Champions League final forecast: The rising storm of Fernando Torres?

Champions League final forecast: The rising storm of Fernando Torres?

In weather terms, the return of the El Niño climate pattern was pretty much a letdown in that it did little to alleviate the years-long drought in Western states like California. But in soccer terms, the return of El Niño – that is the return of Fernando Torres to his boyhood club, Atletico Madrid – has been a success.

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The 32-year-old Torres, who – during his peak years with Liverpool between 2007 and 2010 – was considered among the deadliest strikers in the world, is Atleti’s second-leading scorer this season with 11 La Liga goals and 12 in all competitions. While he’s only scored once in Atletico's current Champions League campaign, his clutch away goal at the Camp Nou was a vital component in Atleti's stunning upset of Barcelona in the quarterfinals.

Admittedly, Torres has blown hot and cold this season. One could argue that the current narrative about his return to form, although inspiring, is a bit overblown. But on the other hand, the previous narrative about his premature demise was never entirely accurate, either.

Twenty-six goals in 100 appearances for Chelsea was undeniably a poor return on the $72 million the London outfit paid for him. But lest we forget that even during his disappointing tenure with the Blues, Torres still managed to win the Golden Boot with Spain at Euro 2012 and play a major part in Chelsea’s Champions League triumph that same year. In the semifinals, he scored the clinching goal to eliminate Barcelona, and in the final against Bayern Munich, he won the corner that created the opportunity for Didier Drogba to equalize.

Throughout the ups and downs of his career, Torres has consistently proved himself to be a player capable of rising to the big occasions. His 33rd-minute winning goal against Germany in the Euro 2008 final effectively ushered in the era of Spanish soccer dominance that we still, to some degree, live in to this day.

Two years later at the World Cup in South Africa, Torres was recovering from knee surgery, but nonetheless came off the bench in extra time in the final as Spain went on to win 1-0 against the Netherlands. At Euro 2012, he scored in yet another final, netting the third goal in Spain’s 4-0 route of Italy.

But while Torres has more or less generally been a player for the big occasions, he’s also been someone who needs support from the environment around him to excel. At Liverpool under Rafa Benitez, he had that support, as he did during his initial spell at Atleti, where he first earned the nickname "El Niño."

At Chelsea, under a succession of managers that included Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo, Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez, Torres apparently found that support harder to come by.

Fernando Torres scored the clinching goal in Chelsea's semifinal win over Barcelona in 2012. (Getty Images)
Fernando Torres scored the clinching goal in Chelsea's semifinal win over Barcelona in 2012. (Getty Images)

"I won [the Champions League] with Chelsea, but I was not in a good place. I did not feel I was being treated well at the time," Torres told the Daily Mail. "I felt lost."

And the support he apparently gets from Atletico boss Diego Simeone has seemingly made all the difference in Torres.

It was towards the tail end of his disappointing spell at Chelsea when Mourinho loaned Torres to AC Milan. During his short spell at the San Siro, Torres did little to suggest he could bounce back into being the kind of player he’d been earlier in his career. But there was at least one person who still believed in the potential of Fernando Torres.

Diego Simeone took a huge chance on bringing Torres to Atleti on loan from Milan in late 2014. It may have taken a season or so for him to settle, but Torres has repaid Simeone’s faith by becoming one of the top forwards in Europe in 2016, scoring nine goals in all competitions since the turn of the year and reportedly playing himself into contention for a contract extension.

"My career is going so well at the moment, and I feel so at home and full of confidence," Torres said.

Torres now finds himself with the unexpected opportunity to win what is most likely the final major trophy of his career. Having missed out on Atleti’s 2014 La Liga title win, he has publicly stated that Saturday’s Champions League final against Real Madrid is shaping up to be "the biggest game" of his life.

For the striker that everyone had written off to have played his way into another Champions League final is remarkable in itself. The fact that he’s done it for the club he played at and supported as a boy makes it all the more enthralling.

Atletico Madrid was 90 seconds from winning Europe’s elite club competition against Real Madrid two years ago, but instead Atleti collapsed and fell 4-1 in extra time at the Estadio da Luz in Lisbon. But in Saturday’s tightly matched replay between the two teams that are arguably the best in Europe at the moment, one clutch goal can make all the difference.

And if we’ve learned anything about Fernando Torres throughout his career, it’s that when destiny calls El Niño usually answers.

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