A brand new biography of Liverpool and Premier League superstar, Fernando Torres, based on one-of-a-kind insider interviews with those closest to him ... and the player himself. This is the story of a kid who wanted to be a rock star but who turned into a football god, the idolised and adopted son of 42 million Liverpool fans across the world. From his birth in Madrid through to his winning goal in Euro 2008 and beyond, the book goes ehind the scenes of Torres' life and career to examine what makes the golden boy of football tick as well as kick. Renowned sports journalist Luca Caioli has exclusively interviewed figures from fans to his father, Rafa Benítez to Luís Aragones, Steven Gerrard to Kenny Dalglish, Fabio Capello, and Fernando Torres himself. This unrivalled material will give the real untold story of how The Kid became the King of Europe...
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An Intimate Portrait of the Kid who Became King
Published in the UK in 2009 by Corinthian Books, an imprint of Icon Books, Omnibus Business Centre, 39–41 North Road, London N7 9DP email: [email protected]
This electronic edition published in 2009 by Corinthian Books, an imprint of Icon Books
ISBN: 978-1-90685-012-8 (ePub format)
ISBN: 978-1-90685-013-5 (Adobe ebook format)
Printed edition (ISBN: 978-1-90685-007-4) Sold in the UK, Europe, South Africa and Asia by Faber & Faber Ltd, Bloomsbury House, 74–77 Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3DA
Distributed in the UK, Europe, South Africa and Asia by TBS Ltd, TBS Distribution Centre, Colchester Road Frating Green, Colchester CO7 7DW
This edition published in Australia in 2009 by Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd, PO Box 8500, 83 Alexander Street, Crows Nest, NSW 2065
Distributed in Canada by Penguin Books Canada, 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario M4P 2YE
Text copyright © 2009 Luca Caioli
Translation copyright © 2009 Geoffrey Goff
The author has asserted his moral rights.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, or by any means, without prior permission in writing from the publisher.
Typeset by Marie Doherty
1 Liverpool’s Number 9Thoughts and reflections from the Kop
2 He is a red4 July 2007
3 The culprit of his successConversation with Liverpool manager, Rafa Benítez
4 A nice ladConversation with Spain manager, Vicente Del Bosque
6 Leader of the gang
7 A born winner
8 A model footballerConversation with Atlético de Madrid junior team coach,Abraham García
9 The Torres generation
10 A special dedicationConversation with Barcelona and Spain midfielder,Andrés Iniesta
11 A fairy tale
12 YogurtConversation with former Atlético de Madrid striker,Francisco Miguel Narváez Machón, better known as ‘Kiko’
13 In El Niño’s hands
14 He’s earned it the hard wayConversation with Mexico and former Atlético de Madridmanager, Javier Aguirre
15 Real hopeConversation with Sid Lowe and Guillem Balagué
16 Liverpool 1 Chelsea 119 August 2007
17 A perfect marriageConversation with former Liverpool player,Michael Robinson
18 Liverpool 4 West Ham 05 March 2008
19 He’s going to stayConversation with former Liverpool player and manager,Kenny Dalglish
20 Spain 4 Russia 110 June 2008
21 Sweden 1 Spain 214 June 2008
22 Germany 0 Spain 129 June 2008
23 AmbitiousConversation with Liverpool and Spain goalkeeper,Pepe Reina
24 Atlético de Madrid 1 Liverpool 122 October 2008
25 A dangerConversation with Liverpool and Spaindefender, Álvaro Arbeloa
26 Third Place2 December 2008
27 A HartungConversation with England manager Fabio Capello
28 Liverpool 4 Real Madrid 010 March 2009
29 A horse that needs to runConversation with Juventus defender and Italy captain,Fabio Cannavaro
30 Manchester United 1 Liverpool 414 March 2008
31 You’d be happy if your daughter brought him homeConversation with former Liverpool player and manager,Graeme Souness
32 The same as alwaysConversation with Julián Hernández and Ángel Sánchez
33 The Kid29 May 2009Conversation with Fernando Torres
Thoughts and reflections from the Kop
‘I love him. He’s great. For someone from Spain, he embodies everything we want from our Liverpool players. I mean, obviously, we’ve got Gerrard and Carra who represent the spirit of the club but he’s stepped into the Liverpool history and culture like he’s been there all his life.’ Sarah
‘He was a Red long before he played for us.’ Dave
‘He’s basically a legend. He’s such a great guy. If I could have his babies I would.’ Archie
‘He’s the boy isn’t he? Class, absolute class.’ Frank
‘There was scepticism about how many goals he’d score here but in his first season he got 33. He’s also a very humble man so he’s very popular.’ Paul
‘He’s one of the best strikers in the world.’ Ryan
‘He’s an English striker isn’t he?’ Peter
‘It’s not just that he’s a very good striker. He works really hard, he defends from the front. He chases down a lot of defenders anddoesn’t give them time on the ball which makes it easy for the rest of the team.’ James
‘He’s one of the best players we have. He’s probably far more skilful than any goalscorer we’ve ever had in Owen, Rush, Fowler …’ Dennis
