The smile was back on the face of Fernando Torres on Sunday afternoon when the former Chelsea and Liverpool man was welcomed back to Atlético Madrid by more than 40,000 delighted fans at his Vicente Calderón homecoming.
The 30-year-old, affectionately known as ‘El Niño’, will officially put pen-to-paper on a loan deal from AC Milan on Monday, seven years after leaving the Spanish capital for Anfield. He could be handed a baptism of fire with a possible debut against Real Madrid in the Copa del Rey on Wednesday night swiftly followed by a trip to Barcelona in La Liga at the weekend.
Torres was a star for Atleti during one of the toughest periods in their recent history as he helped fire Los Colchoneros back to the top flight following relegation to the Segunda Division. He was the ray of light in a dark spell. Despite tough stints with Chelsea and Milan there is no love lost at the Calderón and that was evident during his presentation to the scores of gathered press and thousands of supporters on a sunny Madrid Sunday.
The queues wound around the stadium with fans eager to get a glimpse of their star’s return. Madrid clubs Getafe and Rayo Vallecano were facing each other at the other side of the city in La Liga and the crowd at the Calderón eclipsed that at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez, attracting four times as many fans for the official unveiling of Torres.
“It is nice to return home,” said the Spain international, sporting a new haircut and a suit as he spoke to the press. “I have been waiting a long time for this moment and finally it is here.”
While Torres has changed as a player since he left, Atleti are also a much-changed club, largely thanks to manager Diego Simeone, a man Torres captained before his departure to Liverpool. The club are league champions, ending the hegemony held by city rivals Real Madrid and Barcelona, and were within a minute of becoming European champions.
Torres clinched the Champions League with Chelsea and says he now wants to win trophies with Atleti. “Off the field a lot has happened since leaving. On a personal level I am more mature and happier. On a sporting level I have also changed. At 24 I realised something very hard. I needed to leave Atlético for the club so I could grow. It was the hardest moment of my career. The club has now grown as well and time has proved us both right. I also won titles but I want to win titles here.”
The Fuenlabrada-born player, who progressed through the club’s youth ranks, attended Atleti’s first league match of 2015 on Saturday and saw his new team defeat Levante 3-1. He sat in the executive seats and was handed a standing ovation when he took up his seat before kick-off. His presence was felt in the stands and on the pitch, with Antoine Griezmann scoring twice and Diego Godin adding a third to see Atleti to victory.
“Fernando is a player of this club that has generated great enthusiasm, he has come to contribute and he wants to make things right,” Godin said after Saturday’s match. “The arrival of Fernando has given us a lot of motivation,” said defender Jose Maria Gimenez.
“It gives us lots of confidence we we are very happy”.
After talking to the press he donned Atleti’s famous red and white stripes and took to the Calderón pitch, not wanting to keep his fans waiting. He signed balls and kicked them in to the stands as well as saying a few words. He will hope to run out in front of a sold-out Calderón on Wednesday night against the club’s biggest rivals.
Torres also spent close to an hour signing autographs and posing for photographs with supporters, youth team players and security guards at the club’s training base in Majadahonda, 20km north of the city centre. He played in a practice match on Sunday morning before his unveiling, where Simeone ran the rule over his former team-mate and assessed if he is ready to play a lead role against Madrid on Wednesday.Reuse content