From The Times
Fernando Torres declares age of romance dead after another tricky divorce
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£50 million striker tells Oliver Kay that he is ready for a more ruthless approach to football life
Romance is dead. Fernando Torres said so yesterday. He had always imagined otherwise, flinging himself headlong into love affairs with Atlético Madrid and Liverpool, but he feels he knows better now.
There might seem something devilish in a fixture list that takes Liverpool to Stamford Bridge tomorrow in his first appearance for Chelsea — whether in the starting line-up or from the bench — since his British-record £50 million transfer on Monday. But the emotions are not what they would once have been for someone who, in his football career, has ultimately been left unfulfilled by two initially blissful marriages.
Torres will discover tomorrow that hell hath no fury like a Scouser scorned. But if he is the one who walked out — and he repeated his claim yesterday that Liverpool were already negotiating with Chelsea when he indicated a keenness to move — he did so in the belief that the love had died. He talked of eschewing any celebrations if he scores, out of “respect for their fans”, but otherwise he appeared a less innocent, more cynical, more ruthless footballer than the one who arrived on Merseyside in 2007 and claimed to have fallen in love.
Of all the statements Torres made at Chelsea’s training ground in Cobham, Surrey, yesterday, the two that resonated loudest were the one about romance and the one in which he said that he had “never kissed the Liverpool badge”. Cue suspicious looks among some of his audience. What, really? “No, never.”
Sports desk picture editors went into overdrive in an attempt to find evidence that Torres had kissed the Liverpool crest, but he never did — not literally, anyway. Even if he was responsible for the mythology that built up around him at Anfield, talking of his heartfelt identification with the club, the city and its people, Liverpool was never his true love.
“I didn’t even kiss the badge at Atlético,” he said. “And I loved Atlético. I see some players doing that when they join a club, but the romance in football has gone. It’s a different thing now. People come and leave. When you join a club, you want to do the best for yourself and that club. That is all.”
It is hard to imagine Torres saying such things in his first two love-struck seasons at Liverpool. In October 2009 he said he would never consider joining another English team. But that happened to be the same month that the cracks that had begun to appear at the Merseyside club widened dramatically as they went from contenders to also-rans in the Barclays Premier League and the Champions League, and the mood at Anfield darkened.
Sources close to Torres have cited “broken promises” that the former regime at Liverpool made last summer in an attempt to safeguard his short-term future while the club were in the process of being sold — ultimately to Fenway Sports Group in October — but he preferred to look back farther.
“It’s not just last summer, really,” Torres said. “It’s the last two years maybe, especially with the old owners [Tom Hicks and George Gillett Jr]. Last summer, with the change of manager, the sale process was very serious. I wanted to start the new season with big expectations, but I soon realised expectations weren’t so high. It’s best to be honest about what you can achieve every season. People were talking about winning the Premier League or finishing in the top four, but we were in the relegation zone after a month.
“When the new owner, John Henry, came, the club started moving in the right direction. They have ambition and they know how to go back to the way they were. But in my opinion they need time for that. And maybe I’m at my best age to play football now. I wanted to try to help the team forward, to get back in the top four. They’re close now, sixth or seventh, and moving the right way. But when you have a chance of playing for a team in the Champions League, with a chance to win it, and are the right age to do that and compete with the best, you have to do that.”
It is the same explanation that Steven Gerrard would have given had he not abandoned the idea of leaving Liverpool for Chelsea in 2004 and again, after winning the Champions League, 12 months later. Torres, 26, said Gerrard had called him to wish him good luck — “maybe because he was in that situation before” — but tensions are nonetheless certain to run high on the pitch as well as in the stands tomorrow.
Torres was asked what kind of tackle he expects from Jamie Carragher, with whom relations were strained towards the end of his Anfield career. “I don’t know,” he said, laughing. “I’m expecting a hard game. I know he’s a big Liverpool fan. But I’m sure he understands my decision. I’m sure he wanted me to stay, but it was the same for me when [Xabi] Alonso and [Javier] Mascherano left. It was a big disappointment to me, but I understood they did the best for themselves, their families and their careers.”
When did he make the decision to leave? “As soon as I knew that Liverpool and Chelsea were talking,” he said. “I told them then that the decision was made and I would like them to talk seriously about the possibility.
“I was the first one to go to the manager and other people to tell them I would like to leave. I can’t tell you the date, but maybe 10 or 12 days before the close of the transfer window.”
Whatever the truth behind the timings, Torres must know that his bridges — as well as a Liverpool shirt bearing his name — have been burnt. Being sold against his wishes by Hicks and Gillett, with the club managed by Roy Hodgson, might have seen him martyred, albeit not if his destination was Chelsea. But actively encouraging his sale by the Henry regime, with Kenny Dalglish back in the Anfield dugout, is a different matter.
John Aldridge, the former Liverpool forward, called him a “fraud and a traitor”. “I don’t think ‘traitor’ is fair,” Torres said. “I don’t think it makes sense. They can say what they want. I played three very good seasons there, left massive money there, lots of goals, good performances. I helped the sale process, too. I’m happy with everything I did there.”
Could he have given more to the cause in the final months? “Too many people are talking about that,” he said. “I played there for 3½ years and I always gave my best. But when I had the chance to join Chelsea, I couldn’t say no. I have to think about my career. It’s a step forward, everyone agrees.”
Well, not everyone, as will be made loud and clear tomorrow. “I have only good words to say about Liverpool and the fans. Maybe it’s too soon to ask for a good reception,” Torres said. “I’m not expecting that.
But it would be a surprise for me if I get a very bad reception from the Liverpool fans.”
It is that kind of statement that will leave them wondering whether they ever knew Fernando José Torres Sanz at all. But that is modern football, where romance, he has concluded over the past joyless year or two, is dead.