‘His physicality is suited to the English game but it’s more to do with his personality and his character for me. He’s a totally great lad. He’s down-to-earth, working class, same as us (from Fuenlabrada, and it’s quite similar to a lot of places in Liverpool), so we’ve really taken to him and he’s really taken to the fans as well. If you see him in the street, he’s happy to talk to people.’ Bessie
‘He’s unique. Under Benítez, he’s getting into space better and found a different dimension to his game’. Neil
‘He’s a fantastic player – good movement, he’s quick. Quick with his feet, quick with his mind. He’s a great goalscorer. He’s got a good empathy with the crowd. He’s very well-liked.’ Chris
‘He’s a god. It’s what he brings to the team. A different dimension.’ Franco
‘I think he’s probably the best thing since sliced bread. Absolutely amazing.’ Sam
No one at Anfield refuses to answer questions about El Niño. There are still two hours to go before the match gets under way but there is already a big buzz around the historic stadium. Scarves, party hats, flags and red shirts are everywhere, with people going this way and that. A man holds his son’s hand in the queue to enter the club museum and admire the Liverpool trophies. Others slip into the Reds’ souvenir shop, take up positions near the main stand entrance to see the players come in, pose for a typical photo in front of the Bill Shankly statue, desperately search for a ticket to see the game (despite constant PA announcements that the match has long been sold out), wait for old friends, ask which entrance to go in by, buy last-minute match programmes and give up any hope of entering The Albert (the pub right next to The Kop, opposite the new Hillsborough Justice Campaign Shop on Walton Breck Road), a heaving mass of bodies, noise, songs and pints. Red is the overwhelming colour but rumours are that is because it’s full of Norwegians and other ‘out-of-towners’.
And standing in the pub doorway is Jan, a fan who has indeed come all the way from Bergen in Norway just for the game. He steps outside for a cigarette. What does he think of Torres? ‘He’s young, he’s got the speed, the ability. He’s got everything. He’s popular because of his attitude, the way he presents himself. He’s very young but also very mature. He shines a kind of charisma that people adore.’
An English friend, Robert, butts into the conversation to give his opinion: ‘We like his humility. We like the way he loves Liverpool Football Club. He’s not one of these players who just signs up for the money. He’s got a genuine love of Liverpool Football Club and that’s reflected in the supporters who actually love the man. You’ll see Torres tattoos, Torres shirts, banners.
‘Everything’s for Torres because he’s for the club, which this club hasn’t had for a long time, since your Ian Rushes or your Kenny Dalglishes. He has his own songs. He’s one of us. When he hears his name sung, his heart beats. He wants to play for the club. You don’t get that very often in the modern game.’
Gus reinforces the message: ‘Liverpool is very much a working-class city. A player like Torres comes along, plays the same way and connects with the fans and that ethos. The fans love him. He loves the fans. It’s a match made in heaven.’
There is more in the same vein, this time from Sean: ‘I think he’s got a rapport with the fans. He understands them. He understands the passion. He’s committed. Not only that, he’s technically brilliant. He’s fast. He’s pacey. Whereas, at Atlético Madrid, he was struggling for goals, at Liverpool he’s now the striker and we centre our game on him scoring goals and it suits him perfectly.’
Round the corner, Ian, who has a stall of fan memorabilia selling everything from badges to flags, gives his view – economically speaking – of the Torres phenomenon: ‘Definitely worth the money, yes, but Gerrard’s still the one.’
In the club shop, however, they think otherwise. Torres is the top shirt-seller. Inside is Callum, aged ten, closely watched over by his father, who is wearing the Number 9 shirt. They go to every home game. What does Callum think of Fernando?
‘It can be frustrating at times when Rafa doesn’t pick him but when he plays he’s a quality player and he knows where the goal is. I like how he can dribble past a lot of players and score.’
Joanna is sitting on a low wall with some friends, eating a plate of sausage and chips with a plastic fork. She happily breaks off to say what she thinks: ‘What I like about Torres is he’s not just speedy. There’s skill in there as well, his technique is fantastic. So he’s married the two really. He’s got the skill and the physicality. He’s the whole package for me.’
Alexandra gives a hearty cackle before making her contribution: ‘His best quality – his looks! Look at my hair!’
A quick glance is more than enough to realise that the Spanish striker is the main inspiration behind her fringe and blonde colouring. And Cecilia adds, with a cheeky grin: ‘We love the Spanish in Liverpool.’
