His head may have been in Madrid but his heart was already in Liverpool.
Even though Fernando Torres didn’t actually realise it, his fate was already sealed.
A flick of the arm, a fleeting connection with a defender jostling for the ball and the ripped skipper’s armband revealed his destiny. The words were clear: ‘We’ll Never Walk Alone’
Hillsborough service sent a shiver through me
It wasn’t a ‘come and get me plea’ to Rafa Benitez. Far from it. Instead
, the words were meant to signify the bond that existed between Torres and his friends. It was their motto. A play on the words used in famous song adopted by Liverpool Football Club as their anthem.
His friends had the words tattooed on their forearm. Torres, aware of the controversy it would cause opted out so they gave him an armband with the words inscribed on the inside. Their secret – until a clash with a Real Sociedad defender on April 23, 2007 revealed them to the world.
“Destiny seemed to have decided that if I ever left Atletico Madrid it would be for Liverpool,” he said.
“It happened in San Sebastian, in northern Spain, when I was playing for Atletico Madrid against Real Sociedad. I was battling with a defender, and the captain’s armband I was wearing came loose and fell open.
“As it hung from my arm, you could see the message written on the inside, in English. We’ll Never Walk Alone. It wasn’t what I had intended but right there and then I became identified with Liverpool. I hadn’t planned for it, and a future at Anfield hadn’t even crossed my mind but that moment of chance. That accident came to symbolise the next big step in my career: my captaincy at Atletico gave way to the words that define Liverpool.
“All my best friends have the words tattooed on their arms. We were eating together once and they suggested that I do the same. I told them I couldn’t. ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ is a phrase so intimately linked to one of Europe’s biggest clubs, so clearly associated with Liverpool, that I didn’t think it was a good idea.
“I was an Atletico player and a rojiblanco through and through. They decided to give me a new captain’s armband for my birthday with the phrase on the inside so that, even if I wouldn’t get it tattooed on my arm, we would never walk alone.
“I gave the armband to the Atletico kit man, who kept it with the team’s shirts. When it slipped down that day against Sociedad, an eagle-eyed photographer snapped the picture and I was immediately linked to Liverpool.
“Maybe that day I took my first steps towards Anfield, or maybe it was because I already shared things with Liverpool. I identify with the values that define the club: hard work, struggle, humility, sacrifice, effort, tenacity, commitment, togetherness, unity, faith, the permanent desire to improve, to overcome all obstacles...Once a week Liverpool fans feel like the most important people on earth and make the players feel like it to. They give everything and they ask for nothing in return.
“Liverpool FC is a club that despite being used to winning never succumbs to the temptation to start cruising. If you play well the fans enjoy it, and if you play badly they help you get over it. The Liverpool family helped me off the pitch too. It’s as if you live in a neighbourhood where everyone knows you and everyone joins forces for the same cause: the team. Good people, honourable people, who have always got back on their feet however many times destiny has knocked them down. The harder things have been, the more united they have become.”
Torres was tracked by virtually every club in Europe. He wanted to play out his career at Atletico Madrid but eventually realised he must move to achieve his footballing dreams. When Liverpool came calling it provided him with a date with destiny.
He added: “Having turned down various proposals, Rafa Benitez’s call made me reflect and start to have doubts for the first time. I decided it was the right moment to leave and I asked Miguel-Angel Gil Marin, Atletico’s owner, to listen to Liverpool’s offer.“I didn’t know that Liverpool was the most successful club in England
. Since Rafa went to Anfield and took Spanish players with him I had got to know Liverpool better but I didn’t realise that. I thought they were some way behind the teams that I assumed dominated English football: Manchester United and Arsenal. I was surprised when I found out just how incredible their history was and how many titles they had won.“Istanbul revealed Liverpool’s true spirit.
The Spanish television channel Canal Plus broadcast a report about the history of the club after they had won their fifth European Cup in Turkey – about the tragedies at Heysel and Hillsborough, the connection between players and fans, the struggle against adversity.
“The commitment to overcome difficulties and stand tall, the ability to face up to every situation and beat it, it is reserved for true giants. Liverpool FC is a special and complete club, one that plays and fights, that gives everything for the people that follow it.
“I had heard the names that are most associated with Liverpool: Dalglish, Rush, Souness, Keegan, Owen, Fowler, McManaman, Hamann... As someone who has always followed those players who come through the ranks at their clubs, I was especially interested in a young lad from the youth team called Steven Gerrard.
“In the 1980s Liverpool were practically invincible. I was told that the European ban they suffered after Heysel made them stronger domestically, even though they had an important handicap with less of a presence on the international club stage. Rafa Benitez, who has changed things at the club and revived some of the old Liverpool philosophy, giving the club a global presence again."source
Fernando was a boy of four kicking a ball in his back yard as the Hillsborough tragedy unfolded.
The impact of that day and the 96 lives lost was fully brought home to him at the memorial service for the 20th anniversary on April 15 this year.
Rafa phoned to sign me... I thought it was a prank!
