In July of 2007, Atletico Madrid’s Fernando Torres bid adios to the only club he ever knew. After seven years on the first squad and after becoming the team’s youngest captain at the tender age of nineteen, Fernando Torres left the Spanish capital for English Premier League club Liverpool FC. In his departing letter to Atletico supporter’s, Fernando wrote that in his heart he hoped that “…this goodbye is an I’ll see you later.”
Seven and half years after his heartfelt letter, the “I’ll see you later” finally came to fruition. Over 45,000 fans filled the stands of the Vicente Calderon to welcome back their former captain. “I’m overwhelmed by the displays of affection, which are always many more than I expect, many more than I deserve and it’s been amazing.” Torres said as he addressed the roaring spectators.
Since being back, Fernando found the form which eluded him during spells in Chelsea and AC Milan. Earlier this month, he bagged two goals to knock out city rivals Real Madrid from the Copa Del Rey. And a few days ago, he struck the net just 30 seconds after the opening whistle in the return leg of Atletico’s quarter final clash against FC Barcelona.
While FC Barcelona came back to win 3-2 and advance to the semi-finals of Spain’s Cup Competition, it was Torres who had beIN Sport’s Ray Hudson roaring with admiration.
“The confidence is oozing out of his ears!”
It may be too early to tell if Torres’ magical form will sustain over the long term. But there’s no denying that Atletico and Fernando seemed to be made for one another.
“He has the opportunity to play and looks good,” says Spanish National Team Manager Vicente Del Bosque. “He and Atletico Madrid have rediscovered each other.”
Whether or not the feel good feels continue is beside the point, Fernando Torres’s return to his boyhood club is the perfect homecoming. It’s the type of homecoming Cesc Fabregas wish he had, it’s the one LeBron hoped he would have, and for all of us who moved away for school or work, it’s the homecoming we hope to have.
Cesc Fabregas’ return to FC Barcelona should have been perfect. “I have waited a long time for this moment. After eight years away I hope to leave you all with many great memories.” Fabregas said at his unveiling in August of 2011. It had the makings of the perfect, romantic reunion.
But Cesc’s three years at the Camp Nou would produce mixed results. For starters, he didn’t quite fit into Pep Guardiola’s system. Cesc may have Barça in his DNA, but his playing style was forged in London. At Arsenal, he played high up the pitch, knowing his teammates would cover in his absence. At Barcelona however, he was expected to to fit a role and stay in position to power Pep’s “tiki-taka” machine. Cesc was an anarchic player playing in orderly system. As his Barcelona teammate Pique would comment “I can see how Cesc would like to have more freedom, as he used to have at Arsenal. But you have to play according to where you are, of course.”
In addition, Cesc’s return seemed doomed to fail before he even arrived. Ahead of him in the rotation were World Cup winning midfielders Xavi Hernandez, Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta. Cesc would have to play out of this world to displace one of the three.
Cesc’s stay in Barcelona finally ended in June of 2014, when Jose Mourinho brought him over to Stamford Bridge and Chelsea FC for a fee of 33 million Euro. Although Cesc was a romantic, nostalgic fit for FC Barcelona, his playing style and the talent at the club prevented this union from years of fruition. It seemed like a transfer for the sake of a transfer. Barcelona is to blame for Cesc’s failure at the Camp Nou. Cesc was a luxury purchase.
The whole process was guided by passion and nostalgia rather than logic and need. Pep and the Barcelona board tried to make Cesc square peg fit into a round hole. Cesc’s homecoming didn’t have a fairytale ending, and he wound up leaving Barcelona, again.
As Cesc Fabregas was making his second Barcelona exit, LeBron James was announcing his return to the team that drafted him, the Cleveland Cavaliers. LeBron left his hometown team in the summer of 2010, amidst a fury from the city and a controversial and egotistical ESPN “Special”.
He capped off his first year in Miami with an NBA Finals loss to the Dallas Mavericks. The following two years were fruitful ones for South Beach as LeBron, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh won back to back NBA Titles.
Miami Heat had a chance for a third consecutive title in 2014 as they squared off against the San Antonio Spurs. But LeBron and co wouldn’t be able to extend their championship run and went down in their fourth consecutive Finals appearance to Tim Duncan and the Spurs.
While LeBron experienced tremendous success in Miami, cementing himself as a champion and as one of the best players of our generation, his former team was struggling. During LeBron’s last year in Cleveland, the Cavs amassed a league best 61 wins. The following year, the first in the post LeBron era, the Cavaliers plummeted, winning only 19 games. It was the biggest drop in NBA history.
The following three years weren’t much better as the team failed to make the playoffs. During this spell, their highest win total was 33 (33-49).
And now LeBron’s homecoming has the city buzzing with hope and expectation. LeBron proved in Miami that he can win titles. But can he do it in a city with not only a long history of losing, but also in the city where he grew up? LeBron is back and he’s playing the role of a savior. And while he’s definitely up for the pressure, one has to wonder if his legacy will be tarnished by failing to bring home (literally) an NBA Title. Cleveland watched from a distance as LeBron racked up award after award and title after title. Meanwhile, the Cavs didn’t stay stagnant, worse, they regressed.
Fernando Torres’s return to Atletico de Madrid doesn’t have the forced fit of the Cesc Fabregas saga nor the pressure of saving a club desolate in his absence like LeBron James in Cleveland. Torres and the club seemed to come together because destiny dictated so. They’re like two high-school sweethearts reuniting after years apart and falling back in love. They were always dear to one another but they needed to grow apart, to get closer.
Torres needed a new challenge and an opportunity to win titles. Atletico needed space from their boy-captain to build a foundation and have a chance at breaking the Barça-Madrid hegemony that dominates Spain’s top flight. For the most part, the two got what they wanted.
Fernando was part of the Chelsea squads that took home the FA Cup, The Europa League and The UEFA Champions League. Atletico meanwhile, seemed to produce strikers like a factory, as international stars Diego Forlan, Sergio Aguero, Radamel Falcao and Diego Costa filled the role once held by Atletico’s 19 year old captain. The foundation that was built after Fernando’s exit was rocky at first (in the three seasons following his exit, Atletico finished 4,4,9). But last year they succeeded in breaking the Barcelona, Madrid dominance by winning La Liga. In addition, they came within a Sergio Ramos header from beating arch-rivals Real Madrid in the UEFA Champions League.
Fernando got what he wanted, to win silverware. And although he comes back, not as an elite forward, it’s worth to remember that he didn’t leave in 2007 as one either. The difference of course was the seven years ago he was on the cusp of great ness and now he’s settling in a support role.
Homecomings are heart breaking because they never match the romantic and idealistic expectations. But with Torres, his return home is already perfect. He has no pressure to save the team and he has nothing left to prove. His best days may be behind him and most fans, the logical ones anyway, know what Simeone and the Atletico brass understand: Torres isn’t a savior. Torres is back because it felt right (and is right) for both player and club.
There were thousands of fans that snaked around the Vicente Calderon, waiting to greet Fernando that Sunday afternoon in early January. Many brought old jerseys or signs to show their support. One fan in particular held a homemade sign that I think captured the day perfectly. In what looked like an ugly hodge-podge of cut out magazine pages, (almost like she was working on a dream board), were letters that spelled out a beautiful sentence:
“How beautiful it is to say hi to someone your heart never wanted to say bye to.”
Welcome back, Fernando.