Right in front, and across the street, is The Park – another pub bursting at the seams. To get inside you have to use your elbows but at the same time try not to knock over the huge number of beers squeezed onto the tables. At the bar, waiting for a pint takes time, but conversation sparks up immediately. The only problem is making yourself heard above the songs, chatter and increasingly animated prematch chanting. It’s a fun atmosphere, with the imposing structure of Anfield clearly visible through the window. When one of the throng, with his military shirt and shaved head, hears the question about Torres, he breaks into song. The scarves move, the beer glasses are held high, everyone dances and claps their hands, singing:
His armband provedhe was a redTorres, Torres!!You’ll never walk alone it saidTorres, Torres!!We brought the lad from sunny SpainHe gets the ball, he scores againFernando Torres – Liverpool’s Number NineNa-NarNa-Nar-NarFernando Torres – Liverpool’s Number Nine.
You have to wait a bit for the noise go down to a level where you can carry on talking. For some time, a group has been gathered round a table stacked with beers of every type. Initially, no one wants to talk, each trying to persuade the other to speak. In the end it’s John, with his coloured serpent tattoos and red shirt, who begins: ‘What I like about Torres is that a lot of foreign players come over to England and take some time to adjust, whereas he’s got stuck in. Defenders tackle him hard, but he can still put the ball back in the net. Brilliant.’
Eventually, the others pluck up courage to join in. ‘He’s a very unique striker because he can score long-distance goals, tap-ins, he can do anything really. You’ve got to tie him up for a longer contract,’ says Steve.
Joe, leaning against a doorpost, picks up the same theme, shouting to make himself heard: ‘No matter what happens, he says he’s staying. That’s good. There are too many players these days who are looking elsewhere for clubs but Torres says that Liverpool “is in my heart”.’
4 July 2007
The photo is unforgettable. On the left, Rafa Benítez, as happy as a sandboy, in dark jacket and white shirt with red stripes, holding up one end of a Liverpool scarf with the words ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ written on it. On the right, holding the other end, is Fernando Torres, wearing the club’s Number 9 shirt. The one that has graced legends like Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler.
The tiered seating in the stands at Anfield forms the background. It’s a little after 3pm (UK time) when El Niño arrives to be presented to the media as a new player in the Merseyside squad. First, the signing of the contract that ties him to Liverpool for six years on a salary of 6.5 million Euros a season – a sum exceeded only by captain Steven Gerrard’s. Then the press conference in jacket and tie with the shirt collar slightly undone. One can see that the lad from Fuenlabrada is nervous. He talks in Spanish and says straight away that ‘the club is one of the best in Europe, a victorious club, its past and its present shows it. For me it was an opportunity which I couldn’t miss out on.’
He looks to Benítez, always at his side, and explains:
‘We didn’t know each other personally but when I spoke to him for the first time … simply to know that Benítez had confidence in me is something incredible. And that a club like Liverpool, which can buy any of the best players in the world, should choose you to form part of the team comes as a surprise and fills you with pride. The fact that Liverpool are giving me the Number 9 jersey just goes to show the confidence they have placed in me, when considering those who have worn that shirt before me. But I’m not afraid of the responsibility that this brings.’
Torres knows the expectations that his transfer has created, the most expensive in Liverpool’s century-old history (£26.5 million compared with the £14 million paid for French striker, Djibril Cissé, from Auxerre in July 2004). He knows that the public wants compensation in the form of goals. He hopes he can do it.
Rafa Benítez, who doesn’t let him out of his sight for a second, maintains: ‘We have signed a youngster with a promising future ahead of him. He is the player we needed.’ There is no problem with responsibilities within the squad: ‘Crouch,’ he explains, ‘works hard and Fernando can hold up the ball, look to get round the defence and construct moves.’
He stresses Fernando’s intelligence, his ability to understand situations in a flash, and gives, as an example, the fact that the lad had immediately understood what it means to touch the badge with the words ‘This is Anfield’ at the entrance to the tunnel leading to the pitch – perhaps the most frequently broadcast image on the British television reports.
The Spanish manager reiterates Torres’ passion and competitive abilities: ‘He demonstrated these when he was only seventeen.’ When asked what his goal-scoring abilities will be, he responds: ‘I’m not going to put any pressure on him and say that he’s going to score more than twenty goals. I prefer to have four strikers who score fifteen each.’ He stresses the fact that ‘Torres wanted to come. He was very clear. It would be a disappointment if he doesn’t try to be a star.’ He also talks of his new acquisition’s feelings. Benítez has no problem in declaring them: ‘His heart will stay with Atlético and that’s normal. But one cannot doubt his professionalism. In his two final games with Atlético he played with an injured toe. He defended the club badge right up until the end!’
