A roller-coaster season for Spain's Torres ending in yet another final
Fernando Torres scored Spain's winning goal in the Euro 2008 final vs. Germany
Torres has struggled for Spain and club team, Chelsea, over the past 18 months
He admitted not starting the Champions League final was a major disappointment
Spain striker Fernando Torres is not like most players.
Most players who won the Champions League and have a chance of playing in the European Championship final in the same season would be among the contenders for world player of the year.
He's not even like Fernando Torres of old, or at least the Torres who scored the winning goal over Germany in the Euro 2008 final to clinch Spain's first title of its golden era.
For a while, this Torres did not even think he was going to make Spain's 23-man Euro 2012 squad. At one stage last season, Robert Soldado could not stop scoring for Valencia while Torres went on a run of 26 games without a goal for Chelsea. It was during that period that the Financial Times ran an article entitled 'The Tragedy of Fernando Torres,' in which sports psychologist John Murray said that the player's 'catastrophic performance anxiety' is such that "the harder he tries, the worse it gets."
Indeed, the past 18 months have been difficult for Torres, trying to live up to the weight of expectations from his record £50 million transfer from Liverpool to Chelsea in January 2011. And it culminated with a moment he admitted was one of the biggest letdowns of his career: being on the bench to start Chelsea's Champions League final victory against Bayern Munich.
"I've been through a difficult time. The worst in my career," Torres, who scored just six league goals in 2011-12 for the Premier League powerhouse, told Spanish journalist Guillem Balague after the Champions League final. "There have been a lot of ups and downs.. There's been many times when I've felt lost. I wasn't sure what to do.
"I feel like I'm at a peak moment in my career, with more desire and hunger than I've felt in a long time, but I had to spend the final on the bench. It was a huge disappointment when I saw the lineup, perhaps the biggest disappointment in my life."
Six weeks later, the story has many parallels.
At Euro 2012, the build-up to every Spain game has centered on whether coach Vicente del Bosque would pick Torres to start or play Cesc Fabregas the 'false number nine' -- a player who appears to be playing center-forward, but drops deep to create space. Both have started two games -- with Alvaro Negredo the curveball selection for Spain's semifinal against Portugal; which didn't work -- and of Spain's eight goals, four have come with Torres on the field, and four with Fabregas. Both players have scored twice.
Is it significant, perhaps, that Fabregas started Spain's opening match of the tournament, against Italy? Yes, especially considering Fabregas scored Spain's equalizer; but it's just as significant to note that Spain created more chances to score against Italy after Torres came on for the last 15 minutes than it had the previous 75. Torres, however, failed to capitalize on three of them.
When Torres did score, in Spain's second group match against Ireland, he cupped his hand to his ear as though responding to his critics. His effort put him third on Spain's list of all-time leading goal scorers, behind only Raul and David Villa.
"Torres is now a footballer who divides opinion," wrote Spanish paper La Opinion de Zamora. "He generates as much debate as admiration. Wherever he goes in the world he is sought after and that is the power of English football. But he has left his mark by finding his true football against Ireland."
Those critics, though, will say it was only against Ireland.
Since Spain's 4-0 rout of Ireland in the group stage, he played the first hour against Croatia and the last 20 minutes in the quarterfinal victory over France. Against Portugal in the semifinals, a game in which Spain survived on penalty kicks after 120 scoreless minutes, Torres was left on the bench.
"I had a complete game against Ireland but if I play well, but don't score, it's an incomplete game," Torres told ABC. "As always, I look at myself and I demand more."
One Spanish web site was so keen for Del Bosque to solve the striking conundrum that it drew up a composite picture of 'Torregas', a player who combines the features of both players. "We did it to help Del Bosque with his dilemma," it explained. Instead of wearing a No. 9 on the back of his shirt, 'Torregas' sports a question mark.
And yet you have to say that this has been a successful tournament for Torres. Two starts, two goals, and an important impact from the bench as well.
It's more than he managed at the 2010 World Cup. He played in every game in South Africa -- starting four, a substitute in three -- but failed to score. His tournament was summed up in the final, when he came on for the last 15 minutes, injured his groin and hobbled around for the rest of the match as Spain had used all its subs. As John Carlin wrote in the Times: "He knew, as well as everybody in the world watching, that Spain had been crowned champions not because of him, but despite him."
If Spain beats Italy on Sunday night, you could not say the same thing.
Already, Torres has justified his inclusion in this squad. Though he is patently a different player to the one of four years ago -- injuries and muscle-mass have deprived him of that initial burst of pace, while his finishing is not as fearless as it once was -- he is a better Torres than we saw at the World Cup.
Regardless of Sunday's result, that alone is a positive result for Torres after the last two years he has had.
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