Fernando Torres: The England Years Recounted

Fernando Torres: The England Years Recounted

It’s August 19, 2007 and Liverpool’s newest Spanish export, Fernando Torres, had just opened his account for the club in the 16th minute v Chelsea on his Anfield debut. A first for ‘El Niño’ in a Liverpool shirt, it was the birth of something special in Merseyside.

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Born in Fuenlabrada (Madrid), Fernando José Torres Sanz was living the dream playing professionally for his hometown club, Atletico Madrid. His grandfather had molded him into a passionate fan at a very young age. He was destined to wear the red and white shirt he held close to his heart.

Climbing the ranks of the Rojiblancos academy, Torres inherently been in as ideal a situation as any could imagine. From 2001 until his departure in 2007, Torres had appeared more than 200 times for the club and scored north of 80 goals, via transfermarkt. He was the club’s chosen one as he proudly starred for his boyhood club.

Though he was comfortable and observed as the pillar for the club’s future, the temptations of playing professional football in England were simply too good to pass up.

Atletico Madrid president Enrique Cerezo, with interest arriving from Chelsea and Newcastle United, sold the prized striker to Liverpool for an estimated £20m in July 2007. At the time, Torres’ transfer was the richest in Liverpool history.

On the back of a move from his hometown club, Torres had quite a bit of pressure to live up to the hype.

Rafa Benitez selected the young Spaniard to lead the Liverpool attack and aid the club in its quest for major silverware for the 2007-08 campaign.

Months prior to the season opener, Italian giants A.C. Milan had just earned their revenge from 2005’s UEFA Champions League meltdown in Istanbul where Liverpool pulled off arguably the most iconic comeback in the competitions’ history.

Benitez and his Reds were chomping at the bit for their sixth European title; Could Torres be the missing ingredient to make it happen?

Torres’ debut for the club arrived on Matchday 1 against Martin O’Neill’s Aston Villa, yet it was in the 1-1 draw with bitter rivals Chelsea FC where he had officially arrived at the Kop.

The Spanish international and legendary captain Steven Gerrard had linked up for the very first time; a ball tightly threaded by Stevie G allowed Torres to demonstrate his scintillating pace, beating Chelsea defender Tal Ben Haim with a quick maneuver before calmly slotting home the goal past a defenseless Petr Cech.

It was then where the Anfield faithful knew they had someone special on their hands.

During his debut season in England, Torres settled in quite nicely. The 20 million pound feuding owners Tom Hicks and George Gillet had splashed on his signature the prior summer was money well spent. An astounding 33 goals across all competitions, six of which were obtained during the UEFA Champions League.

The Spanish star was considered untouchable and rightfully so.

Torres had proven to be a thorn in the rear for all clubs he confronted his rookie season, including Arsenal who were eliminated from the Champions League. Liverpool advanced past the Gunners into the semi-finals on the European main-stage before bowing out to Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea.

A valiant attempt falls short for number six.

By adding Torres to the mix with Gerrard, Jose Reina, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano, a return to European supremacy was essentially written in the stars.

The 2007-08 interval saw Liverpool come away empty handed. The solo efforts of Torres, however, earned him countless personal honors: Premier League PFA Team of the Year, FIFA FIFPro World XI.

Individual achievements aside, team silverware remained the top priority.

Entering the 2008-09 campaign, Torres was flying high. Euro 2008 – co-hosted by Austria and Switzerland – saw the elite number nine represent his beloved Spain. The Euro became a tournament he would excel at years later, winning the Golden Boot at Euro 2012 in Poland-Ukraine with three goals on the way to Spanish triumph.

In the final, Torres snagged the winner besting Philipp Lahm and Germany keeper Jens Lehmann. La Roja were the kings of Europe and El Niño was beaming under the brightest lights world football had to offer.

A series of hamstrings injuries hampered Torres’ sophomore campaign, but did not forbid him from scoring his share of the Liverpool goals. In September, Torres buried two v Everton, carrying Liverpool over the Toffees 2-0 in the latest chapter of the Merseyside Derby.

In the midst of Premier League competition, Liverpool wished to reclaim their rightful place amongst Europe’s elite.