Of course, his Atlético heart … Fernando confirmed it a few hours earlier in Madrid when, dressed in black as if at a funeral, he said goodbye to the Atlético fans in the Vicente Calderón stadium at 10.30am (9.30am UK time): ‘Wherever I am, my heart will always be red and white. This isn’t a goodbye, it’s a “see you later”. Atlético is my family. I hope to return one day, when the club is at the high level where it deserves to be,’ says El Niño who, with difficulty, manages to contain his emotions. He assumes responsibility for the transfer, saying that he had asked the directors to listen to the Liverpool offer.
Taking this position goes down very well with the club, which does not want to appear as the guilty party in the departure of Torres. Enrique Cerezo, the club president – more relaxed after hearing what the blond youngster sitting at his side has said – wishes him good luck and adds: ‘Atlético understands and lets you leave in the hope that you come back soon. We don’t want this to be a sad farewell act but a happy one, as when people who are very close say goodbye to each other.’ To explain the mutual separation after twelve years of life together, Torres adds that ‘the club is more important than the individual people. And my leaving for Liverpool benefits everyone.’ It benefits Atlético, which, thanks to the money from the transfer, will be able to reinforce the team. And also Fernando Torres, who takes the right European train to be nearer those goals he has always dreamed about.
But things are not so simple … Despite the African-level heat and blistering sun, some 100 fans demonstrate outside the gates of the Calderón, shouting at the tops of their voices and holding up banners, on which is written ‘Fernando, don’t go!’, ‘We love you’, ‘Torres yes, management no’, and then a series of strong insults aimed at the president, sporting director, secretary etc. They don’t believe all the nice words. They are convinced that the people behind El Niño’s exit are the Atlético top brass, together with the club’s policies, the years of bad signings, the dashed hopes, one manager after another, of responsibilities never undertaken. The colchoneros (fans of Atlético) feel sad, despondent and angry. They forgive their captain, their emblem of recent years, who has, without doubt, been the positive image and focal point for the dreams of a club that knows what it is to suffer. And yet the colchoneros don’t get too upset with Torres. They understand him. They understand that he wants to go from what has been his home, that the Little Prince wants to grow up. And even if El Niño says: ‘Take it easy, time heals everything,’ getting used to the idea is not that easy.
The news of Fernando’s move to Liverpool is confirmed by Atlético at 7pm on 3 July. But it was ‘Pulcinella’s secret’ – something everyone already knew. The Manzanares (the river of Madrid) club and the Merseyside club had reached a provisional agreement at the end of May. How did this come about? Every summer, offers for Torres arrived at Atlético from several big clubs.
In 2005, for example, there was talk of Chelsea, Newcastle, Arsenal and even Inter who, according to the press, had offered Christian Vieri plus a large transfer fee. In an interview with an English newspaper, Fernando explained:
‘People always ask me about my departure. Atlético is a big club but we don’t win much. Somewhere else, I would be competing for important trophies but here I have things that I wouldn’t be able to have in other clubs – my family and my friends, my feeling of belonging to a humble Madrid team, the one that represents the working class. We don’t have money, nor power. Very occasionally we win trophies but we exist for other reasons. We give the fans a safety valve of escape for their problems and because of that they absorb themselves into the club.’
In a few words, he explained the quasi-absurd philosophy of the colchoneros, the hopes of the fans and the players, which are that – one day or another – their destiny will change. Perhaps for this, after taking into account together with his representatives all the offers that arrived, he never decided to say ‘Yes’. In 2006 the voices of the market became ever more insistent. Three candidates for the presidency of Real Madrid (which will be won by Ramón Calderón) have long pursued El Niño but have always received negative replies. At the end of the season, Manchester United also comes in.
In July, there is a rumour that Sir Alex Ferguson’s club is about to put in, on paper, a 37-million-euro offer. Inter come back again, offering 38 million. But it doesn’t stop there. The Atlético directors say that El Niño is not for sale and is too important for the club.
And in September 2006, they announce the renewal of Torres’ contract until 30 June 2009, with a clause for breach of contract, which, strangely, goes from 90 to 40 million Euros. The player also improves his salary to 7 million Euros per season.
Spring 2007 – Rafa Benítez is thinking of a new striker for his team. Eto’o or Torres? The gaffer weighs up the two possibilities and, according to his custom, asks for reports covering everything under the sun. Not only about the pair’s football skills, but also about their personalities, the behaviour of the Cameroon and Madrid players in their respective dressing rooms, and in their daily lives off the pitch. Scrupulous and methodical, he does not want to miss even the smallest detail. He wants to minimise the risks of the transaction. In the end, after closely studying the two options, he decides to go for Fernando – who, it seems, has triumphed in the reports.
