FINALLY free. You, me and Fernando, writes MELISSA REDDY.
There was a delay of a few seconds; unintentionally deliberate and dramatic. The song, that song was being sung again. Lips were moving and ‘Fernando Torres, Liverpool’s number nine’ was loudly in motion, but time seemed to have paused for the striker. Likely wrestling with whether the warm welcome at Anfield was reality or forged in fantasy, El Nino did not immediately respond.
“I didn’t know how to react because I was not expecting the song,” he admitted. And he wasn’t the only one who was both surprised yet fulfilled that the na na na nas once again bounced in every corner of a ground that witnessed him grow into one of the game’s finest strikers.
Over the past four years, it had always been easy to forget, to pretend that description of Torres was wide of the target — like so many of his attempts on goal in a Chelsea shirt. It made it simpler to palate the loss of not only an incredible player, but a relatable personality that was nestled in Liverpool hearts.
Before he had netted the first of his 81 goals for Liverpool, he was already “one of us”. It was in San Sebastian on April 21 2007, wearing Atletico Madrid’s shirt and armband against Real Sociedad, when the peroxide-haired hitman unwittingly signalled his own destiny.
While muscling with a defender, the piece of material around his bicep fell open, the hidden inscription caught on camera: ‘We’ll Never Walk Alone.’ It was a message between himself and his friends — a way to symbolise their bond without needing to be tattooed like the rest of the group, yet the ink still did all the writing. Torres was linked to Manchester United and Arsenal, while Atleti rejected offers from Lyon and Inter Milan, but the moment the band fell loose, it all seemed to fall into place.
“Maybe that was the day I took my first step towards Anfield, or maybe it was because I already shared things with Liverpool,” he revealed in El Nino: My Story. “I identify with the values that define the club: hard work, struggle, humility, sacrifice, effort, tenacity, commitment, togetherness, unity, faith, the permanent desire to improve, to overcome all obstacles.”
It just felt right. And that is precisely why it felt like you were burying your head in a bucket of sick on January 31, 2011. It’s pointless detailing why it has taken four years for Torres to finally “be at peace with himself” and for Liverpool fans to charitably forgive.
He left. For Chelsea. On January 31. After Luis Suarez was signed. Without giving that partnership a chance, without putting his faith in Kenny Dalglish. The man who had personally visited him and told him upon signing: “Fernando, Liverpool is a special club with special fans. They love those players who love wearing their shirt. But they’re not stupid: they know when players mean it and when they don’t; they know when it’s just for show — when a player kisses the badge and all that. They love to identify themselves with the players out on the pitch — and I think they’re going to identify with you very, very easily.”
We identified. Then he waved the plastic flag and said some daft stuff. Really daft stuff. We were jilted, offended, broken, bruised and a bit embarrassed. Ok, a lot embarrassed. There he was, our Golden Boy, with his dashing smile and dazzling blonde mane wanting to dance again, the way he danced with us.
Everyone dealt with that in different ways. Some made a banner about betrayal. He was dead to others. Booed and loathed. For a while, I watched every Chelsea game after that deadline day — a day which was so messed up, it didn’t even need a purple dildo to make it ridiculous. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in my Chelsea voyeurism. I had to see how Fernando Torres dealt with their slow build-up play, with their choice of possession over pace. The truth was, he didn’t. It didn’t suit him, not at all.
It was — and it sounds utterly pathetic now — enjoyable in a sense. But it was also consuming and ultimately a waste of time.
He was soon the Premier League’s prime joke. It’s most expensive laugh. I joined in: ‘I miss you like Fernando Torres’ went one tweet. Just another stage of grief.
His career turned tragicomedy and then I wanted him to do well. Weirdly, through everything, it still felt like he was somewhat ours to defend. The verbal beatings from Chelsea supporters seemed cruel, the misses were suddenly sympathised with, and the memory engaged in regular throwbacks to how he used to be. When there was rare flashes of what he could do: a drop of the shoulder, a turn of pace, a run at defenders that they had seen in their nightmares, I was happy.
The mood was softening, the anger subsiding — even on Twitter, often the most unforgiving of platforms.
Personally, I forgave Torres long ago. I also was grateful to him for hardening me and cooling my blood in such an extreme way that when Suarez wanted to pull a chair at the Emirates, I felt as much as you do when you fall on an absolutely bladdered night out.
I interviewed Ryan Babel recently and he told me he was “numb from all the empty promises” the club constantly made. You’d get told one thing, commit, and encounter the opposite of what was offered. Nando related that story when he left. Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano made similar noises.
Ultimately, it was never about him leaving but the how and the where of it. Strangely, despite the cold shoulder from the Kop, he never wavered in his sentiment that the club and its supporters were special to him. Eventually, at the All-Stars match, these two world’s collided: the worst kind of goodbye, and the chance to wave the best kind of hello.
