“I started playing football because of this, and because my brother forced me, and I loved the cartoon. I wanted to be Oliver, because he played out on the field,” Fernando Torres told Daily Mail in a 2012 interview.
The Oliver he was referring to is from Oliver y Benji, the Spanish version of Yoichi Takahashi’s iconic Japanese manga series, Captain Tsubasa, created in 1981. It dealt with two young players starting off as youth team players, playing their way into the national team and winning the World Cup.
In the interview, Torres spoke about how from a very tender age, he was taken up by the dream of winning the World Cup and moving to big European clubs. He started his footballing career as a goalkeeper in local Madrid side, Parque 84. But it was the cartoon adaptation of Takahashi’s manga series that inspired him to be a striker.
After going through the ranks of local youth sides, Torres was offered a contract to join the Atletico Madrid academy in 1995. Six years later, he made his first team debut against CD Leganés as a 17-year-old lanky forward, and never looked back. The Vicente Calderón became his home, and he powered his boyhood club from the obscurity of Segunda División to a La Liga mainstay, captaining the side after turning just 19.
Soon he was too big for the club, and Atletico couldn’t reject the many offers from European giants, and Torres made his move across the English Channel. For a record £20 million, he went to Liverpool, entering a team that had won the Champions League in 2005 and FA Cup in 2006. That wasn’t intimidating enough. Torres scored 24 goals in the 2007/08 season, scoring 24 goals in the league, and became the first Liverpool player since Robbie Fowler in 1995-96 to score 20 league goals in a single campaign.
There were Goliath-slaying performances against Manchester United and Real Madrid in the 2008/09 season. Although it was a season marked by injury, Torres was Man of the Match in the 2008 European Championship final against Germany, and spearheaded Liverpool’s title challenge against Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. It didn’t surprise anyone that he had finished third in the Ballon d’Or in 2008 and finished in the FIFPro World XI for two successive years during his stay at Merseyside.
Despite 81 goals in all competitions in three years, Torres decided to leave. The fact that he had no trophies at the club to his name, and a disastrous start to the 2010/11 season under Roy Hodgson, may have helped take the decision. He left on the 2011 winter transfer deadline day, signing for Chelsea in a £50 million deal – a British transfer record at the time.
But he was no Oliver at London. Torres struggled to find his place in Chelsea, misfiring season after season, where he just managed to score 45 goals in 172 appearances. He described his time at Chelsea as “swimming in wet clothes”, although he did go on to lift multiple trophies for them, including Chelsea’s lone UEFA Champions League in 2012.
But despite this, his career with the Spanish team mirrored that of Oliver and Benji. He won the World Cup in 2010 and his second European Championship in 2012. He scored two goals in the finals of the European Championship, won the Golden Boot, and became the third-highest goalscorer of all time for Spain with 38 goals. Multiple knee injuries would deprive him of his predatory pace and unquestionable flair, but his spirit remained unbroken while representing his nation.
Throwback to Euro 2008, when @Torres sealed Spain’s first major trophy in 44 years 🏆🇪🇸 pic.twitter.com/jq4lYP4ekC
— B/R Football (@brfootball) 21 June 2019
After Chelsea, he went to AC Milan on loan, before returning home to Atletico Madrid after eight years. In the three-and-a-half years under Diego Simeone as a rotational player, he reached another Champions League final, but had to settle for the 2018 Europa League as his final trophy. When it came to moving on from the club that had moulded him, he did it gracefully.
It’s not clear whether the decision to move to Sagan Tosu in July 2018 was influenced by his time in front of a television with his brother, waiting for their loved Japanese cartoon. But perhaps it is fitting that it’s where the 35-year-old footballer’s playing career ended on Friday.