Fernando Torres walks into a bar and says: “I’ll have a couple of shots please”. The barman says: “That’s not like you”.
Fernando Torres recently lost his telesales job as he kept missing his targets.
Fernando Torres’s mum sends him to a careers adviser. All goes well until he asks: “What are your goals?”
I’m going out tonight dressed as Fernando Torres. I’m not planning to score.
A joke figure. That is what Fernando Torres has become in the 32 months since he left Liverpool to join Chelsea for what remains a British record £50m fee. A player once regarded as being among the finest strikers on the planet, mesmerising as he was lethal, is now looked upon as a tragicomedy figure, either pitied or, as the above examples testify to, ridiculed for what must rank as one of the most startling falls from grace in modern football history. Type ‘Fernando Torres jokes’ into Google and you will not be left wanting.
But for all the quips and piss-taking, there remains a sense that somewhere inside that shell of a superstar exists the embers of a fire that once burnt so brightly, proof of which was on show at White Hart Lane last Saturday when during Chelsea’s 1-1 draw with Tottenham Torres showed flashes of his former best. There were a couple of surges into the area that took the mind back five or six years and, quite conceivably, the Spaniard could have capped the performance with a winning goal had he not been sent off with nine minutes to play. In fairness, he should have been dismissed earlier for attempting to dislodge Jan Vertonghen’s eyeball with his thumb.
What felt most remarkable about seeing Torres glide past Michael Dawson as if the defender’s feet were trapped in quicksand was the personal sense of elation it delivered. I thought I hated Torres, at the very least felt nothing but cold resentment towards him, but there I was, smiling as he charged back in time.
Partly this was instinctive – whoever you support, whoever you resent, there is always something uplifting about seeing a top-level footballer do top-level things; once that goes you might as well pack it in and spend your Saturday afternoons fishing. But the reaction was also a reminder of how I, how we, once felt about Torres, an adoration so great that it naturally led to a huge sense of loss and anger when he left in January 2011, not helped by the identity of the club he moved to and the lack of respect he showed Liverpool within hours of swapping red for blue.
As you get older you stop making new heroes, no longer going doe-eyed or weak at the knees at the sight of a fresh-faced footballer performing in your club’s colours. But Torres was able to make even the most grizzled Kopite love again – with his blonde locks, ice-white grin, snaking hips and standout performances, the man from Madrid felt like a rock star in red. Elvis was in the building, and the building happened to be Anfield.
We all have our favourite Torres memories and, ripping the skin of Nemanja Vidic aside, my personal highlight was watching him score a hattrick against Reading in September 2007. We arrived at the Madjeski Stadium already enthused by Rafael Benitez’s £26.5m summer signing following his stunning home debut against Chelsea, but by the end of that League Cup tie in Berkshire there was little doubt among those in the away end that the new centre-forward was a genuine star.
The spearhead of a less-than-full-strength-side (Charles Itandje and Sebastian Leto both started while Steven Gerrard only featured as a late substitute), Torres was utterly devastating, with the composure he showed in front of goal matched by the strength and resilience displayed in the face of some rather agricultural defending by Michael Duberry. Foreigners, we are told, cannot hack the intensity of British football; they go down easily and stay there too long, but every time Duberry launched his studs at Torres’s ankle, or barged his elbow into his ribs, the 23-year-old simply rode the challenge, rose back to his feet and got on with it. That as much as the three goals set the heart pounding.
On and on it went – great goals, great moments, defining displays, and the ever-growing sense that we were witnessing a player who would ultimately join Liddell, Hunt, Keegan, Dalglish, Rush and Fowler in Liverpool’s pantheon of much-talented and much-loved strikers. And then we found him in bed with another man.
Players come and go at every club in every era but Torres’s departure was painfully hard to take. There was a host of reasons for this, from his decision to hand in a transfer request at the 11th hour, to not giving Kenny Dalglish a chance to show he could revitalise the striker’s flagging form having just replaced Roy Hodgson, to the simple, unpalatable choice of choosing Chelsea as his next destination. Sick already, we had to hear of his delight at joining “one of the top clubs in the world.” It was enough to make the stomach turn.
Such was the sense of betrayal felt by John Aldridge that he can now only bear to refer to Torres as ‘FT’, while, no doubt, there are homes across Merseyside and elsewhere where he is not mentioned at all, a particularly hard feat when discussions about Liverpool’s best modern-day songs break out. Oh how we used to bounce.
On a personal level Torres’s departure left a numbing sensation: never again would I love like that again, a level of cynicism which proved valuable during the Luis Suarez saga: having not got attached to the Uruguayan in the first place I was able to look upon his attempts to move with cold, almost emotionless detachment. There were no tears or flaying of arms, just an acceptance of how these things work these days.
But what the brain tries to forget the heart holds onto, and so when Torres flickered back into life against Tottenham it was hard not to feel those old feelings again. He scored 81 goals in 142 games for Liverpool, many of them breath-taking, some of them simply incredible, and was a joy to watch for almost the entirety of his three-and-half-year stay on Merseyside. Heartbreak followed but Torres’s time at Liverpool should be cherished rather than regretted, especially given the fee the club were able to extract from Chelsea. They have the jokes, but we have the memories.