In case you want to read it, here is my complete translation of Torres’ recent interview with Luis Martín from El País.
España - El País
By Luis Martín
The night is chilly and windy at Las Rozas’ City of Football. It seems like the perfect night to have a little chat with Fernando Torres. El Niño is going back home, to the Manzanares, where everything started, where he left after a 2-3 defeat to Celtic in the summer of 2007 in search of his own life. He left to Liverpool and now he returns as Champion of Europe with Chelsea, twice with Spain and as a champion of the world. He’s precocious about everything, this kid, and he might reach his 101 match for Spain against France tonight. He comes back home, but he’s not the same.
What is left of that boy who won the Burnete Tournament with Atlético?
Values. I’ll never forget what I learned there. I was lucky to start off when I was very young, because now that I’m older certain things can’t and won’t surprise me anymore. I wouldn’t change a thing of how everything’s panned out. You think you’ve lived through everything, but you haven’t. And in the end, you learn from everything.
Do the scars hurt?
At first they do. But then life teaches you new things, and you learn to change the order of your priorities and your values. Your learn to fit into life in a new way, maybe not as intensely as before. For every scar, and for every bad moment, there are thousands of people who stay by your side. Social networks allowed me to be conscious of this, of people following my every step along the way. It’s when you know you’re not alone… but there are times when you just think about protecting yourself.
How have you dealt with the critics?
I won’t let them affect me. I’ve learned how to do that, but I’ve also learned to not disassociate and isolate myself and not listen, but to listen and learn. I learned to look at myself and know that the only one who can actually change things for the better is me, that the only one who can say and mean “you’re making a mistake, and you should do something about it”, is me.
What have you done wrong?
A lot of things. Last season, specially during the first half, I grew apart from the values I had grown up with. I’ve had some teammates that don’t really care about winning or losing because they’re not the ones playing. I never wanted to be like that. But one day I found out that I was, that I was indifferent about winning or losing because I was not playing, because I was not really part of the team. And I discovered that I wasn’t happy because I distanced myself from who I was and who I wanted to become. In a dressing room, the group mentality, not necessarily of friends but of a group of teammates, can and should never be lost.
You seemed to have lost your identity, while playing for Chelsea.
That’s what the team required of me. It was said that I was a different player because I intented to serve the team first and foremost. That was the way I played and it might not have been the best for me but that was the only way there was to play. I sometimes thought “I’ll run behind the defenders’ backs, I’ll create spaces”, and during 70 minutes I couldn’t touch the ball once. If I stayed in my position I wouldn’t get involved in the game at all. What was I supposed to do? I was so different from what I was used to, from what Benítez had taught me, and it showed! Then a new manager came in and things changed a bit. But of course that whole sorry episode had a big positive: I became a better player. Now I dominate aspects of the game that I wasn’t even aware of before. And you can be the player that your manager wants you to be but not the one you’re expected to be, by everyone else. I talked a lot to Steve Holland, the assistant manager, and he taught me how to deal with it all. In the end, it’s the players who provide style to the team.
What did you learn?
I matured, I learned to trust and know myself a lot, I grew conscious that in the end everything was up to me. I learned to be very self-critic, to understand everyone around me in a better way, to accept situations as they come.
Did Luis (Aragonés) taught you some of that?
I think Luis put a lot of effort into teaching me things I already knew, and we’ve discussed that. That was during the Atlético times though. Later on, when he became the national team’s coach, I really took advantage of his teachings. I noticed that he used to tell me to keep practicing things I already knew how to do well. Then he bugged me a lot about personality traits, character, values, that I was already very aware of at that age, because I’d learned them in the Atleti cantera. As time passes by and you keep growing as a player and become important in a larger scale, there’s a lot of things you might forget, you leave them behind. But Luis reminded you of them every day. That’s the kind of dressing room I like, the one where respect towards one another exists above everything. Do you know who Paulo Ferreira is?
Your Chelsea teammate?
