- By William Taylor – Non League correspondent & Fall From Grace Creator @WilliamTaylor0
Fall From Grace is a weekly feature on TheFutbolNetwork where William Taylor takes a look at players who were once hailed as the game’s finest or on the cusp of greatness but have since fallen away into obscurity. This weeks edition looks at former Liverpool and Chelsea forward Fernando Torres.
Over the years, Spanish football has produced many illustrious names that have taken European club football and International football by storm. For four years, between 2008 and 2012, Spain dominated football in every way you can imagine. Barcelona won the Champions League twice, more than most teams have mustered in their entire history, the Ballon D’Or seemed to be dominated by Spanish candidates and as we all know, the Spanish national side were completely unbeatable and won three major competitions in a row. That team had everything: a world class keeper, a fantastic defence, a midfield which rarely put a pass wrong and an incredible striker who could score for fun, Fernando Torres.
Fernando Torres began playing football when he was just five and at only ten years old he progressed to his first 11-a-side team. In his first season he scored an astounding 55 goals and was already beginning to show his forward qualities. This drew interest from Torres’ boyhood club, Athletico Madrid. He signed for their prestigious academy in 1995, aged 11. Just three years later, his name was still circulating around Atletico as a very promising talent as he helped his team to an U15 Nike Cup win. He was later voted the best player in Europe in his age group. Big things were already expected from this young man. It came as no surprise that a matter of months later, at just 15, Torres signed his first professional contract at Atletíco. In the 00/01 season, Fernando was set to play for Atletico’s first team, but unfortunately he suffered a broken shinbone at the start of the season, halting his progress and limiting him to only four appearances while Madrid were in Spain’s Second Tier. Although they failed to get back into La Liga that season, he helped them to get promotion back into La Liga in the 01/02 season and played an important role in doing so; this on top of winning the U19’s European Championships with Spain, scoring the most goals at the competition and being named player of the tournament. The 02/03 season was where Torres really began to catch the eye of the European heavyweights, as the 19 year old bagged 13 goals in La Liga. This drew interest from Roman Abramovich as soon as he took over Chelsea with his millions, and he wanted Torres as a marquee signing. However, Atletico rejected all advances and even went on to reject a £28,000,000 bid. In his second season, Torres made further strides and was impressing furthermore. His hard work didn’t go unnoticed, he was given the captaincy at just 19 years of age. At the same age he was also awarded his first international cap in a friendly against Portugal in September 2003, The name of Fernando Torres suddenly became even better known. As Atletico’s captain, Torres scored 19 league goals and led Atletíco to a 7th place finish in 03/04, this in only their second season back in La Liga. Torres stayed consistent as captain and carried on scoring, managing 29 goals over the next two seasons. This earned him a place in Spain’s 2006 World Cup squad and despite playing only one game as Spain bowed out at the group stages, he continued to impress.
The following 06/07 season he grabbed another 14 goals in the league and was monitored by Europe’s top clubs. It wasn’t long before Atletico gave up on trying to keep their captain; they eventually accepted a bid of £25,000,000 from Liverpool. Torres made an immediate impact at Liverpool, scoring on his home debut against rivals, Chelsea. His first hat trick came only a month later against Reading in the League Cup. It appeared it was £25,000,000 well spent. He even went on to score two Champions’ League goals in only his third game in the competition; he was showing the world just what he could do. He continued his fine form, scoring two successive home hat tricks against Middlesbrough and West Ham. He scored yet another Champions’ League goal a few months later, as he netted against Arsenal in the Quarter Finals. He went on to score 24 league goals that season, overtaking Ruud Van Nistelrooy’s record of ‘Most goals in a season by a non-English player’. He finished the season with 33 goals in all competitions, being the first player since Robbie Fowler to score 20+ goals in a season and eclipsing Michael Owen’s record of goals scored in a season for Liverpool.
He’d broken many records in his first season in English football and he well and truly staked his claim for the upcoming European Championship and duly, was selected. Torres took the tournament by storm, the highlight being him scoring the winner in the final against Germany. He was of course in the team of the tournament, and was arguably one of the best strikers in the world at that point. He proved this by coming 3rd in the Ballon d’Or to Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in 2008. His second season was slightly plagued by injury as he suffered several hamstring tears and pulls. Despite this, he still scored 17 goals, one coming against arch rivals Manchester United, two coming against Chelsea and one also against former rivals Real Madrid in the Champions League. He’d proved he could score against anyone. That season, he’d also made it to 50 Liverpool goals in just 84 appearances. No mean feat, whatsoever. Again, Torres impressed in a Liverpool shirt for yet another season, this time it was leading up to a World Cup. He scored 22 goals in all competitions in just 32 games,despite suffering a knee injury in April for which he had to undergo surgery. In this season he also grabbed an iconic hat trick against Hull City that showed just what he had and what he could do, he scored for fun and just completely took the Premier League by storm for yet another year. As you can imagine,
Torres was not himself at the 2010 World Cup as he’d just returned from injury, he failed to make much of an impact but did come on as a substitute in Extra Time in the final and played the cross that eventually resulted in the winning goal. Not Torres’ finest hour in a Spain shirt but it resulted in a winner’s medal. After coming back from his celebrations, Torres was still superb and consistent. Between the start of the 2010 season and January 22nd 2011, Torres had scored 9 goals, one of which was an iconic volley against Blackburn Rovers, that stands firmly in the memory of every English football fan. This of course, didn’t go unnoticed. Chelsea again, for the second time, made a bid for Fernando. This time of £40,000,000. Liverpool turned this down, but as soon as Chelsea offered to break a British transfer fee record of £50,000,000, Roy Hodgson just couldn’t say no. So, on that deadline day of 2011, Torres did the unthinkable, and moved from Liverpool to Chelsea. This didn’t go down well with the Kop and many may recall the burning of red shirts with ‘Torres 9’ plastered across the back. It took Torres four months to score his first goal for Chelsea as he went 903 minutes without scoring. Not the start he hoped for. It was his only goal for Chelsea since he’d joined in January as he was failing to live up to his price tag.
Fans hoped for better things from the Spanish international in his first full season. The goals didn’t come. For many, this is where his Fall From Grace truly began. He mustered 11 goals in 50 appearances for Chelsea in his second season, ironically missing an open goal against Manchester United early in the year and suffering a goal drought of 24 games. However, Torres got a Champions League winners medal that season as he played his part in the penalties defeat of Bayern Munich; this glossing over what was a poor season for him and Chelsea. Despite his poor season, he was selected for Spain’s 2012 Euro squad. Even though he’d had a bad season at Chelsea, Torres had a very good tournament, scoring 3 goals and getting one assist, one of each coming in the final against Italy, which Spain of course went on to win. This meant he received the golden boot and restored Chelsea fans’ faith in the overpriced forward. False hope, an odd occurrence in the Falls From Grace we’ve reviewed thus far. He scored 22 goals in 64 appearances the following season under former boss Rafa Benitez at Chelsea and also won the Europa League. As ever, this was not a true reflection of Torres’ ability of the time as he boasted a woeful goal scoring record for Chelsea, 45 goals over 2 and a half seasons and in 174 appearances. He wasn’t the player he used to be, and he had well and truly fallen from the heights he set himself. Even though Torres was and is still picked for the Spanish national side, it doesn’t disguise his fall from the top of the Premier League and being within touching distance of becoming the best striker of all time. In the mean time, he has returned to Atletico on loan and AC Milan, which was once more the graveyard for extraordinary talent. As expected, he has failed to emulate the success he once created for himself.