El Nino aka Fernando Torres is reaching the end of his Atletico career, with his dream of representing his boyhood club, captain the club of his hearts and winning a major trophy with them all coming to fruition. Fernando was the one who stood out from the crowd. He was the only kid in class to wear the Red and White of Vicente Calderon in a class full of Real Whites.
Fernando was a staunch supporter of Atletico, coming to blows with his classmates and even friends if they mocked his club. The love for the club was borne out of an early age ritual of attending the club games and living in close proximity to the club grounds. Atletico were not a small club, but their struggles in the shadows of the big spending Real Madrid along with their shock relegation to the Segunda were derailing their progress.
Fernando came through the youth ranks for Atletico, signing his first professional contract with the club at the age of just 15. He made his full Atletico debut in the Segunda division at the age of 17 at the end of the 2000-01 and after struggling there for two seasons, Atletico made it into the top flight courtesy of winning the Segunda division title at the end of the 2001-02 campaign. Fernando had by now become one of their most promising talents, and with the club etched in his heart, he was determined to take it to greater heights.
Fernando was the top scorer for his club in the next 5 seasons, becoming their most lethal weapon and a force that was driving them away from mid-table obscurity and premier cup contenders. It was his love for the club that made him work harder than any other player at the club and become a striker who commanded Chelsea’s interest as early as in 2003-04. Abramovich bid a tantalising £28M for the then 19 year old striker. Atletico Madrid responded to this bid by making Torres one of their youngest captain.
Torres was more than happy to commit to Atletico, and after getting the captaincy, his game moved up a gear. In his last three seasons at the club, Torres scored 48 goals for an Atletico Madrid team which could only muster up 11th, 10th and 7th placed finish, with no European outings and no domestic trophies. It was becoming increasingly clear that Torres was now a luxury rather than a soldier which Atletico were finding increasingly difficult to keep hold of.
In 2007, Liverpool broke their banks to acquire Torres for a club record of £20M + Luis Garcia. Torres had previously rejected another advance by Chelsea in favour of moving to the Reds, thus bidding farewell to his boyhood club. In the end, Fernando’s move to Liverpool was a smashing hit, with the star striker scoring 81 goals in 4 seasons at the club, reaching the Champions League finals in his first season at the club.
The subsequent moves to Chelsea and Milan brought with them personal struggles, as Torres suffered a sensational dip in form and confidence, but one thing was always clear to him. No matter where he played his trade, he would ultimately end up in Atletico to finish his career. With this in mind, Torres moved on from Chelsea after 5 trophy laden, yet barren spell. Taking an Italian detour, Torres finally reached back to Atletico, a club clearly on the up and on a high after reaching the Champions League final in the first of his two season long loan move.
The loan move was made permanent at the end of 18 months, which was marked by another outing in the Champions League finals, and yet another heartbreak by the hands of their arch-rivals, Real Madrid. Torres had become an impact sub at Atletico and a cover for more high profile strikers like Antoine Griezmann and Diego Costa. Fernando though, was content with his role, with the charm of returning back to his home and playing for his club enough to motivate him in training everyday.
In his 11th season, Torres finally ended up lifting a major trophy, winning the Europa League last night thanks to brilliant performances by his colleagues. The sight of Torres lifting the Europa League in Atletico colours is an emotional one for every Atletico fan, given his public attachment to the club and his inspiring story of rising through the club to become one of the most lethal strikers Spanish football has ever seen.
But as the night wore on, a sense of inevitable and the feeling of the fairy tale slipping away took over the fans and the man himself. Torres is not retiring at the end of the season, but he is departing from the club once again. It was tough to see him leave the first time, but it will be even tougher to see a rightful legend depart the new stadium. Fernando will always be remembered and adored as the “one of our own” by the Atletico faithful, and his memories will forever be etched into the history of the club.
Adios El Niño