Yes. He’s won the Champions League, the league in Portugal, England, and he’s basically won every title out there, yet he’s barely gotten any playing time in the last two years. He’s a ten as a person. He taught me to play the role I’m given accordingly, to adapt to any circumstance, to say “this is what I have to do now”. He trains the hardest, he always shows up to match days with a smile on his face, he always watches after the younger ones. I’ve learned so much from him.
What would you like to do, after all this is done?
The only thing I’ll be worried about when I retire will be someone saying I’ve been a bad teammate, disrespectful, arrogant. I’m sure that in twenty years from now, the first thing I’ll do when I visit Asturias will be to look for Juan, or Santi. And if for some reason I find myself in Andalucía I’ll do my best to meet with Sergio, Pepe. That’s the most beautiful thing of it all. Sadly, when football is done, some friends are lost forever.
Is that the secret of this national team?
Without a doubt. We went through some very bad experiences before the good ones came. Before Viena happened, we were booed by our own people in Spain. Even though it hurt, we took strength from it and it became a motivator. Then we realized of how better we were from all those players who came from abroad to play in the Spanish league, we realized just how incredibly good Xavi was… We discovered that we were capable of doing it, everything we set out minds to, that we were as good as the rest of them. I never understood how the Spanish league got so many players who were vastly inferior to the ones playing in the Spanish clubs’ very own canteras (youth systems). Then, of course, we sent those players to England and they went crazy over them there. It makes you think “and how come neither Barça or Madrid signed him?”. Nowadays Spanish players feel more free and less scared to go to work abroad.
You left when you were very young. Would you do it again?
Of course! It’s the best thing I’ve ever done. Not only in a professional way, but in a personal too. You start to see things in a different way, you get a broader perspective of life. Seeing the situation the country’s in right now, people will have to start leaving sooner or later. But in the end that can be an advantage too, it can be positive. We grow as people and we become better human beings. It happened to our parents and our grandparents. My father is Galician and somehow now we have family in Argentina! That’s the solution. If you don’t have what you need right in front of you, you have to go get it, anywhere. But until enough people realize that many years will pass, and that means lost time. We have to be brave. If you must leave, you leave, you learn and you come back.
Do we have to be brave when it comes to everything?
Yes, when it comes to everything. Time teaches you not to hide your feelings, even though in my case it’s a bit different. To open myself up and show my feelings freely during an interview can turn out to be a great mistake. I tend to hide my feelings to protect myself and those around me. I have to be cautious about everything I say. In the end people always remember the headlines they read, and nothing more. The media gains its readers by putting out dramatic or exciting headlines. Me for example, I admit I sometimes only read the headlines. I’m very scared of headlines to be honest, because after all is said and done, they’re all that’s left. Very few people read the complete article o interview, they only do it if they’re big fans of someone or something. It’s really easy to judge based on a headline, without learning about the context or the circumstances.
You’ll be back at the Calderón. Home at last?
I belong to Atlético. I think that in the end, you belong to one club, and to one club only. You can love a few ones, you can be grateful to some, but the one you choose to be yours it’s only one. I think Atlético represents very useful values in life, they’ve certainly been useful for me, even though I play for Chelsea now, a much more settled team, a team from a higher social class. But I still stand by the values I learned at Atlético when I was a child, which contrary to popular opinion, are not about victimizing yourself or about deeming yourself inferior from everybody else, but about fighting and getting through things relying only in what you are and what you have. A lot of times a failure can turn into a victory. And what is more beautiful than defending and standing by you values until the very end, and not only to succeed, but to do it in the way you wanted to?
You played with Simeone… Are you surprised by what the team he’s done so far at Atlético?
Yes, even when he was still a player, he already was a coach. I remember he once told me, “the day I become a coach, it’ll be pretty simple. I’ll want to do certain things and I want to have players who do them accordingly. If they don’t, I’ll play someone else, no matter if they’re 15, 20 or 40 years old.” He had very clear ideas of what he wanted, even back then. He used to put a lot of pressure on the younger players but you could tell just how much he loved us. I’ve been surprised by just how well he’s handled a team that wasn’t his. He was given that team and he still made it his.
