Liverpool's tower of strength
"After Torres, anybody who comes here saying they need time to adapt is lying," says Liverpool captain Steve Gerrard of Spanish teammate Fernando Torres.Liverpool - "After Torres, anybody who comes here saying they need time to adapt is lying," says Liverpool captain Steve Gerrard of Spanish teammate Fernando Torres. The pair have created a formidable scoring machine, with 51 goals between them this season.
Tonight their team is in desperate need of more goals from the duo, as Liverpool visits English rival Chelsea in the second leg of their Champions League semifinal (8.45pm on Canal+), after the London club gained a useful 1-1 tie in Liverpool owing to John Arne Riise's dramatic home goal in the dying seconds of the first leg. But whether or not the former Atlético de Madrid striker is able tonight to add to his European tally of five goals (plus 22 in the domestic Premier League), Gerrard is unstinting in his praise of the way that Torres has fitted into the Liverpool way of life, even managing to penetrate the profound mysteries of the city's scouse dialect.
Within a couple of months of joining the side, Torres had thrown himself into his new life, driving on the left, and working hard to learn English - which he didn't speak when he arrived. By the time of the Champions League quarterfinal clash against Arsenal, the 24-year-old was giving his own press conferences in English.
Liverpool coach Rafa Benítez, who even talks to his Spanish players in English, is very pleased. "He's gone beyond what I expected," says the former Valencia coach.
Madrid-born Torres doesn't seem unduly affected by the wet weather and grey skies of Merseyside, saying it must be something to do with his family's Galician roots. Neither is he bothered by English food. The team eats together at Liverpool's Melwood training ground. In the evenings, Torres, apparently a dab-hand in the kitchen, enjoys cooking for himself and his girlfriend Olaya. The couple live between Melwood and the club's Anfield Road stadium, close to goalkeeper Pepe Reina, who played a key role in convincing Torres to leave the underperforming Atlético de Madrid for Liverpool.
"He was clear from the start that he wanted to repay the club for their belief in him," says his press aide Antonio Sanz. Indeed, Torres has opted for total immersion in English life. In turn, he enjoys a sense of freedom in his new country that was impossible in Spain, where his privacy was not respected.
Sanz tells the story of a woman who was dining in the same restaurant as Torres recently, and who waited outside for him to leave before asking for his autograph. "Torres is a ray of sunshine," said a waitress at the Tate Liverpool art gallery: "Everybody loves him."
After scoring his first goal against much-hated rival Chelsea, he has been idolized by Liverpool fans. Of his 22 Premier League goals so far this season, 20 have been at home, and 16 in front of Anfield's Kop end, where the club's hardcore fans have congregated for decades.
In the best tradition of Liverpool strikers, he has managed to feed off the energy that the side's fans generate. He has already matched the 20 goals in a season last scored by Michael Owen in 2003, putting him on a par with the likes of Graeme Souness, Ian Rush, Kenny Dalglish and Robbie Fowler.
Like Benítez, the fans have taken a shine to Torres, captivated not just by his soccer skills, but also his modesty and fighting spirit, essential qualities at a club where the team has always been bigger than any individual player.
That said, his performance in last Tuesday's first leg against Chelsea was less than inspiring, and he missed a clear chance on goal. Now, with a 0-0 tie not a good option as Liverpool travel down to Chelsea for the rematch, is the time for the kid to draw on all his resources if the side is to make it to the final in Moscow.