He said: "I could hardly believe what I was seeing. The stadium was almost full. The Kop was packed."The reception we got at Anfield gave me goose bumps. All of our fans stood and gave us an ovation that seemed to go on for ages. The memorial for those who lost their lives sent a shiver through me. It was a tragedy provoked by negligence and one for which there still hasn't been an explanation.
"The families of the dead are still demanding justice. For many the tears are still tears of anger.
"The unity between players and fans comes in part from having that terrible experience together.
"Whenever there is a minute's silence in England's football stadiums it is impeccably observed. It is a minute that goes straight to the heart. A tear puncturing the silence. Can you imagine the Atletico Madrid anthem being listened to in Real Madrid's stadium?
"There were Everton fans at Anfield on that anniversary day who listened in respectful silence. It could only happen in England."If there is one thing that has really stood out for me since I've been in England, it's the huge human tide of Liverpool fans.
"Every player dreams of fans like that. Here at Anfield we've got them."
Three times his mobile phone rang with an English number. Three times he ignored it.
Eventually curiosity got the better of Fernando Torres and he returned the call. There was no answer. He jested to his wife Olalla: ‘That’ll be Benitez wanting to sign me!’ How right he was.
Gerrard is world's greatest player
He said: “I don’t pick up the phone if I don’t recognise the number. Whoever it was had been very insistent – and that evening, a Sunday night, I rang back. There was no answer but a couple of seconds later, whoever it was returned the call.
“’Hello Fernando’ said a Spanish voice at the other end, ‘do you know who this is?’ ‘No’ I replied. ‘You mean, you’d ring a random English number when you don’t even know who it is?’ the voice said. ‘Not normally, no,’ I said, ‘but I’ve had three calls from this number and I want to know who it is.’ ‘It’s Rafa Benitez.’
“There wasn’t much conversation – not from me, at least. My responses were to the point, short and cold. Too cold. Off hand. I’m amazed he didn’t tell me to get lost.
“My mind was racing, trying to place the voice, to decide if it really was Benitez. But how should I know when I had never spoken to him before? He didn’t stop talking. He explained what his plans were and he told me that he had decided that I was the player he wanted to be Liverpool’s centre-forward. He needed to know if I was committed enough to the idea for him to fight for my signature and start negotiating with Atletico Madrid.
“I didn’t know what to think; my mind wasn’t clear, it was spinning. I was thinking that maybe it was a mate of mine fooling around or some impersonator trying to catch me out.
“ I thought I might be falling victim to another bad taste joke, like Jose Antonio Reyes when someone from a radio station rang him pretending to be the Real Madrid’s vice president Emilio Butragueno while he was still at Arsenal and he got himself in all sorts of trouble by admitting to ‘Butragueno’ that he would love to join Madrid.
“Almost all I managed to say was ‘Speak to Miguel Angel Gill, Atletico’s owner, and when the leagues over I’ll think about my future.”
Benitez did indeed pursue their conversation. He ordered the Anfield hierarchy to secure Torres signature and despite Atletico Madrid’s attempts to persuade him to stay a £26.5 million deal was eventually thrashed out.
He didn’t have to do much convincing of the player. Torres had long been fascinated with Benitez as a manager. He had watched him guide unfancied Valencia to two La Liga titles and UEFA Cup triumph. Only after working with him did he realise the secrets behind Benitez success.
The picture he paints of Benitez is fascinating. A man totally consumed by football. Unable or unwilling to converse with his players about anything other than football - as he proved to Torres the day after Liverpool’s magnificent win over Chelsea in .
He added: “I’m doing up my boots ready to head out to the training pitch when the manager Rafa Benitez comes over. During the previous few days the papers have been full of stories about me becoming a father. ‘Congratulations Fernando,’ Rafa says. ‘Thanks boss,’ I reply.“I assumed that he was congratulating me on the pregnancy and I paused, expecting the obvious next question: How’s the mother? Or: Will it be a girl of a boy? I was wrong. I’d forgotten the man standing in front of me was a coach who thinks about football 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
‘Just as we’d anticipated, attacking the near post really paid off yesterday’ he said. ‘You got ahead of the defender into that space we talked about, which gave you an advantage and allowed you to beat Cech with a header. It was a good pass from Fabio but you worked it well. Congratulations.
’ And with that Rafa turned and headed out for training.
“Rafa Benitez, football coach. A football coach through and through. A man so absolutely dedicated to a difficult, demanding and often ungrateful profession.
“Benitez is a manager who knows how to get the best out of his players. He knows how to choose the right players for his system, players who fit his philosophy for the team and the squad. He builds a strong group and helps to improve the individual within it. He pushes you so hard that you end up playing at 120 per cent of your potential. Then he pushes you some more. Once he has got you playing at your very peak, he finds a way to fit all the pieces together for maximum effect.
“Rafa lives football 24 hours a day. He’s meticulous and so insistent on the small details that it can be hard to deal with. He’s so on top of you that a lot of the time he’s on the pitch reminding you of your mistakes the second the game is over, while he normally ignores the things you did well.
“He encourages you with criticism, pushing you to improve every day. If you can’t handle that, it can damage your self-esteem, but if you can handle it, it pushes you on. He provides you with information and detail you didn’t even know about and hadn’t even noticed but that help you get better. He lays great store by the geometry of football: where you are in relation to the ball, if you’re half a metre further forward or half a metre further back...The work you do and the improvements that come with it gives you confidence. So does he.