How long will Falcao last at the Manzanares?
You never know, depending on the team’s aspirations and success, and on their weekly performances. When a player outgrows a club, it’s not the right thing to do to try to stop him from leaving because it won’t be good in the long run for any of the parties involved.
What is your relationship with Del Bosque?
Vicente is exactly what he appears to be, he is not a hypocrite at all. He’s always dealt with us in the same way, since it all began. He doesn’t tend to engage in individual dialogue with players, but every time he’s had something to tell me, he’s told me.
You’re a number nine in a team that is now playing without one. How are you handling it?
We are a team full of alternatives. When everybody is so aware of your existence, you have to look for alternatives. Who knows, maybe in a few months we’ll be playing without wingers! Football is an evolving sport, and Barcelona has dictated a style that right now is trying to be emulated from clubs and national teams from all over the world. They’ve broken every barrier there is. There are teams everywhere wanting, wishing to play like Barça, from England to Italy. It’s not scary anymore the thought of playing a game without a number nine, when before it would’ve been considered insane. Spain has proved itself that it can win with or without a numer nine, against any rival, anywhere, without fear. We know how to play against France, Belarus and Brazil. There is no other way. And that is something that Guardiola’s Barcelona defined, he set a pattern. He taught us that you can play well and win. Well, it’s the same thing in the National team. We know we’ll be given the ball, we know we’ll be the ones in control.
But in that context, what is the job of the classic number nine nowadays?
To be patient. It’s complicated to play and to get minutes. You have to keep the center backs in their places, it’s a secondary job, but it’s what it’s best for the team. It’s a complete luxury to be able to play in this national team. Here, it’s really common for me to finish a match in a good mood, even if I didn’t score, because I did what was best for the team, what the team needed. There are days when I think, “What a good match I had, I hope to play like that all the time”… and then you realize there are people criticizing you from left to right. But then the match you know hasn’t been your best, when you’ve been slow, clumsy, awkward and overall bad, but you’ve scored twice, you have everyone praising you. I’ve learned to live with that.
Tito Vilanova says that in the end, nothing ever really happens in football.
I agree. You’re left with the good experiences and the personal acknowledge of what you’ve done and accomplished. Managers like Benítez or César Fernando taught me to think like a manager. That’s had its pros and cons, of course, and I’ve realized that on the pitch, a player mustn’t really think, he must act. When you look at a team, at any team, as a system instead of a team, you think about what must be done instead of what you’re “supposed” to do.
You didn’t leave Liverpool in good terms, but you always talk about that stage of your life as something wonderful. Why?
I owe so much to Liverpool, so so much. To the people, to the team, to Benítez, to his staff, to the city. Liverpool is a fundamental part of my life. Even though they don’t remember me like that, I’m confident that time will heal some wounds. When I left Atleti, I really couldn’t have chosen a better place to go than Liverpool. The other day, when the news about Hillsborough came out, I got really emotional. I lived through it, I know what people have gone through, I saw them cry… I felt it, I made it mine. The news came a bit too late, of course, but it’s definitely a step forward. These are the kind of valuable things you’re left with from having played at a club like Liverpool. A feeling, above everything else. I decided to leave because I felt like I needed to go in a different direction than the club, like I needed to take a step forward. It wasn’t the best way to leave, it really wasn’t, but it wasn’t also the way the press tried to portray it. Someday, people will know the whole truth. It was mainly about needing something new to keep growing. We talked about it earlier, about the whole growing thing and how important it is. My son is from Liverpool, he was born there, and he kicked his first ball before he turned one year old. He was born in the city of football, he is doomed.
And what about London?
In London I go to Rock & Roll clubs and no one knows who I am. It’s fantastic.
(If you post excerpts of the interview or the whole interview elsewhere, please give credit where it’s due (i.e. to me). And refrain from re-posting it here, pretty please and thank you.)