Fernando Torres’ relationship with Atletico Madrid is something special. There are few clubs a striker can play at where he doesn’t score an abundance of goals, yet is universally adored.
It has been no secret that the once-prolific forward has struggled to find the net lately. Yet it was all forgotten in a moment when he latched on to Luciano Vietto’s 90th minute cross to end a seemingly infinite wait for his 100th goal in red and white against Eibar.
Cue the wild celebrations in the stands, cue the No 100 shirt. Even Diego Simeone could not hide his joy as he celebrated in his usual exuberant fashion.
Everyone was rooting for Torres. Even if he were forever stuck on 99 goals, the fans’ love for the striker would never wane. 40,000 Rojiblancos supporters turned out in force to welcome back the prodigal son to Vicente Calderon a year ago, and despite a profligate return he still has their support.
To emphasise just how long Torres had to wait for that monumental goal, his 99th also came against Eibar – nearly five months ago. Some were beginning to think it would never come after 18 games without a goal. And as the drought continued, doubts over his future began to grow. Out of contract in the summer, Simeone was rather coy when asked about his future with the club.
The tactician’s stance is understandable. In his role, there is not always room for sentiment. From a practical point of view, he needs goals and thus far only Antoine Griezmann seems to be following the script.
Torres’ agent Jose Antonio Martin chimed in, claiming the striker is wanted by a Chinese team wishing to make him the world’s highest paid player. It would later transpire that it wouldn’t be him making the move to Asia, at least not yet, but teammate Jackson Martinez, who became the face of China’s mega-money football revolution in a €42m switch.
Though he didn’t move this January, there is every chance end up there eventually. Come the summer his loan spell and dream return to Atletico will end. Barring a remarkable goal-scoring run in the second half of the season, his second spell with his boyhood club is likely to be his last. With that comes the possibility of a move to Asia or North America in the MLS.
Torres’ century warms the heart, and seems a great way to crown his time with Atletico. However there are still three months left of the season and he could yet have some part to play. Atletico are still in the hunt for domestic and European honours, and Torres has always been the man for the big occasion, having won nearly everything there is to win in the game.
But whatever happens in the next few months he can do no wrong – he is one of them. A local boy, having grown up in Fuenlabrada in South Madrid, he joined the club aged just 11 and made his debut at 17, their youngest captain at 19. Even now at 31-years-old, he will forever be nicknamed ‘El Nino’ [The Kid]. Now in Atletico's top 10 ever goal-scorers, he is a part of history.
After the Eibar match he jumped into the stands and gifted his jersey to Manuel Brinas, the man who recruited Torres as child. And his 100 goals are his gift to the club who have given so much to him.