Fernando Torres is a World Cup winner with Spain and a Champions League winner with Chelsea, a striker known and admired across the football world.
But few expected him to move into coaching after hanging up his boots in 2019.
Perhaps even Torres himself, who founded a chain of gyms before later making the decision to get involved in coaching at youth and B-team level at Atletico Madrid early in 2021.
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And once he started, he found he liked it. A lot.
Now Torres is the assistant coach of the Atletico Madrid Juvenil A side (Under-19s), with cameras constantly seeking him out on the touchlines during their games.
The former Liverpool hitman prowls the technical area, not unlike Atletico’s first-team coach Diego Simeone, and is an intense, vocal presence.
The 38-year-old is still getting his coaching badges and so is working under Juvenil A coach Ricardo Ortega, but it appears he has license to effectively lead the side himself, given his status as a club legend.
Torres and Ortega’s team are in the final four of the UEFA Youth League for the first time in the club’s history, and will face Red Bull Salzburg in the semi-finals on Friday in Nyon.
To reach this point, Atletico saw off rivals Real Madrid in the last 16 and then Borussia Dortmund in the quarter-finals, triumphing at the club’s daunting Signal Iduna Park stadium.
They are also convincing leaders in their domestic league too, with some already wondering whether Torres could one day coach Atletico Madrid's first team.
Given Zinedine Zidane’s history at Real Madrid and Xavi Hernandez recently taking over at Barcelona, it is not a surprising vision for club legend El Nino’s future, albeit not one Torres has in mind currently.
“Coaching Atletico is a ‘futuristic’ thought, it’s very, very far away,” a source close to the player told GOAL. “Right now, it’s unthinkable. Atletico have a coach who is very secure and who will surely be there for many years.
“What he has found is a vocation in coaching. When he was playing he didn’t think he would be a coach, but he tried it and he’s loving it.
“This season he is with the Juvenil side, we don’t know what he will be doing next season. Replacing Simeone or one day coaching Atletico is a thought which, right now, is unrealistic.”
Torres certainly has had plenty of top-level coaches to learn from over his 18-year career as a player. They say it is good to ‘steal like an artist’, taking multiple ideas from different sources before making your own concoction, and that is what Torres is doing.
His team are defensively solid, in the mould of the Atletico first team under Simeone for much of the past decade, plus it is a trait which his former coaches Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez’s sides have often boasted.
Atletico’s Juvenil team have conceded just 10 goals this season across 28 league games, with their defensive positioning strong and determination to track back impressive, all while being urged on by Torres, who has significantly bulked up from his playing days and rarely takes his seat in the dugout.
“He’s had a number of good coaches: Luis Aragones, Simeone, Mourinho, Benitez,” a source close to Torres told GOAL. “He’s got a bit motivation that Simeone has, a bit of the relationship with the players that Aragones had, a bit of the Benitez tactical mindset, the push that you have to give a team that Mourinho had, he’s got a bit of everything.”
In his discourse, Torres clearly values hard work. He hailed the team’s effort, commitment, desire and belief after the win over Dortmund in Germany, although he has also shown tactical flexibility.
The forward changes systems during games, rather than relying on a set formula, whether it be using a five-man defence or a simpler 4-4-2. And of course, given his profile, he instantly commands respect from youngsters who grew up watching him.
“We all know the player he has been,” said midfielder Pablo Barrios after scoring a brace against Real Madrid in the last 16. “When he tells you different things on the pitch, it’s not the same as when someone else tells you. He’s Fernando Torres and the truth is, it’s an honour.”
That image is also why he is the focus of attention on the bench, rather than the head coach, Ortega.
“The coach has given a lot of protagonism to Fernando, because it’s Fernando Torres,” a source told GOAL. “If it was you or me,” they joked, “then he might not have given it. (Torres) tries to put his stamp on things, but always in sync with the head coach.”
Torres started his coaching career quietly, going virtually unnoticed by Atletico fans in his first game on the sidelines, but now he is serenaded by those who attend youth games.
Whether they will ever do so on a regular basis in the Wanda Metropolitano, only time will tell - and we’re talking years.
But for now, Torres is enjoying every challenge and every moment.