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Can prodigal son Torres relive past glories at Atletico Madrid?

By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer

Fernando Torres has returned to his boyhood club Atletico Madrid as an idol and was unveiled on Sunday in front of 45,000 jubilant fans. The local hero is back in fashion. Everybody, it seems, is happy. Now the Spanish striker just has to produce it where it matters most - on the pitch.

Atletico believe he can. Coach Diego Simeone played with Torres at Atletico towards the end of his career. They know each other well and, although Fernando - still El Niño in those days - was the club captain, now it's El Cholo who is very much the leader at the Vicente Calderon.

Simeone pursued Torres in the summer as Atleti sought two strikers to replace David Villa and Diego Costa. Mario Mandzukic was brought in, but the Spanish champions were unable to fund a move for Torres and the Chelsea forward moved on loan to AC Milan instead.

Question marks were raised as to why Simeone would want a player clearly past his best and lacking in confidence, but the Atleti coach truly believes he can motivate Torres - even if his finest football is already behind him.

"Simeone hardly ever asks for anything, but he asked for Torres," Atletico president Enrique Cerezo said last week. "It wasn't easy to bring him here, but with hard work and persistence we have achieved it. He was, is, and will be a great player. He has an important role to play."

That is the idea, but Torres will have to prove himself again. Mandzukic has already impressed for Atletico, scoring 14 goals in 22 appearances for the Rojiblancos, while winger Antoine Griezmann has excelled recently in an advanced role, netting a superb hat-trick at Athletic Bilbao in December and adding two more in the 3-1 win over Levante on Saturday.

So where will Torres fit in?

"Fernando doesn't come here as a saviour," Simeone said earlier this week. "He will have to work hard to compete with Griezmann, Mandzuckic and Raul Jimenez. He will give us depth."

Since the departure of Costa, Atleti's attack has missed the physicality and clever runs of the Brazil-born forward, but Torres' relative pace means he can slot in seamlessly and give Simeone's side an extra weapon on the break.

Simeone believes Torres has the right characteristics to succeed at Atleti again, but a key factor for Fernando second time around will be confidence - something severely lacking in recent seasons.

Since starring at Liverpool between 2007 and 2010, Torres has never really recovered that fantastic form. At Chelsea, he was not suited to the side's style until a link-up with former coach Rafa Benitez brought a Europa League title and 22 goals from 64 games in 2011-12.

Under Jose Mourinho, opportunities have been more scarce and initially they are likely to be so at Atleti. But Simeone knows Torres well and is certain he can motivate his former team-mate over a long campaign.

Last season, Atletico won La Liga and reached the final of the Champions League, but Simeone's side were dead on their feet in that final fixture. Torres gives them strengh in depth, will slot in to their counter-attacking philosophy and can still be a threat with his ability to run from deep.

It is, realistically, the last chance for Torres to prove himself at an elite club.

"I'm delighted to be back," he said. "It's so special to return home. I needed something to excite me and I knew I could only get that here."

So the boy is back. And with the help of Simeone, Atletico hope he can recover the sensations of old.

Don't bet against it.

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