We are in April and the negotiations between Liverpool and Atlético get under way. Acting as mediator is Manuel García Quilón, a famous football agent who, amongst other things, is also the representative of Rafa Benítez.
At the end of May, a provisional agreement between the two clubs is reached, to the point where Atlético begins to look for a substitute for El Niño. They ask Villarreal the price of the Uruguayan, Diego Forlán. Meanwhile, Rafa Benítez, after the Champions League final in Athens, which the Reds lose against the Milan of Filippo Inzaghi and Carlo Ancellotti, calls Fernando. To begin with, the Atlético player thinks it’s a wind-up, some imitator who is trying to trick him. So much so that he cuts everything short and replies in monosyllables. He doesn’t want to be set-up. So he calls Pepe Reina, his friend in Liverpool, to check that the number of the person who called really is that of the manager. And it is. He can now have a more relaxed conversation and listen more closely to the Madrid-born manager’s offer. Benítez says to count on him, that he will do everything to bring him to England, and that he hopes he will accept. El Niño has always liked English football. He’s always said that, one day, if he decided to leave, he would prefer to end up in the Premier League.
Two years previously, Liverpool got to the final of the Champions League and won. It’s a club with a style and philosophy that’s to his liking. Its fans are devoted to the cause, just like those of Atlético. At a stretch, the Calderón reminds one of Anfield. And also the Reds’ fans have a history of being working class. For sure, it’s not the Manchester of the shining stars or even the Chelsea of the Russians, but this could mean that there will be more space for him. On the positive side, there is also the fact that Reina, Xavi Alonso and Arbeloa are at Liverpool. With them, and with Cesc Fabregas, Fernando has talked many times of what it’s like to live in the UK, the atmosphere and the way they play football. And he has always got positive feedback. In reality, the Spanish Liverpool could be an important factor in helping to adapt to a new football environment.
Last but not least, there is his Atlético captain’s armband. For years it’s carried the words ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’. The story behind it began with Fernando’s group of friends. They all wanted to have the same tattoo and they discovered that this expression represented exactly what was most important to them – the bond of friendship that will never be broken, wherever you are. Torres is reluctant. As captain of Atlético, it’s not particularly smart to get the Liverpool motto inscribed on your arm, because maybe the papers would write about it. So, in order that he’s not left out, they find the best – and the most discreet – compromise. It will be written on his captain’s armband. They get it engraved and give it to him as a gift. A story that is revealed when it comes loose during a match with Real Madrid and the message is caught on camera. A sign, almost a premonition, of what, in fact, is actually happening.
But despite all that, the connection with Atlético is strong. It’s an emotional and footballing way of life that he needs to put aside in order to make the big leap. But here fate steps in to help him make the final decision. It happens on 20 May 2007. Atlético Madrid v Barcelona, league match number 35, the final result 0-6. It’s Atlético’s worst-ever home result. A tennis score that hurts, really hurts. At the end of the match, Torres is alone in the middle of the pitch, crouched down with his head in his hands. ‘Never have they beaten me like that. They could have scored twenty,’ the club captain commented immediately afterwards. He had said that Atlético was inferior as a team to the top four in the table, but that he had put his faith in the fact that Barça hadn’t won in the Calderón since the 1999–2000 season. He also wanted to end the debate over a UEFA Cup place as soon as possible. If they had beaten Barça, they would’ve been halfway along the road to Europe. But instead – no. Messi, Zambrotta, Ronaldinho, Eto’o and Iniesta hit the net of the unfortunate keeper, Pichu, one after another, highlighting all the team’s failings.
As if that isn’t enough, the fans, who have always supported the players right up until the final whistle, this time actually want a defeat because it would mean that the eternal enemy, Real Madrid, would not win the league. It’s a bad sign and demonstrates the fact that the team isn’t making every effort or, almost, that it prefers to bow down to its historic opponents rather than celebrate its own victory. And that’s not all. The crowd is already starting to leave the Calderón once Barcelona get their fourth. They abandon the stadium with their heads low, tired of always having their hopes dashed. The ones who stay behind whistle and shout at those on the pitch: ‘Mercenaries, you’re just mercenaries!’
It’s the final straw. The situation that pushes Torres to take the decision he’s put off so many times. He’s getting out of Atlético. He’s disappointed, infuriated, impotent and envious of the winning Barça players, who make up a great team capable of dominating at any ground. He also wants to savour this. He no longer wants to be like a young Atlas, carrying the weight of a 104-year-old institution on his shoulders and which, in recent years, is only able to offer disappointment to its supporters.
On 19 June 2007, the agreement between Liverpool and Atlético is signed and sealed. The only thing missing is Torres’ contract with the English side. In the end, El Niño will accept a lower annual salary (but there are add-ons once certain targets are achieved) in order to be able to leave.
