Fernando Torres was walking his two dogs near his house in Madrid – “two sensitive bulldogs” that he plans to take to Liverpool – when he got a call from a number he did not recognise. He does not normally answer his phone when he does not know who it is, but thinking it may have been a call from England he decided to pick it up in case it was Cesc Fàbregas OR José Manuel Reina.
“I cannot remember if he said, ‘Hi, it’s Rafa’ or, ‘Hi, this is Benítez,’ ” Torres said. The Liverpool manager was on holiday in Portugal a week after the Champions League final, but he was focusing on signing the striker that would help his team to make the definitive jump in quality in the Barclays Premier League. “I was surprised but did not realise the dimension of what I was hearing till I hung up,” Torres said. “Then I thought, ‘Wow, this club that can get anybody in the world has rung me, they want me.’”
A month and a half later, a couple of days ago in fact, he arrived at Mel-wood at 8am for his first Liverpool training session. Nobody was at the training ground yet, so he changed and started having breakfast while waiting for people to arrive. He shook hands with Peter Crouch first, then Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard, and then he gave Reina a hug – he had arrived. At 23 he was finally where everybody predicted he would end up, at one of the big clubs, one that will help him to play for the first time in European competition and one where he is capable of fulfilling his dreams.
Sadly, it could not be with Atlético Madrid, the club that saw him grow. And that became painfully obvious in the last match of the season just finished, a humiliating 6-0 home defeat by Barcelona. “We always raised our game against Barcelona,” Torres said. “It was one of our little victories during a season. We thought that proved that we could be at a higher level if things were done in the right way. But it was all an illusion and I realised it on that day. I had to move on.”
When the offer from Liverpool arrived, he asked Atlético to listen to it and if possible accept it, even though Benítez was never going to pay the whole of his buy-out clause – €40 million (about £27 million). The offer was about €25 million increasing to about €30 million depending on targets, plus Luis GarcÍa, valued at €4 million. Then Torres went on holiday to Polynesia and he returned sooner than expected because everything was agreed.
After passing the medical and signing he asked to say goodbye to his fans in Madrid before being unveiled at Anfield. “In one of the trips, at the passport control of the airport, we were there when a plane landed,” he said. “People recognised me and I started signing autographs, but at the same time opening a space so I could keep moving. I quickly realised life was going to be different in Liverpool.”
Torres is talking about the weight of expectation that he has had to carry at Atlético, where, at 19, he became captain and the only person responsible for everything that was good and bad at the club. He was mobbed, criticised, scrutinised. He couldn’t breathe.
People accused him of saying goodbye in a distant way, no tears or anything. When presented with the new Atlético shirt he rejected the opportunity to wear it. When the chairman offered a hug, he gave a hand instead.
“I didn’t think it was convenient to wear Atlético’s new shirt when I belonged already to another club,” he said. But what he means is that it was never again up to him to represent the club he loves. There was no shield for the directors who for eight years had failed to build a team that could qualify for Europe. In the press conference at Anfield, the weight had gone. It was another Fernando Torres and the smile he wore that day has not abandoned him since.
“I don’t care about the weather. My girlfriend, who I will live with, is from Galicia, where it rains constantly,” Torres said. “I know I am in a special club, in a city that has had better times, but that is getting stronger. I have already noticed that in the couple of days we have been here.
“When my friends gave me the arm-band with the ‘we’ll never walk alone’ logo, the one they have tattooed in their arms, I was not thinking of Liverpool as my next destination, but there is a reason why we liked that sentence. At Atlético, in my district, we know what it means.”
But training is different and he is already suffering the consequences of the hard work imposed by Pako Ayes-taran, the Liverpool assistant manager. “They do train here, don’t they?” he said. Torres knows how important the physical side of the game is in England. “I am going to play 20 more matches than at Atlético,” he said. “But I am sure the adaptation is going to be easier partly because I know some of the guys here, but partly because I can already see in training that the team moves like a unit.
“It is a team that is already solid. I was running around trying to follow their moves but I’m still miles away to accomplish that efficiently.”
However, other factors will help his adaptation. “I can see I could be useful when we use the counter-attack, with the long balls of Gerrard or the passes from Xabi [Alonso],” Torres said. “It is up to me to give even more to the team. I have scored more goals when I have been playing as a target man, but I can play off another striker, do his dirty work if you like.
“I will have to get used to the different intensity of the Premier League. I also need to get rid of some of the habits one learns when younger. There will be a price to pay while I learn, a yellow card or two. At least I know from having watched the Premier League that referees allow more to the forward. In Spain if I made a fault it was a yellow card straight away, but here I can be physical.”
Liverpool fans will have to wait until one of the friendlies in Switzerland next week – against Werder Bremen or Auxerre – to see Torres’s debut. His ankle is getting better and he is training normally. The forward played the last two matches of last season’s La Liga while injured to help the failed attempt to get Atlético into Europe despite the fact that he knew there could be moving on.
Now he plans to start improving his basic English and keeps looking at the DVDs the club gave him when he arrived. “They are about the Kop, about the old players and managers,” he said. “I have seen a few of them and will see the rest when we go to China, it is a long trip.” Six years at Liverpool could also be considered a long trip, but Torres can’t wait to start. “How do you say ‘ estoy muy ilusionado’ in English?” he asked before going around Liverpool looking for houses. It is “I’m so made up” – in Scouse.