The fans, the fees, the expectation. Nothing is ever understated for Fernando Torres

A DIFFERENT LEAGUE

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The Independent Football

Football has always had its messiahs, but few have had a second coming like the one Fernando Torres experienced at the weekend when 45,000 people turned up to watch him re-sign for Atletico Madrid.

No one was more stunned than he was. When a friend sent him a message with an image of the crowd waiting for him to take to the pitch at the Vicente Calderon, he at first thought it was a wind-up – a photo of a previous home game perhaps.

But no, the ground really was full of people who had turned up to watch the man who will make his second debut tonight against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey. Torres ran out in the famous red-and-white shirt with his two children, Nora and Leo, kicked a few footballs into the crowd and said to the crowd: “One day you will have to tell me what I have done to deserve this.”

It is a huge credit to Atletico supporters that they have not forgotten Torres – 2,000 No 19 shirts were sold on Sunday alone. It is also a credit to Torres that he never forgot the club he supported as a boy. In every celebration of every major honour the striker won with Spain he always carried an Atletico flag on the victory parade.

But the welcome home also fits something else that has been a feature of Torres’ career – exaggeration. Everything about him has been exaggerated: how high his peak, how bad the low that followed, how important he might be to Atletico now – everything.

For two or three years Torres did one thing better than anyone else in the world – hover on the shoulder of the last defender and accelerate clear on to the ball over the top to score. He did it in the European Championship final in Vienna in 2008 against Germany to score the winner. And he seemed to do it for Liverpool every time he faced Manchester United’s Nemanja Vidic.

But his brilliance during that spell owed much to the perfect conditions created by Liverpool manager Rafa Benitez, whose counter-attacking style would draw teams in to create the space for Torres to exploit. He also had a midfield of Steven Gerrard, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano – one that reads even better now than it did at the time. It was only to be expected that when those factors were removed and his own fitness was affected by injury he was not the same player.

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Torres' record at Chelsea was ok for someone worth £25m, not £50m

By January 2011 he was probably worth somewhere between £20m and £25m and if he had gone somewhere for that price and then scored 46 goals in 172 games (as he did at Chelsea) he would never have been seen as a massive failure. Instead Roman Abramovich decided he was worth £50m and so the greatest exaggeration of all began to take its toll.

People still ask “whatever happened to the prolific Torres?” but he has never really been a great goalscorer. At Atletico he never managed 20 goals in a season and for Spain his record of 38 goals in 110 appearances does not compare to David Villa’s 59 in 97.

He might start tonight, although Atletico coach Diego Simeone has reservations about exposing someone who at times looked off the pace when on loan at Milan straight into a 90-minute battle with Real.

He arrives with €30m summer signing Antoine Griezmann having scored five goals in his last two games. The French winger is now the club’s leading league scorer and as blond, baby-faced and brilliant as Torres was back in 2007. Torres will struggle to compete but he doesn’t have to; he just has to complement.

“He is coming to offer his grain of sand,” said defender Diego Godin. In fact he didn’t even say “grain” he used the diminutive granito – “little grain”. Torres just needs to be himself. He is back home aged 30 and they are still calling him “The Kid”. What could be better?

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