Sunday, 1 July: Fernando interrupts his holidays in Polynesia and returns to Madrid.
Monday, 2 July: he flies to Liverpool after a meeting with Bahia International, the agency that has represented his interests for several years. Here, he spends around 40 hours holed-up in an apartment the club keeps for such situations. It’s forbidden to go outside, go for a walk, a meal, or anything. Liverpool want to keep the transfer completely secret.
Tuesday, 3 July: from the apartment Fernando goes directly to a car parked in a space below the building, and from there to undergo a medical examination. He’s proclaimed fit and ready to join up. And then the last return flight between the city of the Beatles and the Spanish capital. El Niño, the most expensive signing in Liverpool’s history, the most expensive transfer of a Spanish footballer abroad since Gaizka Mendieta (sold in 2001 by Valencia to Lazio for 42 million Euros) first wants to say goodbye to the people he knows in Madrid. It’s only that night that a photographer gets a shot of Torres on his way to the airport …
On 4 July, the Spanish press say their farewells to Fernando. Mundo Deportivo uses the verses of The Doors song, ‘The End’: ‘This is the end. Beautiful friend. This is the end. My only friend, the end.’ A sad farewell in Spain, a welcome full of hope in England. The desire of the English media is that The Kid becomes a legend at Anfield. For Torres, it’s the first day of a new life. A truly strange day. In the morning he leaves home and in the afternoon discovers his dreams have become reality.
Conversation with Liverpool manager, Rafa Benítez
The gaffer is pretty tied up with a whole pile of things on his plate. He’s putting the finishing touches to the 2008–09 season, which finished a few days before, and beginning the next. As usual, he’ll have a summer of hard work. And this year even more, now that – thanks to a contract until 2014 – he has complete freedom regarding the buying and selling of players and in all sporting matters. He’ll have to take the right decisions and sign the right players to reinforce the Reds. To buy and sell with more than £30 million in his pocket. With this money, it’s not easy to bring in the best footballing components, but Rafa is used to challenges and overcoming the odds. He wants to do it as soon as possible so that the newcomers can make themselves at home in the pre-season and get familiar with how the club plays, in order to go for the league title, which they have not won since the 1989–90 season. It will be another ‘Rafalution’ – the Red revolution of Rafa.
In Anfield they are used to this because, since arriving in 2004 from Valencia, the Madrid-born 49-year-old has changed Liverpool. He has brought it up to date. Over two seasons, he reorganised Melwood, changing the preparations, the training, the players’ diet and the way the team plays (and whoever accuses him of being defensive, he responds by pointing to the 100-plus goals they scored last season). He has set up a scouting and talent-spotting system that enables him to keep tabs on around 14,000 players across the globe. And above all, he has returned Liverpool to the European elite, winning the Champions League and European Super Cup in 2005 and getting to another Champions League final in 2007, when they lost to Milan. ‘He’s demonstrated that he’s hungry for success,’ said Tom Hicks, one of the club’s owners. Rafa is a man who lives and breathes football and works on football 24 hours a day if needed. As he’s said on many occasions, he wants to help create a new chapter in the legendary history of the club. Gerrard, the captain, and Torres, El Niño, are two essential elements of his sporting project. Let’s see how he came to choose Fernando …
‘Fundamentally, it was based on information in our possession, thanks to the tracking we do on many players, his excellent skills and the potential he had to develop still further over the short and medium term. Thinking about the English league and his special characteristics, he seemed ideal to be the striker of a team with the philosophy of our Liverpool FC. The truth is that he hasn’t let us down in any way.’
‘Well, it isn’t easy to summarise a sportsman, an elite player, a footballer of the highest level like Fernando. But with a bit of analytical skill we could highlight his power, his strength to withstand physical contact, to go all out – in a legitimate, sporting sense – to win a game, and with sufficient quality and skill to end up being the kind of player who can change the flow of a game.’
‘Well, I think that although everyone’s made an effort to help him, the main ‘culprit’ for his success is him, because of his great determination and his very hard work. Since his arrival he pushed himself hard to improve. He was getting more and more confident and therefore getting better day-by-day. I think that the main guiding principles of Torres’ transformation are Fernando himself and the abilities that he has shown since he arrived in England.’
‘To be very sincere, and in spite of all the earlier remarks regarding his potential and attitude, the truth is that we didn’t expect so many goals in the first year. Not even the most optimistic could have imagined it. But of course one should also say that he deserved each and every one of them, which were the result of his work and dedication and his already-mentioned desire to improve. And yes, talking of his adaptation and the ease with which he was able to do it, it would only be right to recognise that the group of Spanish players who have been with him at Liverpool have helped him a lot to achieve that.’