“Rafa likes to encourage dialogue. He doesn’t want to just show us a video, talk on his own and then jump on the bus to go to the ground. He asks the players for their opinion and tries to involve them in the debate over what we should do. Sometimes he even interrogates you about your role or some move you’re supposed to carry out.
“Sometimes I feel like I’m back being a schoolboy in Fuenlabrada with a teacher testing me on what he’s just taught us. I remember that during one of the first team talks I was involved in he asked us, in a way, what the key to winning the game was. It was my turn to answer. I couldn’t think of anything. I was racking my brain but drawing blanks when Yossi Benayoun rescued me with a whisper in my ear: ‘Pass’
“During team talks you realise just how closely Benitez studies the opposition. He likes to tell us the line-up when we get to the dressing room but even before that he has given a tactical lesson in how the other team plays. Even though he doesn’t want us to know what team, we’re going to play, he insists on us knowing what team the opposition will play.“I honestly don’t think I have ever had a conversation with Benitez that hasn’t been about football. That’s just the way he is.”
Fernando Torres hailed Steven Gerrard the ‘greatest player in the world’ and insists: Liverpool would be lost without him.
He believes their inspirational skipper is ‘irreplaceable’ and has vowed to help land him a long overdue first ever Premiership winners medal - and the World Player of the Year Award.
Torres insists Gerrard is the heartbeat of the club and the key factor behind their European and domestic ambitions.
He said: “He is without doubt the greatest player I have ever played with. He has everything.
“At Liverpool, he is irreplaceable. Every big club has a standard bearer, a home-grown talent, someone with a lifelong commitment to the cause.
“People come and go but he’s always there. It’s him and ten others. He’s everything to the side. That’s Steven Gerrard at Liverpool. I can’t even begin to imagine the place without him.
“He’s got it all as a footballer too: personality, consistency, stature, control, power, strength, aggression, intensity, he never goes missing... he can play everywhere and he can play in every way. Wherever you put him, he performs. He scores goals, works hard, he’s quick, he’s tireless. He’s a born leader and the most consistent player in the world.
“The only thing missing from CV is the Premier League title and an international award like the Ballon d’Or or the FIFA World Player and I’m sure he’ll win one of those soon. There’s no doubt he deserves to. Any coach would want him in their side. “
Torres is the new Kop idol but he believes Gerrard will eventually be recognised as Liverpool’s greatest ever player – and he claims he models himself on the captain.
He revealed his admiration for Gerrard in his autobiography, ‘Torres: El Nino’ serialised this week by The Mirror.
Torres adds: “One day he’ll be recognised as one of the greatest players in the club’s history. And don’t forget, he’s Liverpool through and through too: a local lad who came up through the ranks. That fact makes his achievements all the more impressive to me. For any Scouser to get into the Liverpool first team is extremely difficult.
“Youth teamers learn from the first team players whom they look up to; they get immersed in the values of the clubs and the footballers who represent it over the years. Maybe that’s why Steve and Carra haven’t had to tell me what Liverpool stands for; I can see it in their game.
“Steve doesn’t need to scream and shout on the pitch to be a leader. He leads by example, by the way he plays – the way he’s had bred into him for years.“Our captains are symbols of the club; they supported the team as kids, they sweated for the cause for years in the Academy, fighting to make it, they’ve put up with the pressure of playing for their future with the Reserves, they’ve made it to the first team and worn the armband at Anfield.
“I have tried to absorb everything I can from the club and the city, to understand exactly where I am and that’s because of them. If there is one thing that inspires me about (Jamie) Carragher and Gerrard, one thing that stands out as the key to the way they play, it is their commitment to the cause.”Gerrard and Jamie Carragher went out of their way to greet Torres, sending him text messages within hours of him joining and helping him to settle in at Anfield – they remain on his phone to this day.
He added: “I really noticed that in training: Gerrard and Carragher for example, are always the first to do each exercise and their attitude provides a model to follow. Their enthusiasm is contagious; their approach brings the intensity and dedication necessary to everything we do. If they give everything then you have no choice but to give everything too.
“I admire Steven Gerrard because I know how much pressure he has to live with every day. Everyone’s talking about him all the time – in the dressing room, in the bars, in the stadium. From my own experience, I know how difficult it is to keep everyone happy, but the pressure he’s under is on a different level to anything I ever had to live with because Liverpool is such a huge club.
“When you’re captain, you know everyone is talking about you. You can feel it, especially when things go badly. Everything that Gerrard has to face every single day, and the expectations that surround him, make the way he handles the pressure even more impressive. He is always under the microscope and people always expect him to be a leader, to lift the team all on his own.
“He is an example to everyone who ever finds themselves in that situation. It’s incredible what he has to put up with and how much there is going on around him every single day.“I would love to be a captain somewhere some day because I think I’ve had the best possible role model in Steven Gerrard."
And if you live near Liverpool, Nando is doing a book signing from 3pm to 4pm on Thursday at the Anfield club store : )source