April 8, 2008. A ferocious Champions League quarter-final at Anfield between Liverpool and Arsenal was ebbing and flowing, as it reached the 69th minute.
This might have been the last eight of Europe’s top competition but it was being played with no-holds barred intensity of a Premier League collision.
The score was poised at 1-1 (2-2 on aggregate) when a Peter Crouch flick-on arrived at the feet of Liverpool’s number nine in the Kop End penalty area.
Fernando Torres seared into the hearts and minds of Liverpool fans with breathtaking goals
Torres scored a vital goal as Liverpool beat Arsenal in the 2008 Champions League quarters
Suddenly, it felt like time had stood still. Fernando Torres, a picture of calm in the mayhem, took one touch, then another and another.
Before everyone realised what was happening, he had rifled a right-footed drive into the roof of Manuel Almunia’s net to spark a noise that made the stadium shake.
The goal is easily recalled without the need to watch it on YouTube. The best of the best separate themselves by doing things on a football pitch that sear into your memory and during a golden spell on Merseyside that is what Torres was: the best of the best.
It was a dream start for Torres, who scored a sublime goal on his Anfield debut vs Chelsea
He was the most feared central striker in Europe when he played for Liverpool. This observer has chosen that Arsenal goal as a personal favourite but, in truth, there were another 10 or 15 instances that could have been used as examples.
There was the debut strike at Anfield, for instance, when he wrapped Chelsea defender Tal Ben-Haim up in knots before finishing like an assassin. The muggings of Nemanja Vidic at Old Trafford and Rio Ferdinand at Anfield; goals to settle Merseyside derbies, an astonishing strike against Blackburn.
Torres was the first signing that Liverpool made when you felt they were moving into a different level: here was a player who everyone in Europe wanted but Rafa Benitez won the day, shattering the club record transfer fee, to sign him from Atletico Madrid for more than £20million.
His career, of course, was more than just those years at Anfield. He is loved unconditionally by Atletico supporters following his two spells there; he played for Chelsea and won a raft of honours, including the Champions League, but the fit was never the same. Blue was never his colour.
Red, by contrast, suited him down to the ground. The first test for him – as it was for any new signing – came in training. Xabi Alonso, for example, endeared himself immediately to his team-mates in 2004 with the way the first pass he swept away, clean and precise.
The Spaniard famously had many iconic duels with Nemanja Vidic and often came out on top
With Torres, a coming together with Jamie Carragher that set the benchmark. During a training game, the pair went up for a header. Torres thundered into Carragher and put the defender on the floor. Rather than picking Carragher up to assess the damage, Torres carried on. Carragher loved it.
‘Here was a winner,’ Carragher remarked. ‘Here was someone who wanted to go to war for us. I thought it was brilliant.’
That first year was incredible. He broke records, became an icon and finished the campaign by scoring the goal – a beautiful dinked finish – in Vienna that made Spain European Champions; six months later, he finished third in the Ballon d’Or voting. Lionel Messi was first. Cristiano Ronaldo was second. This was the company he was keeping.
Critics used to say he couldn’t use his left foot but Torres didn’t need to when his right-foot was so good. He was quick, he was slick and ‘the lad from sunny Spain’, as the Kop sang, would get the ball and score again and again. He looked like someone who was destined to rewrite record books.
The problem was, though, injuries slowed him down and the turbulence that erupted around Anfield as the disastrous Thomas Hicks and George Gillett reign disintegrated left him disenchanted.
Torres formed a telepathic and unstoppable partnership with Steven Gerrard on Merseyside
The two then became rivals as Torres broke the hearts of Liverpool fans and joined Chelsea
It was a travesty that Torres never won a medal at Anfield. It was something he was to desperate to achieve.
‘We were not far away from being champions of England and champions of Europe,’ Torres said in the book Ring of Fire. ‘But we needed to keep the team. Everything changed when the owners started talking about selling.
‘The mindset of the club went in a different direction. Alonso was sold, Mascherano was sold, Benítez went too. Not all of the money went into new players. The club was saying ‘We still want to be the best and we want to win’ but doing the opposite.’
Torres is a private individual and during the final chapter at Anfield, he became more and more withdrawn.
His head was elsewhere by time Fenway Sports Group took over in October 2010 and three months later he was at Stamford Bridge, sold for £50million.
Torres left Liverpool just as Luis Suarez signed, meaning the two never got to play together
The 35-year-old will likely go down in history as one of Atletico Madrid’s greatest ever players
The animosity between Liverpool and Chelsea meant, in the eyes of many fans, he had performed some kind of betrayal and views of him were coloured accordingly. He was booed every time he returned to Merseyside and it was all so very sad. Be in no doubt how much it hurt.
His career has come to an end and you wonder whether there will be a point in the future when Torres comes back to play for Liverpool’s legends. He should do. Torres, at a peak that didn’t last as long as it should have done, was one of the best The Kop had seen.
Like those picture book goals he could score, it should never be forgotten.