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The Cult: Fernando Torres

Ahead of Euro 2016 we're ushering four international football stars into The Cult. First up it's Spanish goalscoring conundrum Fernando Torres.
Illustration by Dan Evans

Ahead of Euro 2016 we're ushering four international football stars into The Cult. First up it's Spanish goalscoring conundrum Fernando Torres. You can read previous editions here.

Cult Grade: The First

I have fantasies about footballers. So you must read nothing more into this than that, in the privacy of my own mind, I'm entitled to fantasise about what I want. As are you.

In mine, moving to Chelsea gave Fernando Torres depression, a reaction that contributed to him being just behind Zidane in the list of footballers I love. Having gone through depression myself – and come out the other side with only the occasional splashes of ice and despair that you get as a souvenir from your time spent under a frozen lake – I know of what I speak. I know the feeling of trying your absolute brain off – haranguing every centre-back, determinedly chasing every lost cause, if you will – but still knowing you're only acting engaged, in a way you can't quite get your head around. What is the difference between being engaged and acting engaged? Why do you have to ask yourself these questions? You can't figure it out, nor how things that came so easy – motoring past the last man, slipping it around the keeper and finishing, if you like – could ever have been easy in the first place.


The question is, why did the transfer give him depression? The question I'd always ask a fellow sufferer, if they truly believe in an exit strategy, is what were you depressing, in the last dangerously misguided act of agency before it all began to slide out of your control? Because if your foot was on the pedal once, even in a misguided way, then it can get back on there. And – although this is personal preference, one that I believe with all my soul – they don't need drugs to do it. I mean, I can see why you would. I still eat chocolate when I'm low. Prozac is like chocolate fired into your brain with a stun-gun; and stun-guns aren't ideal for unpicking an answer as to what's wrong.

READ MORE: The Cult – Dennis Bergkamp

The answer, in my fantasy, is that it was his desire to be somewhere good. At Atletico, the boy captain on whose narrow shoulders was placed the weight of the underdog's struggle against the aristocrats and mercenaries of that city's more prestigious team; at Liverpool, the spearhead of a side that has gusts of magic and undercurrents of tragedy woven into it, whose supporters seem to feel, as much as any team's, that they're part of something. At Chelsea: Roman. Big JT. Gary Cahill sniggering at Big JT's banter. Big JT taking his dad's mates on paid-for tours around Stamford Bridge. Ashley Cole shooting the work-experience kid with an air-rifle. Wayne Bridge's wife. Mourinho. That guy trying to get on the train in Paris.


He was abysmal at Chelsea, neatly matched basically pound-for-pound in value for money by the transfer of Andy Carroll to Liverpool that coincided with his own. In my fantasy, his happiest moment at Stamford Bridge would be the relief he felt at the final whistle of the 2014 Champions League semi second-leg against Atleti, when he could be assured the early goal he scored against them was nothing more than a hiccup in their progress.

And I'd like to think that, as big JT headed into the changing-room in Munich to don what I imagine he refers to as 'the old shinpads' for the trophy presentation, Fernando snuck in behind him, and shortly after a picture hit the Atleti group Whatsapp with the caption, "look at this bellend", in Spanish.

I have learnt that assuming too much soul in footballers is a silly and dangerous game. I don't care. It's a fantasy.

Point of Entry: High

There's a tragicomedy to Fernando's trophy cabinet. In it are two of the most eye-wateringly impressive prizes that football has to offer – a World Cup and a Champions League – yet his contributions to winning both were next to nil. One next to nil, in fact. That one being the only important Chelsea goal he ever scored, against Barcelona, to book their place in the Champions League Final. And though I probably more than most people was happy to see he still had it in him in with about 50 yards of space to round the goalkeeper and score, when your next experience is being replaced in the starting lineup by Ryan Bertrand, it's probably hard to consider yourself integral. Prior to the 2010 World Cup there was agonising among the Spain management, desperate to turn up in South Africa with Torres, over whether to gamble on his recovery from season-ending knee surgery or not. They did, and throughout the tournament he cut the figure that would become his calling-card: earnestly useless, a hinderance to everything Spain did.

READ MORE: The Cult – Craig Bellamy


At Euro 2008 he was hardly a goalscoring hurricane. But, what matters, with any goalscorer, is to be there when it counts. It's hard to recall from this side of the fence, but prior to 2008 Spain at international tournaments were pretty silly. Not as silly as England, but still silly, stocked with players like Raul and Luis Enrique and Etxeberria and Morientes and Mendieta, and expert at ensuring they found a way to get knocked out. At Euro 2004 they couldn't get out of a group containing Greece, Russia and Portugal. At Euro 2008, they began to master the style that would ensure they weren't knocked out of a tournament for another six years. I feel by the end they slipped too deeply under the spell of soporific possession-based 1-0 victories, but Euro 2008 was its aesthetic heyday, when it was still more ragged and flairy, expertly shielded by Marcos Senna and orchestrated by Xavi, the intricacy provided by Iniesta and David Silva, the goals scored by David Villa. The Euro 2012 Golden Boot was what the Spanish call a roja herring – two goals against the worst team in the tournament, and no more until the 82nd minute of the final, by which point the Italians hadn't so much given up as caught the flight back to Rome and begun arguing with their mothers in front of the TV.

And so it's impossible to claim that Fernando Torres has a strong record at international tournaments. But, it is also impossible to deny that he scored the most important goal in the history of Spanish football.


The Moment – Spain 1-0 Germany, Euro 2008 Final, Vienna

Twice during Spain's victorious era have they met the Germans deep in tournaments, and twice they've been presented by the same problem: their opponents are German, they believe in order, and they don't panic. After about 20 minutes of never seeing the ball guys like Jack Wilshere are liable to start muttering sod this, but there is no literal Germanic translation for sod this. They keep their shape. So it would either require a sound that Gerard Pique describes as 'like a jet plane coming past me', when Carles Puyol rose to score the only goal of their 1-0 World Cup semi victory in 2010; or, at first, a striker who demonstrably didn't have depression.

READ MORE: The Cult – Henrik Larsson

He was at the cutting edge of life in the final. Jet-fuelled leaps to win headers between Mertesacker and Metzelder, who are both gigantic; thoughtlessly perfect balance so that bigger Germans would bounce off his frame; that initial spurt that seemed to come down from his chest – from his beating heart – and got him first to every ball. The winner he scored, the proof that Spain were not a silly proposition in international tournaments, screams first, in every oxygen-pumping cell in his body. He gets there first before Lahm once, then twice, and at the same time gets there first before Lehman.

Closing Statements

"It was like swimming with wet clothes on. Now I know how I am, and I'm fine. At the end those doubts about your quality eventually disappear." ––Fernando Torres, on his time at Chelsea.

Words @tobysprigings / Illustration @Dan_Draws