KEIR RADNEDGE in Monte Carlo
— Fernando Torres will suspend, for just 90 minutes, his passion for Atletico Madrid while he chases down the goals to beat them on behalf of Chelsea in the European Supercup here.
The revived Spaniard, with two goals in three Premier League starts this term, set out starkly here his personal conflict of loyalties ahead of UEFA’s formal club curtain-raiser in the Stade Louis II.
Along the way Torres also talked openly of the stresses and strains of his personal and professional journey since the club record £50m move south from Liverpool in January of last year.
Chelsea were first winners of the Supercup, against Real Madrid, when UEFA brought the event to Monaco back in 1998. Their prospects of a repeat at 14 years distance rest significantly on whether Torres can outgun Colombian Radamel Falcao, his prolific successor in the red and white stripes.
Torres grew up as an Atletico fan, became captain at 19 and even endured the humiliation of relegation with them in the hope of leading them into the Champions League. He led them back up among the Spanish elite before leaving for Liverpool with his dream unfulfilled. He makes no secret of remaining a full-on fan.
“This [Supercup] could not be more special for me,” said Torres. “The Atleti fans know I’m one of them. I spent more than 12 years of my life there. It’s not only my former club but the club I support but now I have to leave all these things to one side.
“My only commitment here is to win the Supercup so I’m sure these 90 minutes will bring completely different feelings to the ones I’ve had all my life. Then, after the game, I will be a supporter again as I have always been . . . but hopefully we will end up with the cup on our side.”
If Torres does score against the club of his dreams, it will be a moment for professional satisfaction not celebration.
He said: “It’s a complicated situation to play against a team with a fan base which still supports me. Of course here they will support Atletico but I won’t make an unsporting gesture and if a goal is scored I will not celebrate it.”
Torres struggled for much of his initial 18 months at Chelsea under the shadows of both the British record fee and also the presence as an attacking rival of Didier Drogba. That introduced him to a steep learning curve.
“Last season taught me a lot of things, good and bad,” said Torres who ended the season, even so, as a winner of both Champions League and FA Cup (plus the European Championship with Spain). “The end of the season was brilliant for the club and these events made me a better person and I am now stronger than ever.”
Having to play second fiddle to Drogba clearly affected his confidence, though Torres did not mention the Ivorien by name.
He said: “When you are in the lineup regularly it’s easier to have confidence. That is the main difference this season: I’m scoring more goals because I’m playing more minutes so the confidence is back.
“Since that first hard year and a half I have become a better player. I have learned to play in a different way: I can play more outside the box, associate with my team mates and give more assists so I have become a better player for the team.”
Torres, who denied feeling any pressure from the size of the transfer fee, recalled his regular spells on the substitutes’ bench with distaste but admitted he had learned valuable lessons.
“I was in a very difficult situation,” he explained, “because I had never been on the bench for eight games in a row, I had never been in this ‘part’ of the team and so I started to understand more about how everyone else in the team feels.
“When you play regularly you don’t think about these things but now I understand much more what the other players are going through. I think that has made me a better team-mate. It was as if I was back at 17 or 18 when I had to fight for my place.
“The only thing I know is that I don’t want to be in that situation any more and I think I know now how to do that . . . The present is brilliant and the future should be even better.”
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