Eulalio Sanz was a man on a mission. In his home hung a plate, a plate that meant the world to him. His daughter had just given birth to another baby boy and whilst he was quite content with her choice of husband, he was far from pleased with her husband’s choice of football team – Real Madrid. Eulalio had it very clear, this young boy, this blonde kid with freckles, would be an Atletico fan.
The boy recalls that one of his first memories is walking into his grandfather’s living room and staring at the famous plate, not knowing the meaning of the stripes, the bear or the apple tree. Suddenly, he turned and his grandfather said: ‘Fernando, take a good look boy, this is your football team’.
“I found a lot of myself in what Atletico represented, the hardship, doing things nobody expected, a different way to be. Real Madrid was everyone’s team, they were the best, they won everything and Atleti were the poor relation, the ones that suffered, the one no one loved and that is why I loved them,” said Torres, who when he visited his maternal grandfather was taken aside and told the tales of great victories and majestic defeats by Eulalio.
On his father’s side of the family, although they leaned towards Real Madrid, there was no strong influence in the guise of Eulalio, who could persuade young Fernando that he was making a mistake.
Torres was starting to make waves for his Barrio side and he was invited for a trial at Atletico. Grandfather Eulalio came to Madrid and walked with young Fernando to the sand pitches where all the other boys were warming up. As the 11-year-old walked on to the pitch, Eulalio watched on with pride and hope that his young grandson may one day wear the famous Rojiblanco shirt.
He was signed quickly and started to make some noise in the Cantera. For the Atletico board, Torres offered a form of redemption. They had let another young Cantera striker go just a few years ago when they closed the youth academy. The youngster went just a few miles up the road and ended up being one of Europe’s greatest strikers, and what is more, Raul Gonzalez made Atletico pay for that mistake with every opportunity he got.
Torres was a way of not making the same mistake twice and at 15, to the delight of Eulalio, he signed professional terms with the club. Torres had impressed at the Nike Cup and had a host of clubs interested, but his heart won the day and so did Los Colchoneros.
The Madrid side that had been taken over by the Gil family in 1992 were facing a rough future and in 1999 they were relegated. Torres was playing with the B-side but was regularly called up to train with the senior side. Towards the end of the season Torres made his debut coming off the bench against Leganes. As he watched, Eulalio wept tears of joy and a week later he would again as El Nino scored his first goal against Albacate.
Atleti would fail in their first attempt for promotion but this had a plus side, as it would present Torres with more playing time. Los Rojiblancos would achieve promotion second time around and whilst some started to question the ability of Torres as he scored just six goals, the forward knew he has the full support of both his grandfather, and the terraces.
In the 2002-03 season, Torres in a very poor Atletico side, scored 13 goals to prove the doubters wrong. Unfortunately Eulalio would not be around to see them as he sadly passed away in February 2003. He would never see his grandson take the captain’s armband, score in the final of the European Championships, lift the World Cup or win the Golden Boot.
But, as his grandson rode around the streets of Madrid on an open top bus, World Cup in one hand, Atletico scarf in the other, with a smile from ear to ear, he would have been ever so proud that his mission had well and truly been accomplished.