The story goes that one day, Scottish writer James Matthew Barrie created a fictional character who wasn’t so keen on growing up. He was a fearless, daring young man who fought against all the odds to defeat the wicked pirates who didn’t want him in their world. His name was Peter Pan, and to him, forever was never too long.
However, the main character of our story is not fictional. He’s real. As real as life itself. His name is Fernando Torres, and when he was barely seventeen years old, it was decided that he would be known to the world as “El Niño”.
Raised by the side of the Manzanares river, young Fernando lived in a constant struggle between his heart and mind. At first, he felt utterly incapable of growing up and putting aside the principles and emotions that were so deeply connected to his Atlético roots; but the hard knocks along the way left him no choice. He eventually matured like all adults must at some point, as he came face to face with one of destiny’s most unpleasant sides.
His life, like Peter’s, has been a continued story of swimming against the tides: you either grow up and mature as a result of the bad experiences and disappointments, or you drown. To quote J.M. Barrie, “You find a glimmer of happiness in this world, there’s always someone who wants to destroy it”… It could be the defining phrase of his career, really.
This boy was forced to exchange his toys for an actual superhero costume and to do it much faster than should’ve been asked of someone his age. He hadn’t even reached adulthood when he began carrying Atlético de Madrid solely on his shoulders. Such weight and magnitude didn’t stop him from scoring his first goal at the Plaza of Albacete at seventeen, and they didn’t stop him from making his beloved club rise from the ashes, from making a hell that had become all too familiar and all too smoldering disappear for good. And not only he had to carry a century old institution on his shoulders, but also a case bursting with promising trophies: U-16 UEFA’s European Championship top scorer (2001), U-16 UEFA’s European Championship Most Valuable Player (2001), U-19 UEFA’s European Championship top scorer (2002), U-19 UEFA’s European Championship Most Valuable Player (2002).
Once he’d taken his team back where they belonged, good old Fernando now had to survive several storms in the form of inadequate teammates who would never in their lives be capable to control a pass delivered by Zidane, or to put a Beckham free-kick in the back of the net. So he fought, like the best of people always do, against all odds to make his Atleti Champions. Then one day, his own supporters, the one group of people he considered himself part of, had him on the ropes. On May 20th of 2007, the Vicente Calderón, his home, looked more like the Camp Nou than anything else. The colors and voices were all different. He looked around and didn’t recognize the place as his own. Nor his teammates on the pitch, or the supporters in the stands understood what this young man had fought for, what all the sweat, blood, tears and effort had meant.
So he decided to pack his bags and become an Erasmus student… the learning of the English language seemed like the best of choices. So like The Beatles, he walked across Abbey Road, slowly but surely, and he conquered. He deserved it.
He was adored. And may her Royal Highness Elizabeth II forgive me, but in the British shores, he was King. The credit, respect and appreciation that are now lacking, he had in heaps back then. And during a midsummer night’s dream, he nailed the Spanish Flag on the top of the world by scoring a goal against Germany, in a manner very much like himself: nobly, graciously, swiftly, splendidly. The whole of Spain went out to the streets to celebrate the birth of its football era of success.
But life isn’t a bed of roses, and least of all for this boy. Shortly after that, destiny struck yet again in the form of a knee injury, and made the boy who had used fairy dust to lift himself up to the highest realms of football, take a nose dive into an ocean full of a wretched reality, lies and deceit.
He changed Liverpool for London, and with that, he changed everything. The Fernando Torres that had been the world’s greatest player in 2008, according to players, managers and journalists, suddenly, two years later, was nothing but a shadow of his former self, a liability.
Stabs in the back in the form of hurtful words, poisoned arrows in the form of sports columns, mocks and ridicule from rival teams –and his own club’s supporters- that reeked of yet another disappointment. El Niño became the target of all scorn and contempt of a world that not too long ago, was at his feet.
Once you acquire a certain amount of fame and success, people start watching, they start looking for a way to bring you down. And Fernando’s fame and success were beyond evident. His price tag, fifty million pounds as determined by Roman Abramovich, was yet another heavy stone he had to carry in his case, which was about to explode with so much joy and disillusion.
And it did. And it was partially due to the consecutive wins of the 2010 World Cup, the 2012 FA Cup, the 2012 Champions League, another Euro Cup in 2012 and then an Europa League in 2013. Except for a few devoted ones, the world had turned its back on him, and so, funnily, they missed the opportunity to see him again at his happiest, to see him as he was meant to be. They missed the opportunity to see The Kid playing with his new trophy-shaped toys. And they missed the opportunity to see how the footballer, through sacrifice and hard work, won his long-lost confidence back. They missed seeing a smile on his face again, they missed seeing him hopeful to return to Brazil in 2014 to close a cycle.
His only mistake? To belong to Atlético de Madrid so absolutely, so fiercely, perhaps, which is the same as refusing three times to be dressed in white, which is the same as being a boy who wasn’t so keen on growing up, but who has inevitably and irreparably done so, because he had to, because time “catches up with us all”. And still, he remains the Neverland Boy. - Imanol Echegaray, Spanish journalist (x)