Let’s take a trip down memory lane to the glory days of Fernando Torres’ illustrious career. Remember those days? The days when he would progress through the Atletico Madrid youth system and would eventually become a goal scoring machine in La Liga.
The days when he would haunt Premier League opponents with his incredible goals while in his tenure with Liverpool.
To the days when “El Nino” would provide his country with clutch goals and trophies that the Spanish have long been waiting for.
Then one would reminisce about the dark times in the career of Fernando Torres. The years with Chelsea and AC Milan where he would total a dreadful 46 goals in 182 total appearances. The dark times for Torres would see a once world class striker that would even finish 3rd in the 2008 Ballon D’Or just collapse in pressure situations and fail to finish golden scoring opportunities. We would see a Torres that hit rock bottom with his confidence that it got to the point where he believed that a haircut would turn around his recent struggles with Chelsea. An incredible scoring machine had turned into an ineffective striker up front that just did not care about the team’s success anymore.
After failing to get back into world class form, you would think that his next stop before hanging up his boots would be to get one last payday in the MLS or the Chinese Super League?
Now fast forward to the present. Fernando Torres is just days away from starting in a UEFA Champions League Final for Atletico Madrid and fans are actually disappointed at the fact that Spain national team coach Vicente Del Bosque excluded Torres from the final squad list for this summer’s 2016 European Championship.
How has he been able to revive his career with Atletico Madrid and provide vintage Torres performances?
Much of Torres success with Atletico Madrid should be credited to coach Diego Simeone. For someone who is not heavily involved in transfers, Simeone did all he could to be able to coach his former teammate.
“Simeone almost never asks us for anything, but he asked for Torres,” – Atletico Madrid President Enrique Cerezo, 2015
The confidence and belief that Diego Simeone had in Torres was much needed especially after years of critics, fans, and countless coaches giving up on him. Like with many of the youngsters at Atletico Madrid, Diego Simeone always manages to get the best out of his players with tactics that fit to the player’s ability and his passion and intellect for the game that brings inspiration to the team.
What made the trip back to his old playground a smooth transition is the fact that Atletico Madrid’s system of play fits perfectly with the Torres’ style of play. Unlike the tiki-taka Barcelona and counter attack Real Madrid schemes, coach Diego Simeone is more of a defensive first manager that relies more on defenders and midfielders to win Atletico the game. As seen in the Champions League ties against Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Simeone emphasizes on the importance of defending with world class defenders such as Diego Godin and the aggressive play of Filipe Luis. When Diego Simeone goes to a 4-4-2 formation with Torres and Griezmann up front, the positioning and tactics of Simeone does not force Torres to dribble past defenders like his LFC days but rather finish with the limited scoring chances that he receives from Koke and the midfielders or take advantage of set piece opportunities. Torres also is not relied on to provide excellent passes up front to keep the attack going in rhythm since Atletico Madrid are not a team that highlights the importance of maintaining possession like a Barcelona, Bayern Munich, or Arsenal. If that were the case,Torres would be highly criticized for his inability to create scoring opportunities as a striker for teammates and his 66% pass accuracy in La Liga this season would be a concerning aspect of his play.
Picture Fernando Torres going from his horrendous stint in AC Milan to playing for Pep at Bayern Munich, Pellegrini at Manchester City, or with Laurent Blanc at Paris Saint-Germain. Aside from the glaring difference of playing time, it would be difficult to envision the same success that Torres is having now with those abovementioned teams with completely different tactics and with the fact that the forwards are relied on much more.
That is just the type of coach that Diego Simeone is, a player’s coach and he does whatever it takes to help a player adjust to the new Atletico Madrid way of playing football.
Unlike with his Liverpool and Chelsea tenure, the pressure is not on Torres to constantly score goals but instead the pressure is on the defense and goalkeeper Jan Oblak to limit the damage of opponents and to successfully keep a clean sheet.
What also has contributed to Fernando Torres’ success with Atletico Madrid is the increase in playing time, something that was not promised nor expected when he returned. When Torres returned in the January transfer window last season, Torres was already behind Antoine Griezmann and Mario Mandzukic for starting time and battling with the young Mexican star Raul Jimenez for playing time off the bench in La Liga games. Even after a disastrous AC Milan stint, Simeone trusted Torres and he went on to start him in La Liga games, playing time off the bench in Champions League games, and he would even be influential in knocking out Real Madrid from the Copa Del Rey with 2 goals.
Even with Atletico Madrid’s transfer signings indicating that Fernando Torres might not receive playing time in the 2015-2016 campaign, Torres continued to impress. With the failed signing of Jackson Martinez, the inconsistencies of Angel Correa up front, and Luciano Vietto inability to adjust to Simeone’s style of play, Torres would go on to gain righteous starting time with Griezmann. Of course it has paid off as Torres’ form as of late has seen him accumulate 11 La Liga goals, most in a league for him since he scored 18 in 2009-2010 with Liverpool, and he would go on to provide the goal that would end up being the knockout blow to Barcelona in the Champions League.
This resurgence in Torres’ career shouldn’t be a surprise. He is still only 32-years-old and is still in superb physical shape to be able to play in full La Liga and Champions League games. While it is apparent that we will never see the once world class striker that awed fans across Europe, the fact that his confidence and ability to finish scoring chances is back is the reason why fans are back to praising the Spanish striker.
Now with rumors of Fernando Torres potentially ending the loan deal with AC Milan and agreeing to a 2-year deal with Atletico, fans could expect more memories with “El Nino” as his career is nearing an end.
But the one long-lasting memory that Atletico Madrid fans hope that Fernando Torres brings is him lifting up the Champions League Trophy in Milan.