There’s no question that emotion can play a big part in being a sports fan–it’s why we support teams through thick and thin. Some fans happily support teams their entire lives without ever seeing an ounce of success, while others angrily curse their team for not repeating their glory days.
The hero aspect of sports can play on a fans’ emotions very strongly–from superstars to cult icons. At Liverpool we love Steven Gerrard as much as we love Jamie Carragher, as they have both served the club well for their entire careers. And more than likely, we will love them for the rest of our lives because of said loyalty. It’s what can take a player into a club’s pantheon, while just as easily condemning him into the tar pits reserved for the El Hadji Dioufs of the world.
Liverpool fans will likely bring up other names immediately–Michael Owen, for instance. The Boy Wonder’s descent wasn’t exactly rapid– I think many Liverpool fans can understand the allure of Real Madrid, the club that Michael Owen immediately departed to. So Owen went to a sort of purgatory of former players, not hated but merely forgotten. But due to his failure to shine in La Liga, Owen was forced back into the Premier League, where he would have been welcomed back to Liverpool with open arms. But Owen instead chose money and glory at Newcastle (don’t believe the story that Liverpool wouldn’t pony up the money) further dropping Owen in the eyes of Liverpool fans. He had moderate success with the club, but when they were eventually relegated to the Championship, Owen had yet another choice to make. He joined Manchester United, the club that all Liverpool fan’s unequivocally despise. It was a pay-to-play deal, understandable due to Owen’s injury record, and most of the football world just laughed at Alex Ferguson’s choice. But what truly blackened Owen’s record in the minds of Liverpool fans was his attitude towards Liverpool and its fans. Never will Liverpool fans stand up and defend Owen, never will they include him in the lists of favorite players, never will they buy a new jersey with his name on it.
Enter Fernando Torres, star striker with the pedigree to show for it, from Atletico Madrid in 2007. Torres got off the mark quickly, and won the hearts of the Kop instantly; his first goal came in his Anfield debut against recent rivals Chelsea. Torres continued to break Liverpool records and form a fantastic partnership with captain Steven Gerrard. He was constantly raving about the city of Liverpool, brilliantly exemplified in Adidas’ commercial showing the “Spainification” of the city. But in 2010, big changes were happening at Liverpool; the manager that had brought Torres to Liverpool and aided in his development, Rafa Benitez, was sent packing by the highly destructive owners Tom Hicks and George Gillette. Roy Hodgson was brought in to manage the club, and Torres was in a bit of a slump; everything from the tactics to the mentality at Liverpool seemed to go against everything Torres was used to at the club. Rumors had often surfaced about Torres leaving the club, but in early 2011 right at the end of the transfer window, Chelsea put in an astonishingly high bid for the Spaniard. The club promptly rejected the bid, causing Torres to hand in a transfer request. It was right at this moment that the lines were drawn–Torres wanted to leave, there was no doubting the facts. And for one of Liverpool’s biggest and most powerful rivals? Heresy of the highest order.
And so despite Torres’ torrid scoring record at Chelsea (two goals in 19 appearances so far) and the immediate hero status of new Liverpool boy Luis Suarez, many fans are asking themselves and each other whether or not they would like to have Torres back in the January transfer window, as his lack of scoring is likely to put him on the margins at Chelsea.
Cue the emotional ties for me personally. I have only been a big footy (and LFC) fan since around 2008. I had started looking at clubs around the time of the European Championships that summer, and because of my love for the Beatles, I was immediately drawn to Liverpool. And so on a parallel road with Spain’s glorious Euro run, I was falling in love with Liverpool Football Club. When the final of the tournament came around, I was cheering for Germany because all of my friends were and I was still a neophyte in my football opinions. But during that final I was astonished at Torres, a player I had only recently been introduced to. He seemed to glide along the pitch, wreaking havoc on the German defenders with ease. And when he scored the lone goal of the final and all of those around me had their head in their hands, I secretly cheered for my first football hero.
From there my love for the club, and of Torres, increased exponentially: the dedication to watching matches early in the morning on the weekends after about 3 hours of sleep, the purchasing of jerseys from thousands of miles away, the arguments with the few other fans I knew, the deep happiness I felt when Torres put the ball in the back of the net for the Reds. What will make him unforgettable to me is what happened when I spent a month abroad in Greece in the summer of 2010. I had been adamant to get a layover in London on my way to Athens so that I could at least taste English air for a short time, and while loafing about Heathrow, I picked up “Torres: My Story” at one of the airport bookshops. It’s not the best football autobiography, a little amateur based on Torres’ intermediate English-speaking level. But for the five days I spent in a hotel in the worst neighborhood of Athens, and the three weeks I spent on Anaphe (one of the most remote islands in the Aegean), the book became everything to me. I must have read the book four or five times during that month. Every night I would read a few pages, the words pillowing me in a comfort that I was starving for. I could tell you Torres’ entire life story after that month, his god-like status permanently etched into my mind. My naive mind would have never conceived that Torres would leave Liverpool; it just wasn’t possible. I was Liverpool-until-I-die and I just assumed that my hero was too.
Then it all changed. As childish, amateur, and (quite frankly) strange as it sounds, Fernando Torres broke my heart. As soon as I was back into my college apartment, I took a permanent marker to the Torres poster hanging on my wall and funneled my rage into inflicting as much damage as possible onto the poster. One might assume that this would change once the great Kenny Dalglish took the money from Torres’ sale and bought two world-class strikers, Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll. This helped, of course, but it wasn’t about the football anymore for me, it was about the intangible status that I had given Fernando Torres while at Liverpool. I am a huge fan of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll, two players that may well help bring glory back to Liverpool, but they will never be held in as high of a regard as Torres was.
So all things considered, do I want Fernando Torres back at Liverpool? The rational side of me says absolutely not–his disloyalty can never be forgiven, and his lack of form in over half of a season shows no signs of letting up. Even at a reduced price, his attitude toward his transfer will never be forgotten by those of us that experienced it firsthand. But my emotional side will never see things in a logical manner. I’ll admit that the first time I saw a rumor about Torres coming back, my heart leapt a little from the place it is every time I see him wearing Chelsea blue. So despite the terrible business involved and the lack of necessity of another (out of form) striker, I would welcome Fernando Torres back to Liverpool with open arms and tears in my eyes.