Fernando José Torres Sanz, “el Niño” to the Spanish and currently the Kid to Liverpool supporters, has been an icon in Spanish football since 2001, although, because of his immediate impact at the top levels, it seems much longer than that.
Born in Fuenlabrada, just south of Madrid, on 20th March, 1984, Fernando Torres was raised as a supporter of what many regard as Madrid’s ‘second’ team, Atlético, although their followers would claim a fanaticism and passion missing from their more famous neighbours, Real Madrid. After three seasons playing indoor football for Mario’s Holland, a local junior team, Fernando, then aged ten, moved to his first full-sided games and enjoyed an impressive season with Rayo 13, scoring 55 goals, which caught the eye of the scouts of his already beloved Atlético Madrid.
Immediately, Atlético realized they had discovered a player of enormous potential and his progress through the youth teams ranks was avidly watched by officials and supporters alike. In 1998, for example, the club’s Under 15 team won the prestigious Nike Cup Europe, defeating the likes of FC Barcelona, Manchester United and, crucially for the fans, Real Madrid. Torres, the player of the tournament, was later named as the best European player of his age group.
It was the 2000 – 2001 season that really kick-started Torres’ professional career, even though it started inauspiciously with a broken leg preventing him from playing until December.
In February, he was an integral part of the Spanish Under 16 team which won the Algarve tournament, followed by the European Under 16 Championship. Then, in May, 2001, at the club’s home ground, El Calderón, Fernando Torres made his debut for Atlético Madrid against Leganés – the club’s youngest ever player. The following week, against Albacete, he scored his first goal in senior football.
At this time, Atlético, to the utter dismay and disbelief of their followers, were languishing in Spain’s Second Division but, in Torres’ first full season, 2001 – 2002, they won promotion back to la Liga, and, although he only scored 6 goals himself, El Niño was already becoming the team’s talisman. During that season, Fernando scored the winning goal for his country in the European Under 19 Championship, where he was leading scorer and voted the best player.
For the following five seasons, Atlético re-established themselves as a club in Spain’s top division, with Torres regularly their ‘pichichi’, or leading goal scorer. For the 2003 – 2004 season, he was appointed club captain – the youngest ever player to hold that position. At the same time, after making his full international debut in a friendly against Portugal in September, 2003, he became a regular in the Spanish squad, going to Euro 2004 and the 2006 World Cup.
In addition to the fans who admired his football, Fernando also became something of a ‘pop idol’ for youngsters across Spain. I vividly recall watching Atlético play in Las Palmas in the Copa del Rey, Spain’s version of the FA Cup, when 50% of the crowd seemed to be teenage girls who screamed with delight every time the ball went near their beloved. ‘Real’ football fans, though, admired not only his goal scoring ability, both in the air and on the ground, but also his athleticism, never-say-die attitude and unswerving loyalty to the team ethic.
Throughout his latter years in Madrid, Torres was the target of almost constant speculation about a ‘big money’ transfer, being linked with clubs in England and Italy, as it was widely agreed that he could not play in La Liga for anyone other than ‘his’ Atlético. Fernando himself always played down this speculation, maintaining that he wanted to fulfill his ambitions with the club he had supported since his grandfather had taken him as a child.
In the summer of 2007, however, it became obvious that the time was right, for both Atlético and Fernando himself, for the separation to occur. Atlético were too reliant on Torres and needed the money to develop their squad; Torres was in danger of never playing at the very highest level that his skill deserved. On July 4th, 2007, there was an emotional goodbye to the fans who had given him so much support and, on the same day, Fernando signed for Liverpool Football Club, with a great burden of expectation on his shoulders.
However, he scored his first Premiership goal at home against Chelsea on August 19th, his first hat-trick against Reading in September in a League Cup tie, and his first European goals in November against Porto FC. With the help of a Spanish manager and several other Spanish players already at Anfield, Torres found adjusting to life and football in England relatively straightforward. By the end of his first season he’d scored 24 goals including a run of eight consecutive games in which he’d scored. The Liverpool Kop had certainly found a new goalscoring hero to cheer on. The club declared Fernando intransferable when it was rumoured that Chelsea were prepared to offer £50 million for him.
The summer of 2008 was the pinnacle of his career to date when he scored the winning goal of the European Championships for Spain and was named man of the match.
In a recent interview published in the Spanish sports daily, Marca, he said it would be many years before he left Liverpool but admitted the only thing he didn’t like about his new life in England was the cold weather in the mornings in winter!