10 years ago today, Liverpool signed Fernando Torres from his boyhood club Atletico Madrid for a fee in the region of £26.2 million.
Torres had been Atletico’s leading goal scorer for five straight seasons, and had become the club’s youngest ever captain at the age of 19.
He was a local idol, and had scored 75 goals in 174 La Liga appearances after his debut in 2001.
‘El Nino’ was 23 when he swapped Madrid for Merseyside, and entering his prime.
A year earlier, the Spanish international scored seven goals in 11 appearances in qualifying for the 2006 FIFA World Cup, and three in the tournament itself.
His first Liverpool goal, which came in his home debut for the Reds against Chelsea, was a sign of things to come.
Torres showed blistering pace to beat Tal Ben Haim, and expertly squeezed the ball into the far corner past a hapless Petr Cech.
He bagged his first Liverpool hat-trick just over a month later in a 4-2 victory over Reading in the League Cup in September. The Spaniard quickly established himself as both a cult hero at Anfield and one of the best strikers in world football during his three-and-a-half-year stay at Liverpool.
In March, he became the first Liverpool player since 1946 to score a hat-trick in successive home matches, and also equalled the consecutive Anfield league goal record of eight games set by Roger Hunt in his debut season.
He was fast, strong and incredibly clinical, and he ended his first season on Merseyside with a staggering 33 goals in all competitions, making him the most prolific foreign goal scorer in a debut season in England.
He also continued to flourish at international level, as Spain cemented their place as the best international side on the planet between 2008 and 2012.
At Euro 2008, Torres scored the winner in a 1-0 victory over Germany in the final after out-muscling Philip Lahm and coolly finishing past Manuel Neuer, and was named the man of the match.
He was hampered by injuries in the buildup to the 2010 World Cup, where his performances were below par, but he came on as a substitute in Spain’s 1-0 win over the Netherlands in the final.
He finished his second season in England with 17 goals in 38 appearances, which saw Liverpool’s number nine forge a devastating and almost telepathic partnership with Steven Gerrard.
He scored 22 goals in the 2009/10 season, and terrorized defenders across Europe for the Reds.
He was a big game player, and he tore top sides like Manchester United (Nemanja Vidic in particular struggles to contain the Spanish striker) and Real Madrid apart at his peak.
He made the PFA Team of the Season twice, but these years proved to be his prime.
Injuries then began to take their toll as Torres’ form waned during his last 12 months at Anfield, and he began to cut a frustrated figure.
To the horror of Reds fans, he handed in an official transfer request in January, 2011 after the club rejected a £40 million bid from Chelsea.
However, Torres signed for Chelsea in dramatic fashion for a then record £50 million on deadline day, signing a five-and-a-half-year contract with the London club.
His time at Anfield was over, after 81 goals in just 142 appearances.
The Anfield club’s cult hero had turned into a villain overnight, and fans turned on their former nine with a vengeance.
A Tale of Two Cities
Torres left his best form in Liverpool when he made the relatively short move to London.
He made his Chelsea debut in a 1-0 defeat to Liverpool, coming off the bench to a toxic reception from Reds fans, who erupted in delight when fan favourite Daniel Agger flattened the World Cup winner.
He managed just one goal in 18 appearances in his first half-season at Stamford Bridge, and Torres never recovered the scintillating form which made him so good to watch at Anfield.
Chelsea’s style of play was perhaps partly at fault. Torres thrived off early passes behind the opposition defence on the counter while at Liverpool, but arrived to a club in Chelsea where the style of play was more cautious and the buildup more methodical.
It’s worth remembering that he was still an important international player during his early years at Chelsea, despite his worrying club form.
He won the Golden Boot at Euro 2012, and came off the bench in the final, scoring one goal and assisting another as Spain cruised to a 4-0 victory.
In the 2013 Confederations Cup, he became the first person in history to score four goals in one game in a FIFA Confederations Cup match during a 10–0 win over Tahiti.
He also became the first player to score two hat-tricks in the competition, finishing as the competition’s top scorer, as Spain lost 3-0 in the final to the hosts Brazil.
Despite this, Torres continued to struggle at club level. In the 2011/12 season – his second at Stamford Bridge – Torres endured a 24 game goal drought, and ended the season with just 11 goals in 49 matches.
The 2012/13 season was Torres’ best for Chelsea, although he never reached the heights of his prime years at Atletico or Liverpool.
He scored in seven different competitions in that season, and netted the opening goal in Chelsea’s 2–1 triumph over Benfica in the 2013 UEFA Europa League Final.
He ended the season with 22 goals in 64 appearances, and while ‘El Nino’ won an FA Cup, a Champions League, and a Europa League during his time with the London club, he still failed to rediscover the magic touch which made him one of the best strikers in the world.
In August 2014, after 45 goals in 175 Chelsea appearances, Torres was loaned to AC Milan, but his struggles followed him to Italy.
He managed just 10 appearances and one goal for the Serie A giants in his debut season, but Milan opted to sign him permanently nonetheless.
However, he was immediately loaned back to his boyhood club Atletico Madrid after one season, much to the delight of the Atletico faithful, with 45,000 fans present for his unveiling.
Hopes that comforting, familiar surroundings and adoring fans would drag the best out of Fernando again have proven overly optimistic.
He scored six goals in 26 appearances in the 2014/15 season, and 12 goals in his second season back in Spain, in which he was clad in his original number nine jersey after the departure of Croatian striker Mario Mandzukic.
In February 2016, Torres notched his 100th Atletico goal, and scored his 100th league goal in Spanish football a year later.
Atletico signed him permanently in the summer of 2016, and he has recently pledged to stay with the club after scoring 10 goals last season, despite strong reports linking him with a move to Mexico.
Now 33, Torres remains a fraction of the world class striker who lit up the Premier League at Liverpool, and who conquered international football as the spearhead of a stunning Spain team.
Some blame injuries for his premature decline, while others say he should never have left Anfield, or that he merely peaked too early.
10 years after signing for Liverpool, he remains one of their best ever imports, and the bitter hatred and betrayal felt by fans after his departure has begun to subside.
He was well received during a charity match at Anfield in 2015, and in hindsight, deserves to be remembered as one of the best strikers to wear the number nine shirt at Liverpool.