‘Well, one can’t know that for sure from outside. I think that’s something one would have to ask him and only he could give an absolutely genuine response. In his immediate environment, we have been with him in this process and we can agree that, yes, he has been able to shed an excess of responsibility and that has helped him considerably with his bursting onto the English football scene as a player. Here in our group, our team, Fernando is important – but for what he does on the pitch, not for his image and what he represents or might represent off the pitch.’
‘I wouldn’t want to repeat myself unduly but it’s necessary to go back over parts of the previous answers. The secret is his work, his attitude, his willingness to improve every day. He has listened carefully and resolutely applied what the technical staff at Liverpool FC have taught him in training. To mention some aspects that I consider fundamental, his movement and calm finishing have been key from my point of view.’
‘I presume this refers to my advice, to the guidance we can give him for achieving his best possible progress. And to be very truthful, in this respect, I believe he reacts very well. He always listens and tries to apply the advice to his game in every meeting, in every training session and, finally, in every game.’
‘Once again, we’ll have to summarise. But I would pick out, basically, his ability to change the course of a match, his speed on the counter-attack and the fact that he poses a constant threat for rival defences in each and every game he plays.’
‘It’s not going to be me here and now who describes the philosophy of the Anfield terraces, the merits which the fans of Liverpool FC value most. But taking all that into account, his performance during the first year was spectacular, although in this second year, the truth is that Fernando hasn’t had much luck with injuries. Besides that, one is dealing with a footballer who is humble and works hard, and all that makes our fans very enthusiastic about him and in him they recognise – let’s say, they identify – yesterday’s values, today’s values, and the values that are always there in the ‘Red’ story.’
‘To give a brief assessment, without going into details and looking for the appropriate adjectives, I think the first campaign turned out to be excellent in every respect, as we talked about before, and the second, which has just finished, one would have to say it could have been better, although at the same time, and to be fair, you have to bear in mind the mitigating circumstances referred to earlier. Injuries have prevented any kind of continuity and that, as we all know, is fundamental for any footballer at the end of the day.’
‘Obviously one would have to pick out some of the goals he’s scored. One is talking about a striker, and in this sense he’s brought a lot to the team, particularly during his first year. But not being Fernando, it would be difficult to choose one or two. It should be him and only him who can give an opinion on this. No one knows the feelings of Fernando Torres more than Fernando Torres himself.’
‘From my point of view, we are talking about a normal relationship, more or less like I have with the rest of the footballers. For sure, someone could probably say that I’ve talked more with him than some of his team-mates. But that’s due exclusively to the argument that I see the potential he has, and I try to help him exploit that to the full, for his own good, although also for his contribution to the team, which is the really important thing. He’s a great lad and it’s not too difficult to have a good relationship with him.’
‘If we have to talk about him in a personal sense, as the question requires, there probably hasn’t been much change. We’re talking about someone who is pretty similar to the lad that arrived just under two years ago – a bit shy, a very good team-mate, pretty humble and, above all, respectful. As you see, one can make out quite a lot of qualities in him on a human level as well.’
‘With the optimism and hope that the situation demands. I think that as long as he stays injury-free, he could have another great season if he keeps working with the same humility, dedication and attitude that he has up until now. We have great expectations for Fernando and believe that he’s not going to let us down. He’s working on that and doing very well. Let’s hope that’s how it is …
Conversation with Spain manager, Vicente Del Bosque
A quiet man, a coach and father-figure, who took charge of the national team following the euphoria of the victory at Euro 2008 and who knew how to bring everyone back to earth. While not denying the legacy left by his predecessor, Luis Aragonés, he has achieved the team’s qualification for the 2010 South Africa World Cup well ahead of schedule.
The national team is the latest stage of a long sporting career: ‘We’ll see when it finishes, maybe after the World Cup, who knows … Let’s hope up until the next European Championship, if things go well.’ Then he will close the door on soccer, a world he first entered in 1 August 1968, when he left his home city of Salamanca to join the Real Madrid junior team.
At the club’s former Ciudad Deportiva training complex, he learned the skill of being an attacking midfielder from players such as Pirri, Grosso and Velásquez. He came up through the ranks with the ‘ye-ye’ generation of players from the 1960s. They were dubbed the ‘ye-ye’ generation because of the ‘Yeah, yeah, yeah’ chorus in the Beatles’ song, ‘She Loves You’, after four members of the team were photographed in Beatles wigs for sport daily, Marca. It was this group of players that had won the club’s sixth European Cup in 1966. He also played with the Quinta del Buitre (or ‘Vulture’s Cohort’ team from the 1980s, which derived its name from its top-scoring player, Emilio Butragueño). Wearing the white of Madrid between 1975 and 1984, he won five league titles and four Copas del Rey (King’s Cups). He was on the losing side in the famous 1981 European Cup final against Liverpool, which affected him deeply.
