"Something dies in the soul when a friend leaves." This maudlin line from a popular Spanish song sums up feelings of the Club Atlético de Madrid faithful after the departure of Fernando Torres. Perhaps the word 'icon' instead of 'friend' would be more apt but what remains is that the real reference point of Atlético in the past few years, the person in whom the fans placed all of their hopes and dreams, has left for Liverpool FC in search of new goals.
It is not an unusual story; a player leaving his boyhood club to take a new step in his career and in his life. Conscious of the fact that an era has come to an end, Torres knew he had to make sure he had made the right decision. "It's like a train that comes along only once in your life and you can't afford to miss it." Torres explained in an emotional farewell press conference. "An offer arrived and I asked [the Atlético board] to listen. The decision was mine. Liverpool set me objectives that I couldn't realise here in Madrid. The club listened to my request and we decided that it was the best thing for me. I hope that Liverpool will become like a second team for Atlético supporters."
Liverpool manager Rafael Benítez is a long-standing admirer of his compatriot, and the importance of Torres to his new club is shown by the forward being handed the No9 shirt, formerly the property the likes of Ian Rush and their own homegrown hero Robbie Fowler. "
The fact that Liverpool are giving me the No9 shirt just goes to show the confidence they have placed in me considering those who have worn that shirt before me." Torres beamed. Benítez added: "He will give us the speed we have been missing. For me, he's an incredibly important player and he has shown that he has high hopes in coming here. He stated that the only team he would have left for was Liverpool."
But it was still a wrench. Torres's class as a youngster emerged early. He was the top scorer in both the 2001 UEFA European Under-16 Championship and 2002 U19 finals, and in each case the trophy was won by Spain with Torres striking the only goal of the decider, a unique double. Three weeks after the first of those triumphs, Torres made his senior Atlético bow at Estadio Vicente Calderón against CD Leganés, and a week later the 16-year-old opened his goalscoring account against Albacete Balompié. The following season he was already a regular as Atlético earned promotion to the Primera División, and in his first two top-flight campaigns scored 13 and 19 goals - assuming the captaincy before he was out of his teens and earning a place in the full Spain lineup.
However even with Torres leading the line, Atlético have always fallen short of expectations, and a 2004 UEFA Intertoto Cup campaign, which ended in a penalty shoot-out defeat by Villarreal CF, remains the 23-year-old's only experience of European club football, a frustrating return for a player of such class courted by so many top teams. The 6-0 home loss to FC Barcelona late last season, which signalled Atlético collapse from UEFA Champions League contention to the consolation of another Intertoto campaign, perhaps crystallised that disappointment in Torres's mind. Not least as many Atlético fans seemed happy to see Real Madrid CF's title rivals triumph, something that shocked Torres, Rojiblanco through and through.
Heart on sleeve
Now Torres, of course, will be playing in the UEFA Champions League. And he clearly has some passion for his new club, speaking of his admiration for the Reds and especially another of his striking predecessors, Michael Owen, an icon at a formative time for Torres, who even displayed his leanings on his old captain's armband. "A group of my mates and I are all Liverpool fans and we have been for some years," he revealed. "A few years back, my friends each got a tattoo on their arm but obviously as a football player I couldn't really get that tattooed on my arm. So on my last birthday they gave me as a present the armband bearing the words 'We'll never walk alone'." Now he will be able to hear that famous anthem to which that slogan refers sung fortnightly by the Anfield choir as he aims to win their affections as he did the Vicente Calderón congregation.
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