Him and Suarez. Suarez and him. Gerrard in behind, on the supply chain. It looked great, it was great, it would have been…
All last week, I told anyone who’d listen that it would be the ultimate therapy session if that song was sung during the game. Catharsis. I underestimated the extent of the elation though — it felt as though we were all finally free. Those inside the ground, those watching at home, those following on Twitter and Fernando himself.
There is something indescribably powerful about watching a 31-year-old man constantly having to compose himself to avoid being overrun by emotion. There was a smile with Luis and a word with Alonso during the lap of honour. A look to where the ball was when the song first returned at the onset of the second half. Both times as the chorus amplified, he turned around and applauded in a state of half-shock and full gratitude. His eyes heavy, his weight lifted.
Four years in the making, eight years after his armband proved he was a Red, 81 largely out-of-the-top-drawer goals, unquantified heartache and gradual healing later — thank you, Fernando Torres.
Nunca Caminaras Solo
Pics: Richard Martin-Roberts/David Rawcliffe-Propaganda
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Nicely done. Although I never enjoyed his travails at Chelsea. I enjoyed Agger bowling him over and “You should have stayed with a real club”, but I never stopped wanting Torres to succeed. Chelsea to lose every game 4-3 with a Torres hatrick. That was the wish.
I wrote this under the other thread, but it make more sense here:
There was a question on AFQ last week that asked ‘which LFC goal made you completely lose it?’ For me, it’s Torres’ second goal against Chelsea in Nov 10 – the curler using Ivanovic as a screen. Czech doesn’t move. It came as LFC were starting to show signs of life after a terrible start under the Hodge, and Torres was being written off following injury and loss of form after the world cup. At that moment, as he slid on his knees, straight arms ending in clenched fists, I loved him. I literally loved him.
I loved Suarez, too, but never like I loved – adored – Torres. In full flow, no-one has given me greater pleasure watching LFC. When he scored against Chelsea on his home debut, gliding past Ben Haim (okay, that’s been done before) and slotting unerringly to confirm it wasn’t all hype, I distinctly remember thinking to myself ‘we may have found one here’. When he stood up to Reading’s collective GBH to score a hatrick, any lingering doubt evaporated. The dashing blade, the handsome prince, Sir Lancealot all rolled into one. Unplayable footballing royalty. I swear to God that when we were away you could hear the home crowd sigh with resignation whenever Torres was put through. There are few certainties in football, but for a few brief seasons when he wore the red, Torres scoring when through on goal was one.
There’s a famous George Best goal where he slaloms through a defence that try to take him out at the knee a couple of times. It’s 3 penalties but he keeps his feet, determined to stay upright, and eventually slots it past the keeper. It encapsulates what Best was about, more so than any of the glittering goals he scored: “You can’t stop me. You can try anything you like, but you can’t stop me.” Torres scores a very similar goal for us, against Middlesbrough, I think. I’m always reminded of Best when I watch a Torres montage for this goal in particular. You couldn’t stop him. Not when he was ‘on it’.
There is, of course, another Best similarity in that for all his achievements at LFC, there is a gut-wrenching realization that there was more to come, even greater heights to scale. He was 26 when he left us, 4 years older than Buddy Holly and 2 years older than James Dean, and perhaps as with those alternative icons the frustration at what we were cruelly denied distorts the sense of achievement? Or maybe they and he really was that good? That stats say he was.
For me, Chelsea didn’t happen. He didn’t transfer to the team I love to hate and struggle with a system and managers who couldn’t fathom how to deploy the world’s best striker. That’s wiped from the memory bank. Fernando Torres was…is…Liverpool’s number 9, galloping down the pitch, a cross between Bolt and Nuruyev, blonde mane flapping in the Anfield breeze.
El nino magnifico, frozen in time
Have to echo your thoughts on Suarez-Torres, Brownie. Was mental about Suarez, but it wasn’t in the same stratosphere of affection I had towards Torres. It was wonderful to watch him look sharp again, enjoying himself at Anfield, and receiving the kind of thanks he deserved for those 81 goals. We had the best of him, and for that, we should continue bouncing.
Torres was overplayed at the club and never given time to recover from injury. No doubt the lies he was told at the time and the dismissal of Rafa also played their part in his disillusionment. The club was also happy to make him a lightning rod for all the anger over Hicks and Gillett and Hodgson’s disastrous tenure. As for the move to Chelsea, it wasn’t just the impact of injuries or the different playing style, luck seemed to desert him there and the media witchhunt which pursued him for the rest of his time in the UK didn’t help. Always remember he scored a fantastic volley in his first game for them against MUFC which was disallowed because David Luiz fouled someone in the box; then the great game he had at Old Trafford which was forgotten in all the hilarity over that miss. Arguable, but it’s likely that they wouldn’t have won the CL without his input both in the Barcelona game and later, when he injected much needed energy in the final, against Bayern, winning the corner that led to Drogba’s equaliser. Again, he led the line superbly for the EL victory, but it always seemed to be one step forward two steps back and in the end any positives have been forgotten to fit a certain kind of extreme narrative, but then he is the kind of player that has always prompted extreme emotions, whether of love or hate.
