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Fernando Torres on his new Liverpool life

Perfectionist. Obsessive. Manic. The first speaks for itself. The second, when coupled with the first and attributed to a footballer, is complimentary. The third could be worrying. It is how Fernando Torres describes himself and his pre-match routine.

"I'm very manic. I combed my hair into a crest because a friend suggested it and from that moment I started to score goals," he said. "I always repeat what I did the day before a game if I've scored. So, if when I score I'd stood up on the coach on the way to the game, I'll stand up again. If I'd spoken to someone, I'll speak to them again. I always repeat it."

It seems to have worked. El Nino (the Kid) has averaged 15 top-flight goals a season over the past five seasons and he's still just 23 -
impressive by any standards.

It is well documented how Torres came through the youth ranks of his beloved Atletico Madrid to become club captain at 19, their youngest ever, but he was racking up the records much earlier. He was so ahead of his years that he lied about his age to take part in a junior tournament in his home town of Fuenlabrada, near Madrid. He was seven, the minimum age was eight. He went on to beat all records for goals and appearances for each age group he played in.

At nine, he was taken by his father on a surprise visit to Atletico's stadium and trophy room. He said: "I'd seen photos of the trophies,
but I'd never seen them close up and I'd never touched them. That day I did both. Luckily since then I've had my hands on one or two more. All my life I'd heard my family talk about them, the World Club Cup, the League trophies, the cups Atletico had won. That day I got to see what I'd always imagined."

By ten, Torres had signed for the club. "For my family it was a nightmare. They put in so much effort so I could become a footballer, although that wasn't the goal then because no one knew - none us of even imagined - I'd get to where I am today.

"My dad had to leave work in the afternoons to take me to training in Orcasitas, and then go back to work by train to Fuenlabrada. At other times my mother took me on the bus and on the train - whether it was raining or baking hot she'd take me. She used to say: 'If you ever get fed up, you don't have to go any more. Don't feel obliged to keep on with the football.' But I never got tired of it."

When he turned 14, Torres was considered the best player in Europe for his age group. He won the European Under-16 Championship with Spain, finished top scorer and was named player of the tournament. "After that, people started recognising me in the street," he says.

Torres made his first-team debut at 17, helping Atletico to promotion from the second division in his second season. He won the European U19 Championship with Spain, again as top scorer. "That's when offers started to come in," he says. "For example, there was one from Arsenal."

To begin with, Torres had no desire to leave Atlético, but by this year he had changed. "Everyone wants to play in Europe," he said, "to experience what it's like, to be among the greats." He knew he had to leave, and Liverpool were the only team he wanted to join. It won't be easy for him at Anfield, but he's ready and believes having come such a long way in a short time will help him.

"A lot of good things have happened to me: promotion with Atletico, my call-up to the Spanish national team. There have also been bad things, but you learn from them, such as missing out on promotion a month after I made my debut. That was the worst.

"There's a big difference between the player I was when I made my debut in the Spanish second division and the player I am today. There are a lot of physical differences, above all with my movement on the pitch. With time and without realising it, you learn to move a lot better. You run a lot less, touch the ball more, you pace yourself better, you help the team out in defence. Knowing where to position yourself on the pitch is something you learn with matches.

"I watch matches I played in a long time ago. The good ones and the bad. When I've got nothing to do I watch games from the U16 and U19 championships. They bring back memories and give me a little boost." Torres is passionate about the game. "Unlike Barcelona or Real Madrid, the people at Atletico are more about feeling than results. I like to enjoy myself, have a good time every game, then if you win, all the better. That's the way of thinking I got from my granddad."

But will he find that joy playing for Liverpool, a team whose restrained style under tactician Rafa Benitez has not always pleased the purists?

Torres has admitted he hated playing in the Spanish second division because "there is less space and it does not suit my style of play".

But he is convinced he can quickly adapt to Benitez's tactics. "We players have to adapt to systems, rather than systems being adapted to suit the players. The manager will decide who plays depending on what he needs in each game. The players who do best are the ones who win a place. I like playing with pressure and responsibility. I'm used to it."

Torres chose Liverpool in spite of bigger offers, including one from Inter.

"My choice was not down to money. This is a personal challenge," he said on moving to Anfield. "I have signed for six seasons and my
desire is to play here for the six. Liverpool have great players and I'm happy to be around them. The more goals I can score, the better."

His career to date reads like a Boy's Own story. Even his injuries have had their positive side. He underwent surgery in December 2000
after breaking a leg and the surgeon marvelled at the elasticity of Torres's kneecaps, saying they were the most flexible he'd ever seen.

He was not quite so fortunate when he fell over as a kid, knocking out his top two front teeth - he has false ones now. But it didn't stop his love of the game. "As a kid I wanted to be a footballer. Everyone in my house talked about football. Everything happened for me so quickly I didn't have time to think about it, but I believe I have fulfilled my dreams."

Who were his boyhood heroes? "The people I have most admired are Michael Jordan, ex-Atletico player Kiko and cyclist Miguel Induraín."

What of the comparisons with Marco van Basten? "He's always been a point of reference for me, but I don't think we're similar. I've seen
a lot of videos of him and he's the player I've most liked in my position, one of the best strikers in history. I've got a long way to go to match him."

Torres already has his own waxwork in a museum in Madrid, standing alongside Jordan and Induraín, Zidane and Raúl. It has made his father José very proud.

"It's only a few years ago that I used to take him to training and he made the jump to the first team," says Torres senior. "And now. I
can't believe he can have come so far so young."

Much of what Torres has achieved is down to his perfectionism - his "I don't even like losing in training" attitude. He has read American lifestyle guru Spencer Johnson's book on positive thinking, Who Moved My Cheese? and even though he has yet to finish a business studies course he says: "My main characteristic is will power. So far I've achieved everything I've wanted. I'm lucky, but nobody has gifted me anything. Luck is important, but you have to go out and get it. I've always admired people who have achieved what they have through their talent."

His success and talent made him a pin-up in Spain. He has been accused of being over fussy about his appearance - his hairdresser has even appeared on Spanish TV - but he says: "I don't think I'm vain. I'm still the same. I surround myself with the same people, the same friends. I'm still the same person. What has changed is that I'm better known."

He has also appeared in a video for the pop group El Canto del Loco, with whom his friend Dani Martin is lead singer. Torres has even
joined Martin on stage, playing ) guitar, and says: "I'm passionate about rock, especially Spanish rock. If I hadn't been a footballer
perhaps I would have been a singer in a rock group."

All of which means Torres has struggled to maintain any sort of private life, and he admits he finds it hard to cope with all the
attention: "Me and Dani went shopping and the security had to keep us in a store to avoid the chaos. Sometimes I'd like to have a conversation with a friend in a restaurant without feeling I'm being watched. At this rate I will have to go on holiday to Greenland. But maybe the Eskimos would know me."

That's not to say he doesn't have time for supporters, and he has always spent a set time after training signing autographs. That's not being obsessive, though. For Torres believes "signing autographs after a training session is almost a moral obligation".

Copyright - UEFA Champions League Magazine


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