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Benitez and Torres can answer one another’s prayers

Benitez and Torres can answer one another’s prayers

Jun 30 2007

by David Prentice, Liverpool Echo

MAY 23, 2007, was a black day in the history of Liverpool Football Club. But it was worse for Fernando Torres.

While the Reds’ dreams of a sixth European Cup success died by the narrowest of margins in Athens, Torres was recovering from “the worst moment, without doubt” of his Atletico Madrid career.

Barcelona had just effectively wrecked Atletico Madrid’s UEFA Cup hopes with a humiliating 6-0 win in the Vicente Calderón Stadium – and Torres was approaching a turning point in his career.

“Never have I experienced something like that,” he declared. “It is a match to forget, one that has absolutely no positives at all. It has been a very long weekend.

“It’s been difficult to sleep, to go out into the street. I’m sure time will heal, but to me, three days later, it does not go out of my head.”

Two-and-a-half thousand miles across Europe, Rafa Benitez was also enduring a sleepless night.

And his words in the wake of that Champions League final defeat perhaps hinted at what was on his mind.

"Some players even playing isolated up front can change the game,” he said. “They can receive the ball, dribble, pass, and they can change the game.

“I hope I will get the backing. When you see the players working as hard as they did today maybe it's not enough. When you want to get close to (Manchester) United and Chelsea and have another chance in the Champions League you need to go maybe two steps at a time."

It was almost as if Benitez had a mental image of Torres while he was talking – a player, who plays up front on his own for Atletico. A talented individual who can receive the ball, dribble like an old-fashioned winger and pass with vision.

And their experiences meant the two seemed destined to unite.

Liverpool have craved an out-and-out goalscorer since Michael Owen left for Spain in 2004. Torres is not that man – even though his goals return is a respectable 62 in 143 La Liga appearances over four seasons, plus 14 in 42 internationals.

But Dirk Kuyt is, and while he has diligently and uncomplainingly played much of his football outside the penalty area at Anfield to make room for Crouch and Fowler, Torres’ impending arrival could see a return to the role he filled for Feyenoord.

Liverpool officials said yesterday they were “very confident” Torres would be at Anfield next season.

The Reds have had to tip toe delicately through negotiations, as Torres’ relationship in Madrid is at almost Messianic proportions.

Atletico still hope to persuade the player to remain in Spain and kick off their Intertoto Cup campaign on July 21.

But it seems that home humbling by Barcelona convinced Torres his future lay elsewhere.

His departure will cause widespread grief in one half of Madrid.

Torres made his debut for Atletico in 2000 and was immediately earmarked as something special.

He won the Best Young European Player award after top scoring at the Nike Cup Europe in 1999, in 2000/01 he was top scorer and player of the tournament at the European Under-16 Championships and 12 months later top scored again at the European Under-19 Championships, won by Spain.

Drawing comparisons with Wayne Rooney, he became the youngest player to play for Atletico, the youngest goalscorer, and the youngest to play for the Spanish national side.

In 2003 he was made captain of the club at the ridiculously tender age of 19, although he later said: “19 is too young to captain the team and shows the lack of patience at Atletico.”

Chelsea tried to sign him at the end of the 2005-06 La Liga season, but he opted to stay put.

At his first ever appearance in a World Cup finals in Germany, Torres scored the final goal in Spain’s 4-0 victory over Ukraine.

In the second group match, Torres scored twice against Tunisia, was dropped from the team for a friendly against Romania in November 2006, but returned to the national side for the friendly against England in February.

Ironically, Torres suffered an ankle injury in training with the national team before their summer fixtures in Riga and Vaduz.

To replace him, Spanish coach Luis Aragonés called up an RCD Espanyol forward named Luis Garcia to replace him.

Now, it seems, another Luis Garcia could be replacing Torres at club level at the Vicente Calderon.

Personal terms and a medical still have to be arranged, but sources inside Anfield are “confident” the move will go through.

And Reds fans should be confident they are recruiting one of the brightest talents in European football.

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