My feelings exactly, I will never let myself love a player so deeply as I loved Torres because it dam well hurts when they betray you and leave. I don’t feel as dirty admitting i still like him now he has gone back to Atletico. It felt great belting out the song yesterday, tinged with a degree of sadness at what might have been….
Great article. Great first comment.
Can we shut this down lest it be spoilt?
Lovely stuff. I loved Nando. What an athlete! Was never comfortable with our fans booing him. Hope he succeeds at his home club.
What happens if he does well at Atletica, catches the eye of Man City and goes there for mega bucks?
Boo or not?
I truly regret only witnessing Torres during his wane, the 09/10 season as he faltered and struggled, then in the 10/11 season as he only showed patches of form and ultimately bailed in the 11th hour. Right as Suarez was being signed I screamed Torres/Suarez Torres/Suarez to anyone who would listen, sadly not able to grasp the fact that the lad had left.
When Suarez for rounded the keeper in his debut against Stoke I had that picture on the desktop for months and as his goals grew and grew with each match I was delighted that we had a fantastic replacement striker, but Torres was always thought of, even if it was for a terribly funny miss for the Scum!
If only we had the chance to witness the both of them in full flight. My hope is we use these last two season: the near miss of last season and the struggles of turning it around this season, and have that fuel our rise to the very top. It’s nearly the same amount of time between Man U going on their Title run, things always go in circles and I have a feeling we are about to GOOOOO!!!
Thank you…. You encapsulated the situation brilliantly… I sang his song loud and long yesterday… Life is too short… A wonderful player and I was delighted we remembered that….
Lovely piece. All so true.
I always thought Torres was us forever, that we were just borrowing Luis. That’s what made his leaving so painful. All the talk about loving his kids having a Scouse accent…his antipathy to RM mirrored our view of Manu and Chelsea. He just BELONGED.
But he didn’t. It was the worst thing any player ever did to us. I came to understand why. But the truth is that Fernando Torres DID only play for us: Chelsea got a completely different player. The REAL Torres disappeared when he left Anfield.
Makes you wonder if anyone was actually bothered about him leaving. Obviously they were but it seemed like yesterday a lot of people emerged saying they’re long over it. I think it was more akin to a family feud that suddenly gets resolved because they were prepared to have dialogue and then everyone opens up. I’d even say, it was the football equivalent of not grieving properly until yesterday. Torres and Suarez had similarities to me. One wore the armband and the other used to be Liverpool when he played on the Xbox (I love all that shit, haha). Both were humble and both appeared as slightly tortured souls. Oh yeah, and they both loved scoring. Perfect recipe for Liverpool fans. I sometimes wonder if Liverpool’s support has a fairly small group who are the most vocal and set the agenda. Maybe they’re just the most passionate. People say about him leaving / staying back in 2011 but I think that’s secondary. If he’d gone to Barca then most people would have said ‘don’t blame ya mate’. It was like being in school when your girlfriend says, thanks but I’m seeing your best mate now and they wave and walk off into the sunset together. We have it in our heads we’re the best and it hit us hard to have Chelsea dominate us and walk off hand in hand with Torres. Sometimes in that situation you need a bit of a boost and lower your standards to accommodate it and we ended up with Carroll. It never felt the same but then I always saw Suarez as Torres replacement and never expected to see them together. I think when Torres went to Milan most people took the step towards reconciliation. Yesterday was the dialogue. I think it feels great. I’ve thought about him all day, obviously not because of his looks but because it brought it back to me how much I used to like him. I think I’d forgotten. I was pleased for him too. He gave us some good memories and I think he’s a nice person.
Nice article. Feels like everyone can draw a line under it now.
Imagine 07/08 Torres with 13/14 Suarez though… Dalglish/Rush for our generation with leagues getting won.
Deep breath, slowly exhale… Healing…. I felt dumped and cheated on. Now he has admitted she was ugly and he’s sorry.
Fantastic article agree with it all. I felt all the heartache but still loved the guy who broke my heart. Was wonderful to watch him, Suarez and Gerard playing together at last. Oh the dreams of what might have been. ‘We bought the lad from sunny Spain he gets the ball and scores again Fernando Torres Liverpools number 9’ memories
Great piece Melissa.
Torres was magnificent. It was like a horrible break up when he left. You’re right we did have the best of him. He was untouchable at his best for Liverpool. Simply phenomenal.
He did have a period where he sulked pretty badly but it was like a perfect storm of things coinciding such as, realising he would never be as quick as he once was after bad injury, being kicked off the pitch and refs not doing anything, frustrations about the directions of the club (ownership and the like). I’m sure he would look back on that period with regret. No matter how shit your feeling you should never look like you can’t be arsed and don’t wanna be there, for the fan’s (who ADORED him) sake.
But all is forgiven. I will be able to tell my kids I saw those hat-tricks in a row in the flesh! I think Suarez’s stint and his indifferent time at Chelsea has made people forget a little bit how good he really was. Would have been amazing to see them play together at their best.