In October 2008, Torres’ side would encounter a familiar face as his beloved Atletico Madrid hosted the English club at his old stomping grounds, Vicente Calderón Stadium. Unfortunately for Torres, he had sustained an untimely injury in a 2010 FIFA World Cup qualifier while serving international duty with Spainm sidelining him for the clash.

Although it was an injury-ridden sophomore campaign in the English top flight, Torres managed another superb season, bagging 14 goals in a limited twenty-four league appearances. Once again, the quest for a sixth UCL trophy was halted when Chelsea knocked them from the tournament in the quarter-finals (7-5 agg).

The individual efforts of Fernando Torres earned him a third-place finish behind Manchester United’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Barcelona’s Lionel Messi for FIFA World Player of the Year. If you ask any player, they’d tell you all personal accolades come second to team ones.

Torres was no different and only wished to help fill the club’s cabinet.

Following the conclusion of the campaign, Torres had signed a new deal to keep him with the club for the foreseeable future. It was a relief for the Liverpool faithful. Rumors of a possible change at the bench came about and it was unclear if Torres would commit to the club long-term without having the man who brought him to the club by his side.

Speaking to Goal.com months before signing a new deal, Torres explained that his “future is tied with Liverpool…should Rafa leave, I will stay on and fulfill my contract with the club.”

The star hitman remained at the club for the 2009-10 season, once again dazzling in a cut-short campaign; 18 goals in twenty-two Premier League appearances. In December 2009, his winner in the dying minutes against Aston Villa was his 50th goal for the club, making him the quickest to the tally in club history.

Of course, Torres concluded the season as the team’s top scorer, but not before he was placed on the shelf in April to go under the knife. Knee surgery.

Another year, another campaign without silverware.

Coming off major surgery in April, Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque cautiously monitored the situation regarding his first-choice striker. He was by no means starved of options to front the attack in South Africa, but surely he’d love to have Torres on the team sheet for the opening match.

Two months after the operation, Torres was selected by Spain for the FIFA World Cup. He came on as a second half sub in the shocking 1-nil defeat to Switzerland in the opening group stage match of the tournament. Torres seemed to have lost a step throughout the tournament. The blistering pace we had seen on display over his previous three seasons at Liverpool basically vanished.

Spain of course went on to lift the World Cup trophy, besting Netherlands 1-0 in the final.

Perhaps disguised by all the streamers and ceremonies honoring La Roja’s achievements was the fact that Liverpool now had to question the future of Torres with the club.

With Liverpool failing to meet seasonal objectives and debt having a stranglehold on further investments, the board was left with no choice but to seek a new manager to restore order to the club.

Rafa Benitez, who days later joined treble-winners Internazionale in Italy’s Serie A after Jose Mourinho departed for the Real Madrid role, was relieved of his duties after spending six seasons at Anfield. It was ex-Fulham and Blackburn Rovers boss Roy Hodgson who would replace him at the post.

In the summer, rumors began to swirl once more around Fernando Torres. Liverpool was not a contestant in the Champions League. Hicks and Gillet were in a financial rut and were seeking a purchasing group who could carry the torch. Javier Mascherano was sold off to Barcelona and New England Sports Ventures — which became Fenway Sports Group soon after — had a different vision for the future, one that involved a massive overhaul of the club and youth.

In an article on The Anfield Wrap, Simon Hughes explains how Torres sat down with incoming sporting director Damien Comolli to get an understanding of the direction the club was headed. In short, Torres was told the club wished to build something brand. hOf course, he had doubts about his future.

Still, Torres remained on but tension was rising and Hodgson was thrusted into a difficult situation early in his tenure as Liverpool manager.

Honoring his oath, Torres committed to his contract and the club despite the dismissal of Benitez. Just four months removed from major surgery, it was now clear that Torres no longer possessed that same explosiveness that made him a household name.

In 23 league appearances to begin the campaign, Torres was held in check, scoring nine goals.

With the January transfer window looming, Liverpool — now led by Kenny Dalglish — were on the outside looking in at the top four in twelfth. The club finally pulled the trigger.

Torres was sold to rival Chelsea for an estimated £50m on January 31, 2011.

The new Blue signed on with the Londoners for five-and-half years, setting the British record as the most expensive transfer in league history. At that time, Torres’ big money move was the sixth most expensive in world football history behind names like Zinedine Zidane, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Kaká and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Like any other major transaction, there was a heaping amount of pressure. Though Torres had the quality and track record, it was nearly impossible for him to meet such high expectations.

