoming the butt of jokes after an egregious miss against Manchester United. As El Niño himself noted, for some reason he couldn’t reproduce at Chelsea what he used to do for Liverpool and Atlético. Nevertheless, Torres scored one of the greatest and most miraculous goals in recent memory in the second leg of the 2012 Champions League semifinals against Barcelona, ending Barça’s dream season and sending Chelsea to the final, which they would win on penalties against Bayern Munich.
After a brief stop in Milan, rumors began to surface that Torres was heading home. He completed a loan move back to Atlético during the first week of 2015. He was 30 years old. He had been gone for seven years.
Fernando Torres: I didn’t have any doubts. My future was as rojiblanco as my past. My excitement was uncontainable when I landed in Madrid on December 29, 2014 without a return ticket. I was missing something to motivate me, something I could only find here.
El Niño’s return came about a year after another momentous occasion in the club’s history - the death of Luis Aragonés.
Fernando Torres: I’ll always remember Luis as the person who truly prepared me for the realities of football at the highest level. He used to tell me, pretty much every day, “Niño! You don’t know anything about anything.” Now I know that he did that because he appreciated me a lot.
You could have mistaken the day El Niño came back for a game against another top-four side -- a packed Calderón, 45,000 strong, cheering his name, singing his song. Torres’ wife and two kids accompanied him. He kissed the crest on his shirt.
Fernando Torres: Responding to the question of if he’d seen how full the stands were -- They’ve sent me some photos, but I’m not sure I should believe it.
Fans outside of the Stadium: We’ve been here since 8. Eating and drinking chocolate. All for El Niño.
Fernando Torres: (I was) overwhelmed by the displays of affection, which are always many more than I expect, many more than I deserve, and it’s been amazing. I didn’t expect so many people, so devoted, it’s been very exciting.
Enrique Cerezo: Today is not just any day. It’s a very big day for all Atleti fans.
Fernando Torres: When I was 24, I understood something that was very hard for me -- that I needed to leave so the club could grow and so I could also grow. That was the most difficult moment of my career. The club has grown and won important things. I also got the titles I was looking for, but I was missing something. I want to win them here.
Enrique Cerezo: All of us have been waiting for this day since July 4th, 2007. Fernando’s return is the perfect example of a commitment that goes beyond the personal realm and his love for the shirt. Torres has always been a standard bearer for the club at the toughest of times.
Fernando Torres: I have been dreaming for so long that one day, this could be a reality. It is difficult to believe it now.
CHAPTER SIX: “I had only dreamt of scoring one.”
At the beginning of his second tenure with Atlético, Torres struggled. However, on February 6, 2016, there was a buzz in the air, a sense of anticipation in the Calderón as Torres entered for Yannick Carrasco in the 76th minute.
In stoppage time, Luciano Vietto centered, and Torres was able to work off the back of his defender to poke the ball into the net. He’d finally scored his 100th goal for the club, igniting a torrid stretch of form that kept him in the lineup through the Champions League final in May.
Diego Simeone: I want to make a special mention to Fernando. This is an important moment for him in his career. Scoring as many as 100 goals for the club of his life, where he’s always given his all and which he’s always supported, is very exciting. It was emotional. I want to say an enormous congratulations to him.
After the game, Torres went to look for Manuel Briñas, the man who had discovered him years ago and the man who had told him that he’d be an Atlético de Madrid player one day.
Fernando Torres: One must always remember one’s beginnings, the first step, and for me at this club that was Manuel Briñas. He’s the one who made it possible for me to be here celebrating 100 goals.
Manuel Briñas: I see the goal, but I don’t know who it was. The ball boy sitting next to me puts his hand on my knee, and, crying, tells me it was Fernando.
I was going home peacefully, happy because the team had won and because Fernando Torres had scored his 100th goal. Suddenly someone hit me on the back, and it was him. He hugged me, and he said, “You scored this goal. It’s yours.” That’s when the first revelation hit me, the first stab of love to the heart.
We keep going, and he said, “Who told me I’d be an Atlético de Madrid player? But not only the goal is for you. If I don’t give you my jersey, it’s incomplete. Here, take this too.”
Fernando Torres: No one would be prouder to have it than him. He’s responsible for bringing me here; he’s the one who said I could do it.
Manuel Briñas: He said, “You taught me to love these colors, and for that I will appreciate you for the rest of my life.”
The kid from Fuenlabrada who had always loved Atleti, Torres took a moment to reflect upon the significance of the moment and how lucky he had been.
Fernando Torres: Truthfully, and from the heart, I had only dreamt of scoring one (goal). I’ve been coming here (to the Calderón) since the age of 10 to see the team, and having the chance to be on the pitch was a dream.
CHAPTER SEVEN: “God willing, see you every three days.”
Torres spent the first half of the 2016-2017 season on the bench, after the big money summer signing of French striker Kévin Gameiro from Sevilla; however - as is usually the case come February - El Niño has rolled back the years once more, scoring an incredible chilena against Celta de Vigo and giving Atlético fans a glimmer of hope that maybe - just maybe - he’s not finished yet.
Paulo Futre - Atlético legend and former Director of Football: Fernando Torres should retire at Atlético de Madrid. He can’t be bouncing around other teams again.
Manuel Briñas: When he returned to Atleti, it was one of the best days of my life. Fernando Torres loves Atlético de Madrid, and Atlético de Madrid loves Fernando Torres.
In a lot of ways, El Niño is the same person he always was -- back home at the club of his life.
Abraham García: He’s still the lad I knew here in Atlético. Last year, I met him in Liverpool, where I’d gone to see Rafa Benitez, and he was as warm and generous as he’d always been. There was none of the “I’m a star” who’s forgotten his friends or a junior trainer like me.
Fernando Torres: As opposed to clubs like Barcelona and Real Madrid, who only care about winning, Atléticos care more about feeling than winning. For us, it’s enough to have fun and have a good time each Sunday, and if we win, all the better. This is what my grandfather instilled in me, and this is the Atlético feeling.
However, before he goes, he still wants to bring something special back to the club of his life.
Fernando Torres: The big dream still to achieve: returning to (the fuente de) Neptuno with a big trophy.
Although Antoine Griezmann’s shirt is now the club’s top selling shirt globally, in the club’s official store on the banks of the Manzanares outside of the Vicente Calderón, you can guess who’s number one.
For newer Atlético fans, it can be a bit tough to reconcile Torres’ current on-field performance with how much the fans love him. El Niño is no longer a kid on this, his 33rd birthday. Week in, week out, he doesn’t bring what he used to. Flashes of the old Torres - like his stroke of genius against Celta - may be all we get these days.
Each of these moments should be cherished. Atlético is El Niño, and El Niño is Atlético. Torres is the talisman, the man who best represents the sentimiento atlético, the love for a team and that team’s players outweighing the burden of occasionally crushing defeats on the pitch. Torres is the kid from a working-class family in Fuenlabrada just south of Madrid, the kid who always loved Atleti and would become an icon at the club, the kid who would grow up to own the Calderón.
(Remember that next time he skies a one-on-one chance into the 16th row. I love Torres, but it’s going to happen at least a few more times.)
Personally, I’m with Paulo Futre -- it would feel like something’s right with the universe to see Torres to finish his career in the red and white. As El Niño himself said on the day he returned:
“Go Atleti. See you on Wednesday, see you next weekend, and from now on, God willing, see you every three days.”