SportSoccer

Torres revival could reach crescendo at Champions League final

SoccerBy Kevin Palmer
Torres finally finding form at Atletico Madrid
Torres finally finding form at Atletico Madrid

Every method had been explored to revive the fading star that was Fernando Torres and yet it seemed as if his demise was terminal.

No-one could explain how the striker who rose to the top of the world game had been transformed into a tragic figure you couldn’t help but feel a little sorry for.

His lamentable displays at Chelsea were made all the more glaring due to his £50m price tag, as this once masterful Spanish marksman – who set the English game alight with 81 goals in his three-and-a-half years at Liverpool – suffered a collapse that was hard to explain.

Hamstring problems were thrown up as one reason why Torres had fallen from his perch, with his managers at Chelsea suggesting he had developed a ‘psychological problem’ in front of goal that had shattered his self-belief.

Chelsea tried every conceivable method to get Torres firing, appointing his former Liverpool mentor Rafa Benitez as Blues manager the final attempt to help him find his spark.

Torres seemed to be a lost cause, yet this fallen idol is threatening a belated and improbable revival.

The now Atletico Madrid striker closing in on what he admits would be the greatest triumph of his career in next Saturday’s Champions League final against Real Madrid.

After a miserable spell at AC Milan, Torres returned to his spiritual home of Atletico in January 2015 and at long last a light has emerged at the end of a tunnel.

The smile is back on 32-year-old Torres’ still youthful face, as he has started to find the net with encouraging consistency once more.

A run of five successive scoring appearances last month served up evidence of his revival and he finished this La Liga season with a fine return of 11 goals from just 17 starts. It’s a more than respectable haul.

Now the next date circled in his diary offers up hope for what could be the finest moment yetin the career of a player who has won the World Cup and two European championship titles with Spain.

The showdown against Real Madrid is viewed by Torres as his chance to secure his most cherished glory yet, eclipsing everything he has achieved up to this point in his fascinating career.

Torres was a Champions League winner with Chelsea as they beat Bayern Munich in the 2012 final (below), yet a second success next weekend would mean so much more, as he could achieve it with his beloved Atletico.

The Madrid-born kid who burst through the ranks at Atletico on his way to the pinnacle of the world game has the kind of bond with this club as Steven Gerrard at Liverpool or John Terry at Chelsea.

This is where his ‘El Nino’ nickname was bestowed, his sporting home where he feels most loved. It explains why Torres is so looking forward to his second Champions League final with the kind of giddy enthusiasm you might not expect from a seasoned professional.

“I feel very fortunate to have played in great teams, to have unbelievable nights and trophies with Spain, but for me, personally, nothing could compare to doing it with Atleti,” he says.

“No team in Atletico Madrid’s history has won the Champions League, so maybe now this is the moment. “We are in the final against our local rivals and we have been handed a chance to create history. “We all appreciate that we will be nothing if we do not perform as a team.

“This is not about individuals, this is a team. We are the team that concedes fewer goals than any other in the top European leagues and also we are scoring in almost every game from the middle of the season until now.

“With those two combinations, you normally have a good result at the end of the season. “Every opponent is in for a battle with us, every game is a war. We will die for each other, this is our mentality and philosophy.

“We beat Barcelona in the quarter-finals, then Bayern Munich in the semi-finals. Now we play Real Madrid and we believe we can get the same result.”

Atletico are currently finalising a contract that will see Torres convert his loan spell at the club into a permanent move – the decision no longer needs to be driven by sentiment. Despite the denials of Atletico coach Diego Simeone, it was hard to avoid the suspicion that the decision to sign last year was influenced by the adoration the club’s supporters have retained for one of their favoured sons.

His return was belittled by many as some kind ofsympathy vote, but Torres suddenly looks useful again.

The electrifying pace that defined his early career may have evaporated, but Torres has changed his game to a point where he is now effective performing a support role for French striker Antoine Griezmann.

“Fernando has never complained about having to fight for his place,” states Simeone.

“When I spoke to him I said I didn’t want him to return as a club idol, but we needed him to be a team player and in the last four months he’s played at a very high level.

“Now we can see the confidence back for Fernando and it is great to see.”

Simeone’s battle-hardened and experienced group of men appear to be ready to define this golden era at their club by securing a first Champions League title on Saturday.

After moving to within seconds of a victory in the 2014 final against Real Madrid, fate has intervened to offer Simeone’s side a chance to extract some sweet revenge on their cross-city foes.