In story-like fashion, Torres made his Chelsea debut on February 6th at Stamford Bridge against Liverpool in a 1-0 defeat. Raul Meireles was the man to spoil his cameo with the club.

After the London arrival, Torres disappointingly found the net once in 14 league appearances. Liverpool — with the help from new signing Luis Suarez (£22.8m) — managed to rise from the depths of twelfth to finish a respectable sixth.

From there on, Liverpool became the unanimous winners from that January transfer dealing.

During the entire 2011-12 season, Chelsea supporters were hopeful that Torres could perform to at least half of what he was with Liverpool. However, the goal-scoring form that once bullied all of England came in brief spurts; one in a 3-1 defeat to Manchester United, another v Swansea City in which he was eventually sent off with a red card.

Fernando Torres wound up making up for his poor season by scoring a last-minute goal v Barcelona in the UEFA Champions League semi-final and giving Chelsea the 3-2 agg win. He came on in the second half of the final v Bayern Munich which ended in penalty shootout glory as Roberto Di Matteo’s men were crowned champions of Europe.

In total that season, Torres managed to score just 11 times in forty-nine appearances. Liverpool struck out with £35m Andy Carroll who turned out to be a major bust, but Suarez was quickly taking England by storm.

The former Ajax star collected a solid 17 goals and 11 assists in ten less appearances than Torres that season. Not to mention, Suarez paired tremendously with Gerrard and fit the youth model the new owners desired.

The two hitmen traveled two different paths. Suarez went on to score more than 60 goals in the Premier League from 2012 through 2014 before he was sold to Barcelona for a staggering £65m (€82.3) following the World Cup in Brazil. Torres’ form never reversed as he scored nearly half of Suarez’s output in the allotted time.

The 2013-14 season saw the woes continue. Torres made his 100th start for the club in an October Champions League match against Schalke. Two goals sealed the 3-0 victory over the German side, but any slight form he managed to pick up seemed to vanish the following match.

It was Manchester City who, thanks to a slip up (no pun intended) by Liverpool in Round 37 v Crystal Palace, bested the Reds and Chelsea for a Premier League crown.

Chelsea finished four points from winning the league and you can’t help but wonder if Torres had done more to help the cause, maybe it would have been the Blues on the podium.

The following summer, Torres wound up joining AC Milan on a two-year loan. Italian football got the best of Torres as he scored just one goal in 10 appearances before returning home to Atletico Madrid in a swap deal involving winger Alessio Cerci who joined up with Pippo Inzaghi’s Rossoneri.

In his heyday, Torres was as clinical as any forward in world football. From 2007 until his Chelsea arrival in 2011, few strikers were better than El Niño. To this day, we often weigh in on what exactly led to his career’s spiraling downfall.

One could argue that Del Bosque’s decision to bring Torres to South Africa in 2010 after surgery was the individual instance that led to his rapid decline. Or maybe it was the fact that he did not have that lynchpin like Steven Gerrard who, together, formed a “Batman and Robin-type” tandem. Perhaps the easiest conclusion to draw is that £50m was a fee too large to live up to.

Chelsea did all they could to salvage his career and their investment. Abramovich even sacked Roberto Di Matteo and brought in Rafa Benitez who was at the heart of Torres’ brightest time.

The bottom line is his transfer to Chelsea simply did not unfold the way everyone had expected. Though he thrived at the Kop, maybe he was never supposed to leave Atleti. Maybe he was supposed to play his entire career at the Calderón, partner up with Diego Simeone, and lift countless trophies in Madrid.

We don’t have the answers and we never will. That’s football. Full of mysteries.

After completing his move to Chelsea, Torres explained to Cadena Ser that his decision to leave was to “improve sporting-wise” and that “Liverpool will always be very special to me.”

Fernando Torres’ time in England saw massive peaks and valleys. Some will say he betrayed the club by supposedly handing in a transfer request that January. Others think Torres was wrongfully accused of being a traitor. The passionate Reds ceremoniously sing “You’ll Never Walk Alone” but it seems like Torres did just that upon departure.

Despite being one of the more prolific goalscoring number nine’s in his prime years during the mid to late-2000’s, ‘El Niño’s tenure with Liverpool sadly fell victim to his abysmal stint with Chelsea.