But from this disappointment he recovered well when, as manager, he brought the Real Madrid of the galácticos (so-called because the team included world-famous star players such as Zidane, Figo and Ronaldo) two Champions League titles (2000 and 2002), a European Super Cup and an Intercontinental Cup (both also in 2002). All in four seasons – and that is without counting the titles won in Spain.
It was a managerial skill acquired under the Yugoslav schooling of Vujadin Boskov and Miljan Miljanic (two of the managers of Real Madrid between 1974 and 1982). ‘Bigotón’ (‘big moustache’), as he was called because of the facial whiskers that give him a likeness to Inspector Maigret, knew how to manage in a calm and friendly way a dressing room where the egos of the champions were as inflated as hot-air balloons. How? Behaving ‘like a good father who draws the line, sets an example, tries to convince without imposing himself and who allows a freedom within certain limits. I don’t like to spend the whole day waving a stick.’ Secrets? ‘Don’t try to be too clever or tell the players the absolute truth every day.’ And now it’s time for the ultimate test, and perhaps the most difficult.
Wearing the national team tracksuit, he is breakfasting in the Ciudad del Fútbol de Las Rozas training complex and chatting with his assistants. Del Bosque talks about Torres – now an essential element in the Spanish forward line – in his usual good-natured way: ‘Fernando already has a brilliant career. He began very young at Atlético de Madrid, where he had been a focal figure for many years. I think that he has benefited a great deal by going to England to play football, to a well-organised club like Liverpool, where he is alongside a manager and other players with considerable experience. He’s had very good runs, and in the national team as well, and he still has a great future ahead of him …’
Without further ado, he begins to talk in more depth about a youngster he’s known for some time, when he was an opponent in the Madrid city derby.
‘Here, Torres didn’t enjoy the best years of Atlético Madrid. He had too much pressure, was made captain too soon, he didn’t have that space as a youngster, the time to develop without feeling under pressure or protected by more-established team-mates.’
‘Likewise, I think it’s down to the environment where he is playing his football. Atlético isn’t the same as Liverpool. The environment, his team-mates and Liverpool’s presence in Europe – all that has helped him.’
‘Benítez is a manager he’s benefited from. I’m not saying that those he had before at Atlético didn’t try, but more than that, he’s now getting a more comprehensive training and he has matured.’
‘Yes, I think so. It’s clear that Gerrard has brought a lot to his game but Torres is also giving the Reds a lot more possibilities, particularly to the players behind him. Fernando has great value – his speed and his running off the ball give options to Liverpool’s game. He’s a Number 9 that any midfielder would want to have in front of him.’
‘It’s brought different ways of understanding the game, which is important – although now there is little ‘native’ football, it’s more a mixture of styles. Nowadays one doesn’t talk of a true English style. Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester (United) and Liverpool themselves have lots of foreign players. Yes, I think that this coexistence between English and Spanish football has helped him in his development.’
‘The two are very competitive and they are clearly dominant in Europe, at least at the moment. In any case, I don’t see any great differences.’
‘He’s a player who has a dominant physical presence, who is very fast and a great goalscorer. He probably doesn’t have a great technique but he does things that are unexpected …’
‘Hitting the ball very hard, a sudden burst of speed … and then his ability to improvise in front of goal. Anything to surprise his opponent. He’s not a very orthodox player technically but overall he is in excellent shape and has scored some amazing goals.’
‘Undoubtedly. His time at Liverpool has enabled him to acquire better technical skills. This improvement has been good for him and for the other Spanish players. That speed he has must be accompanied each day by building a better technique and that’s what Torres has done. Quality? To play in the footballing elite where he is playing, in the team he’s playing in now, he wouldn’t be doing it if he didn’t have quality.’
‘He’s a modest lad, very normal and gets on well with his team-mates. He’s a nice lad, yes, very nice. He has a very stable life and that’s good for footballers.’
‘The advice one normally gives to a striker. In the national side, Fernando has some defensive duties to fulfil because they benefit greatly the rest of the team and then there are the attacking duties of a player who knows how to maximise the possibilities for all the players behind him. His speed, his movements, his mobility and his ability to lose his marker are essential in order to give our midfielders the best options.’
‘In football there isn’t just one way of doing things – it’s a mixture of everything and I believe Fernando knows how to play in space as well as play with short passes. Fortunately, the national side mixes the two, which is the ideal.’
‘No, I don’t think it changes much. Our group is pretty integrated in that everyone has their role and, without doubt, Torres is one of the most important players in the national side, for sure.’
‘I think it’s the culmination, the final phase of a move involving the whole team. He knew how to score a quick goal and finish well in front of the keeper.’
‘I don’t know really. I can’t think of any players who remind me of him or who resemble him. I think he has a very individual way of playing.’
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