By Harry Sherlock
Fernando Torres won't just return to Atletico Madrid a Chelsea player, he will return a shadow of his former self. At 19 years old Torres was bestowed the honour of becoming Atletico's youngest ever captain, having scored goal after goal in season after season for the Spanish club.
He joined Atletico as a boy, starting his career at the club in 1995. He made his debut in 2001 and then, in over 200 appearances, he scored just under 100 goals. During this time he established himself in the Spanish national team and in a star-studded La Liga. He was, many said, the ultimate marksman.
Coveted by Chelsea and Newcastle, as well as Manchester United, he was blessed with the kind of skill that could turn games in an instant. Pace, power, finishing ability - he had it all.
|TORRES THEN AND NOW
|ATLETICO AND CHELSEA SCORING STATS
He remains an Atletico Madrid supporter. Indeed, the club are looking into the possibility of buying him back this summer. Whether that becomes a reality remains to be seen but Torres is still hero-worshipped in the stands at the Vicente Calderon. They may have Diego Costa, David Villa and Arda Turan now but no-one can quite touch the legacy left by 'El Nino'.
As such, Torres was cautious about the possibility of drawing his boyhood club in the semi-finals. “No,” he said when asked if he would like the opportunity to return, “it would be hard.”
During his time in Spain, Torres netted 82 goals in 214 appearances and was given the affectionate nickname of 'The Kid' – a moniker borne out of his energetic, determined displays for the club he so obviously adored.
He was the subject of bids from Chelsea, Manchester United and Newcastle but settled on Liverpool in 2007.
Torres left the Vicente Calderon with a heavy heart. Indeed, upon departing, he said: "It has been a difficult decision to leave my all-time club.
"But it would have been hard for me to reject Liverpool's offer. It is a big leap for me and I think it was the right thing for everyone.
"The time comes in the life of a player that he needs more challenges."
Prior to signing for Liverpool, he was Atletico's top scorer for five consecutive seasons. He took little time to adapt to life in the Premier League, his interplay with Steven Gerrard leaving many drooling as the Reds stormed to the top of the Premier League, only to lose out to Manchester United by four points in the 2008-09 season.
When all was said and done, Torres hit 65 goals in 102 appearances during four years on Merseyside before leaving for Chelsea.
And then he hit the wall. It can be argued that Torres' form began to dip during the World Cup of 2010; he worked hard during his time in South Africa as Spain's beautiful football won hearts and minds across the globe but, despite scoring the winning goal in the Euro 2008 final, he looked somewhat out of place in Vicente Del Bosque's tiki taka-based side.
Even after the tournament was over, he admitted that he did not truly feel a part of the triumph.
Yet such was Abramovich's desire to finally land the man he had tried to sign for over six years, he paid through the nose to get him. Liverpool may have largely squandered the £50m that was wired into their bank accounts - Luis Suarez aside - but the fact remains; Torres simply has not repaid his fee.
|4/1||Chelsea are 4/1 with Bet365 to beat Atletico Madrid|
With Jose Mourinho's striker hunt in full swing last summer, Torres was offered to Napoli as a potential makeweight in a deal for Edinson Cavani. Aurelio de Laurentiis rebuffed the bid, and Torres has since hit nine goals in 36 appearances in all competitions.
But despite his patchy form, Atletico are exploring the possibility of a summer move. Yet they have moved on since his departure.
Tears may have been shed when he exited but since that fateful day, Sergio Aguero, Diego Forlan and Radamel Falcao have all pulled on the Atleti jersey. Even now, Costa is threatening to break the 30-goal barrier in La Liga.
During Torres' days, they were a mid-table side, while they are now chasing the title and the Champions League. The plates have shifted and, were Torres to return, he would have to find his groove as quickly as he did when he first made his step up as a teenager.
Yet present form would suggest he is incapable. Such has been his deterioration he is seen as expendable by many observers of the Spanish national team.
Crucially, Del Bosque is set to stick with his man – Torres won the Golden Boot at Euro 2012, after all – but whether he can ever return to the level he was at when he left Atletico remains to be seen.
He may well receive warm applause on Tuesday but it will only serve as a reminder to Torres that he is not quite the player he once was.