We’ve been in this situation before – Fernando Torres scores a couple of goals and suddenly all of the bad things that have happened to Fernando Torres over the last couple of years are forgotten. A brace in Spain’s 4-0 win over Ireland still doesn’t mean Torres is back among the best strikers in the world.
A little background – Fernando Torres was a good Spanish league striker, building up his legend with his youth club Atletico Madrid. He scored 82 goals in 214 matches for Atletico, leaving after the 2006-2007 season to Liverpool, paying £20 million pounds for the 23 year old.
His Liverpool career? His first season was sensational. Torres proved a lot of doubters that the English game – the pace, the physicality and everything that goes along with it simply suit him perfectly, scoring 24 goals in 33 matches for Rafa Benitez. The next year? When he played he was fantastic, adding another 14 league goals, playing in only 24 matches. Liverpool finished only 4 points behind champions Manchester United. A bit more Torres, and it might have been different.
Next Season? Liverpool begin to fall, as both Gerrard and Torres miss too much. Torres still scores whenever he’s on the pitch, finishing with 18 goals in only 22 matches. The next season starts terribly for everyone under Roy Hodgson, but Torres does relatively well for a club struggling to score, putting in another nine goals in 23 matches. Then comes the huge move to Chelsea, making Torres the most expensive player in the Premier League.
In between there’s the 2010 World Cup. Torres was the hero of the 2008 Euro, scoring the winning goal for Spain in their Final against Germany, signaling the beginning of their reign in European and global football. The World Cup was completely different. After missing half a season due to his injury, Torres lack the speed and sharpness usually attributed to him, failing to score a goal in the entire tournament, with Spain winning anyway.
Back to England. The £50 million price tag proved too much for Torres, along with other problems Chelsea were experiencing. Only one goal in his first 14 matches. Only six goals in the next 32. A change of managers, a loss of faith from those in charge, Torres became a sub that gets a lot of praise just for showing up. Goals? Suddenly they became this rare bonus. Something people were actually surprised to see from him.
Still, he played rather well, scoring or not, for Chelsea under Roberto Di Matteo, winning him a place in Spanish squad eventually. Most importantly – His confidence was back. Just a few months earlier he was too afraid to take a penalty kick in a FA Cup match. Since then he found his rhythm and hunger for the game again. He wasn’t included among the Chelsea kickers in the Champions League final, and was furious with RDM’s decision to exclude him. He went and got assurances from the club that he’s a big part of their plans next season.
Del Bosque may have called him up to the Euro, but that doesn’t mean he fully believed in him. He preferred playing with six midfielders, as Cesc Fabregas posed to be the striker, which didn’t work too well against Italy. Fabregas did score, but Spain were much more dangerous when Torres was on the pitch for 16 minutes. He missed two big chances, with the usual too-strong-of-a-first-touch disease coming back to haunt him. Still, it showed Del Bosque needs a true striker on the pitch.
So he went with Torres against Ireland. Did it pay off? With dividends. Torres scored twice – the second off a wonderful through pass from David Silva, the first after only four minutes of play with some tenacity and box-wit we haven’t seen from Torres in a long time.
But it’s still too early to say Torres is back. Two years of bad karma and matches don’t just disappear. Look at Tiger Woods and how the insanity around his attempts to win a major keep pushing him back down after every small sign of progress. Ireland may just be the weakest team in this tournament. Torres faced one of the weakest defenses he’ll tackle this summer. He was far from perfect with plenty of his touches, and a player in better shape might have finished with four goals on the night.
Spain themselves should also be cautious of over celebrating. Ireland were no match, while Italy made life very difficult at times, also exposing the Spanish problems in their defense. Teams don’t get beyond the perfect Spanish midfield that often, but when they do, there’s plenty to exploit. Better teams then Ireland, like Croatia, may just show that the World Champions aren’t that perfect.