Monday 23 April 2018

Fernando Torres bids to deliver in 'game of my life'

Atletico Madrid's Fernando Torres. Photo: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters
Atletico Madrid's Fernando Torres. Photo: Stefano Rellandini/Reuters

Sam Wallace

It was only four years ago that Fernando Torres, in a Chelsea shirt, had his hands on the Champions League trophy for the first time and, shortly after it was presented, went some way to killing the buzz of victory by declaring himself monumentally unhappy with life in London.

Four years on and that strange way that football has of resurrecting the careers of those you assumed were yesterday's men has presented Torres with what he described in Milan as "the game of my life".


He has got no sharper, or quicker, or closer to his form of 2007 and 2008 in the interim, but he has been reborn as the centre-forward of the club he has always supported.

So it is that Torres will lead the attack for Atletico at San Siro against their mortal rivals Real Madrid, four years after he was an 84th-minute replacement for Salomon Kalou in that famous victory for Chelsea over Bayern Munich in Munich.

Judging by the way the 32-year-old spoke about the prospect, it seems that winning a World Cup, two European Championships, a Champions League, a Europa League, and an FA Cup does not come close to this.

"It means everything, everything you dream about when you are a kid," Torres said.

"I have the chance to make this dream come true. I have been able to play for great teams and the Spanish national team and win many things but this is special. It's what I wanted when I was a kid; it is more than I dreamed.

"I have had the chance to come back and fight for what I really wanted. It has been hard.

"I have fought so much to have a place in the team and to score goals again and be an important player for the team. This is the game of my life, without doubt."

It would take a marble-heart not to wish him well, although when you compare his goalscoring record with that of the front three of Real, you might argue that Torres is the weak link in this formidable Diego Simeone team.

He scored the crucial away goal at the Nou Camp in the semi-final first leg and was sent off but he is back now and anything is possible.

As for Simeone, he too was not underplaying the significance of the second Champions League final in three seasons against their city rivals, and an opportunity for his club to make history.

They have established themselves among Europe's elite under the Argentinian but the changes in personnel at the club are so volatile from year to year there is always a chance that the moment may not come again.

"I love having 113 years of history on my shoulders," Simeone said, "I love it. Love it."

Simeone said that the approach to the game would be no different with his side pressing their rivals all over the pitch.

The Atletico head coach identified midfielder Casemiro as having been the key player in turning Real's season and you had to wonder whether the amount of times he referred to the 24-year-old was a deliberate ploy to crank up the pressure on the Brazilian.

There were no concerns about Cristiano Ronaldo judging by Madrid's pre-match evening training session in San Siro, although Zinedine Zidane did say beforehand that his star player was feeling a bit of pain.

For Real, this is one of these finals where they feel duty-bound to remind everyone that they want to win the competition - what would be the club's 11th European title - just as much as any other, even the local rivals who have never won it.

"We don't want to win it any less than Atletico," said captain Sergio Ramos.

"We want to win again and we want to keep winning trophies for this club."

Just like their opponents, Real, he said, had to "suffer to reach the final."

"We have our path to follow and our objective is to reach the very top. We are one step away and we will leave our skin on the pitch to get that victory."

For reasons that were not immediately clear, actor Richard Gere accompanied Real Madrid on their flight to Milan and had his picture taken with the players on the pitch after their training session.

Zidane took much of the session personally and, for all he has accomplished in a short space of time - and with his kind of reputation - he looked like a man under a bit of pressure.

Would the season be a failure if Real did not win the Champions League?

"No, because nothing will take away from what we have achieved up until now," he said.


Try telling that to Florentino Perez. There is no suggestion that defeat could mean Zidane's defenestration - this summer at least - but victory would place him in great credit.

"Carlo (Ancelotti) said to me before the final in Lisbon [in 2014], 'I hope you experience this one day as first team coach'," Zidane recalled. "And here we are. So I have to keep thanking Carlo."

Of course, Carlo won this trophy and only lasted one more season, an unnervingly short lifespan in the job.

Real managers are the butterflies of the elite European game, but they can cram a whole lifetime of experience into a night such as this. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

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