Nearly fourteen years after making his debut for Atletico Madrid, Fernando Torres has returned to the club of his youth with something to prove. Or maybe something to find.
There’s a 2002 song from Boston hardcore punk band the Suicide File called “The Edge of Town” that studies the sociological effects of suburban sprawl. During the bridge of the 1:24 tune, singer Dave Weinberg proclaims, “On these dead lawns lie your father’s dreams.” It’s an indictment, unfair or not, of the emotionally and psychologically beaten down, who retreat from the lights of life’s adventurous endeavor for “the place that dreams go to die,” the area “around the outside,” rather than see out their original plans of, I don’t know, world domination, I guess. It’s a cynical claim, but not an entirely wrong one either.
Fernando Torres is setting the sod for his lawn right now. He and his Bones Brigade hair-do have returned to Atletico Madrid, the club where he began his career. Going by Weinberg’s aforementioned doctrine, he has officially entered the suburban retirement stage of his career despite now shacking up in the cosmopolitan wading pool of the capital; the pristine lawn of the Vicente Calderon might as well be transported to quiet cul de sac 45 minutes east.
At 30-years-old, Fernando Torres is on the decline back to where he began, that much is obvious. But is he just now exiting onto this ramp, or has he been on it for quite some time now? I fear the answer to that question, because it somewhat indicates that that predatory beast that we clamored to watch no matter the occasion, that he’s been gone gone since his mid-twenties. Perhaps I’m strangely more hoping of the yips theory that’s been tossed about for the past half-decade, that it’s all something he’ll get over. But c’mon, we’re officially past that stage and I know it; he’s done, and if there’s any pockets of form to be surfed in by the Spaniard, they’ll be wholly tagged as a birth of something new, not a reclamation of the old. The old is gone.
Torres made his second debut for Atletico Madrid on Wednesday against Real Madrid in the first leg of their round of 16 Copa del Rey tie. It was pretty weird, but also not really. The aura of El Niño is such that anytime he suits up is an exercise and an experiment of the possibilities of storytelling. Will the old “kid” return, even if for just one night? Or will the fool’s twirly cap reach unprecedented speeds as he spectacularly whiffs on pinpoint crosses and flubs multiple sitters? His name’s become synonymous with that, you know? In a way, every Torres performance is like the extremes of stand-up comedy, where slaying and bombing become glaring extremes, yet counterparts, of each other. But we’ve also seen him play with this team before, in these colors; the red-and-blue combo even strangely tends to blend the illustriousness of his Liverpool days with the bewilderment of his Chelsea days. It’s not a total mindfuck to view his Colchoneros return, but it’s noteworthy nonetheless.
Torres’s re-debut for Atleti was as many debuts turn out: neither sensational nor a waste of time. But this is what Nando has crawled back into at the Calderon; the nature of Diego Simeone’s side demands forwards who work as hard defensively as the rest of their teammates. Any striker uncommitted to their cause of stonewall-then-break-like-lightning would stick out like claret and blue at the Bernabeu. It’s a different Atleti than when Torres first left, but not one he shouldn’t recognize. Many of his best days at Chelsea were either spent under Jose Mourinho, who employs a philosophy in the same zipcode as Simeone’s, or Roberto Di Matteo, under whom Torres scored his most famous Chelsea goal in one of the most famous counter-crush-tiki-taka games ever against Barcelona in the 2012 Champions League semifinal. This may not be the Luis Aragones or Vicente del Bosque Spain teams that Torres lit the world up with, but he’s clocked enough hours to remain an expert nonetheless.
Apart from a rightfully-signalled offside flag in the fifth minute — on a chip that wouldn’t have scored anyways — Torres did very little in the way of fireworks on Wednesday. Actually, he did nothing special at all other than follow his coach and ex-teammate Cholo’s instructions, which is to say, he did everything. Atleti won the match 2-0 thanks to a spotkick from Raul Garcia, after he was tackle to the ground by Sergio Ramos on the previous corner, and a set-piece header from Jose Gimenez. They’ll take the precious advantage to the Bernabeu next week for the second leg, where the kid should be in-line for another start.
Immediately following Garcia’s goal, Torres was subbed out for Koke, another Atleti youth product, one on the sweet side of the footballing career arc. As he touched his wisdom onto his younger, Torres left to the feel of the crowd’s overwhelming love and passion, even if it wasn’t all, or even mostly, for him. And he got to hear something that wasn’t the bang of critique or disappointment or dreams deferred. Instead, he heard the sound of his people, the sound of home.