FERNANDO TORRES is a flame. The Spaniard’s career can be characterised by a slow burning at its early stages, breaking steadily into Atletico Madrid’s first team and building an impressive array of goal scoring moments that eventually saw Torres make the infamous switch to Anfield. Whilst in Liverpool his abilities, and the heart of his footballing inferno, seemed to grow with every passing match, culminating in a maiden Premier League goal against Chelsea and his first hat-trick in a Liverpool jersey just a month after his competitive debut for his new club.
With his quick feet, clinical eye for goal and sheer ability to glide across some of the finest pitches on the continent, Torres quickly endeared himself as an Anfield great whilst burning at the height of his seemingly otherworldly powers. After four successful seasons at Liverpool, Torres made the controversial move to Chelsea for a then-world record fee, but, apart from the odd snapshot of brilliance, it was clear that the Spaniard’s flame was beginning to diminish. His downturn in fortunes sometimes presents Torres as an underachiever, but it is crucial to remember just how rapidly the Spaniard arrived on Merseyside and enchanted the city into falling in love with him. It is a true indication of his sometimes forgotten excellence.
Torres’ £20 million move to Liverpool could understandably be viewed, in hindsight, as one of the all-time Premier League bargains. The Spaniard made his competitive debut for Rafa Benitez’s side at Aston Villa, and his first appearance in the Champions League came just four days after, introduced as a 79th minute substitute in a narrow victory over Toulouse FC. After lightly being submerged into life at Liverpool, Torres finally burst onto the scene moments after emerging from the Anfield tunnel for the very first time, as he scored against Chelsea in an eventual 1-1 stalemate.
The goal summed up everything special about Torres. A driven pass cut through the heart of the Chelsea midfield, releasing Liverpool’s new striker towards the left side of the penalty area. Torres then casually breezed past Tal Ben-Haim, knocking the ball narrowly in front of the towering centre-half, and rolled the ball across Petr Cech and inside the far corner. The Spaniard oozed the qualities needed in a Liverpool player: confidence, directness and finesse when bearing down on goal. The then 23-year-old defied his tender age in those five or so seconds, his unerring finish that day firmly placing the Spaniard on course for an electric career at Anfield.
His hat-trick against Middlesbrough in the same season demonstrated to a global audience, once again, that Torres possessed all the necessary qualities needed to mould the frontman into one of the Premier League’s most ruthless finishers. The first goal, despite being gifted by Julio Arca’s lapse backwards header, still required the striker to pounce on the opening. The Spaniard raced through on goal, rounded Mark Schwarzer with a clever shimmy, and stabbed the ball home. The second was a true striker’s finish, an arrowed strike from 20 yards that hurtled past the goalkeeper. To round off a clinical hat-trick, a searching ball over the Middlesbrough backline looked set to sail over Torres’ head, before the forward rolled in front of the covering defender and lobbed the rapidly approaching Schwarzer. His anticipation of the ball’s flight, coupled by his unerring awareness of where the target was, allowed Torres to clip home for his third.
Torres then elegantly progressed from strength to strength. In his first campaign in England, he converted a hat-trick in successive home matches, making him the first Liverpool player to achieve the feat since Jack Balmer in 1946, and was also nominated for an array of different awards. After a flurry of goals towards the end of his maiden season in England, Torres matched the record for consecutive goals scored at Anfield, and also bettered Ruud van Nistelrooy’s feat as the most prolific foreign goal scorer in a debut season in England’s top flight.
To emphasise the player’s impact since arriving at Liverpool, mid-way through his second season in England Torres was named in The Times’ list of the 50 greatest Liverpool players. Adding to this impressive accolade, Torres was once again named in the PFA Team of the Year for consecutive seasons. His last-gasp winning goal against Aston Villa in 2009 made Torres the fastest Liverpool player to reach 50 league goals, but unfortunately the latter half of the same season was marred by injury. Knee surgery ruled the Spaniard out of Liverpool’s remaining fixtures, although Torres still finished as the club’s top scorer.
However, with the arrival of new manager Roy Hodgson came lingering doubts over the player’s future at Anfield. Despite both Hodgson and Torres stating on record that the Spaniard would remain in Liverpool, rumours over a transfer to Chelsea refused to dissipate. A mixed beginning to the 2010/11 campaign further hinted towards Torres’ immediate future lying at Stamford Bridge. And, in the winter transfer window, the Spaniard made the switch to Chelsea for a reported £50 million fee.
Torres’ time at Stamford Bridge has since come under much scrutiny, with many claiming that he had vastly underachieved whilst in London. However, his infamous goal against Barcelona in 2012 played a crucial role in the Blues’ eventual Champions League triumph, and served as a reminder for what Torres was truly capable of. His presence in front of goal may have faded slightly, but on occasions in a Blue jersey Torres would hark back to the peak of his Liverpool glory days.
There can be no doubting that Fernando Torres is in the finest echelon of Premier League goal scorers. The Spaniard stands within the pantheon of true greats who have graced England’s top division with many of the sport’s most breath-taking highlights, and, after his spectacular four years at Anfield, will forever remain that way.