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Torres returns to Munich, this time as a starter

Torres returns to Munich, this time as a starter

FERNANDO Torres has broken Bayern Munich’s hearts at the Allianz Arena before. He’s relishing a chance of doing so again. This time, though, as a starter.

“It’s just unreal to be able to enjoy this moment with the team,” the Atletico Madrid striker told Radio Marca last week, looking ahead to his side’s Champions League semi-final second leg against Bayern in Munich on Tuesday with a crucial 1-0 lead from the first. “It’s fantastic.”

The Spaniard has fantastic memories of Bavaria, and Bayern’s home ground.

In the summer of 2012, Torres won the Champions League for the first and only time in his career at the Allianz with an important cameo from the bench for Chelsea against the German giants.

That season, Bayern were destined to lift the European Cup at their home turf but Torres had different ideas.

Written off as a force to be reckoned with at that point of his career – nearly 18 months after joining Chelsea for then a British record transfer fee of £50 million from Liverpool, Torres entered the fray with six minutes to go – and with Chelsea losing 1-0.

But with virtually his last touch in normal time Torres won a corner, which Didier Drogba headed in — for the most iconic goals in Chelsea’s history — to force extra-time before the Blues were crowned European champions for the first time as they prevailed in the ensuing penalty shootout.

It was a vital contribution from Torres — one that many hoped would spark new life into his Chelsea career.

It didn’t. His magic touch and blistering pace, that saw him become the biggest star of the Premier League with Liverpool, had deserted him.

A career that promised so much — and during which Torres had won the World Cup and two European championships with Spain as well — was falling apart.

A year on from winning the Champions League, Torres scored in the Europa League final as Chelsea won another continental title.

But despite scoring some important goals during his time at Stamford Bridge, Torres and Chelsea never was a match made in heaven.

In August 2014, after Spain’s global dominance came to an end with an embarrassing World Cup group stage exit and he made his last international appearance and scored his last international goal — in a 3-0 dead rubber win against Australia, Torres joined Italian giants AC Milan.

The struggles continued and it seemed Torres’ career was coming to an inglorious end until Diego Simeone and Atletico came calling in January last year.

El Nino (The kid) was returning home, to his boyhood club, to the Vicente Calderon where he started his career.

Since Torres left the Spanish capital for Liverpool in 2007, Atletico have been a club transformed by the tenacious Simeone – breaking the hegemony of Real Madrid and Barcelona by winning the La Liga in 2014 and reaching the final of the Champions League that same year.

Did the prodigal son still have a place at Atletico?

The first six months weren’t spectacular for either him or Atletico. The next six weren’t remarkable either.

But with five goals in his last eight games as Atletico chase a La Liga-Champions League double, the 32-year-old seems to be the player he once was.

He’s got his confidence back at Atletico where he’s valued as a crucial member of a team that loves punching above its weight.

“I’ve had the luck to enjoy it from the stands, from my time at other teams, and being able to live in from the inside of the club is something special, I’m loving every minute,” he said.

Amongst those five goals, was a trademark Torres strike against holders Barcelona in the first leg of their Champions League quarter-final at the Nou Camp, running to a pass and slotting clinically between the keeper’s legs.

He was, however, later sent off as Atletico lost 2-1 but won the return at the Calderon 2-0 to set up a last-four clash against Pep Guardiola’s Bayern.

Guardiola and Torres have history too.

Four years ago as Chelsea chased their maiden Champions League crown, they came up against Guardiola’s Barca in their semi-final.

With Barca leading 2-1 in the second leg at the Nou Camp after a 1-0 win for Chelsea in the first, Torres claimed a dramatic injury-time equaliser off a quick breakaway to dump the Catalans — holders, then again — out of the competition.

Many reckon it was that goal which prompted Guardiola — so revered for his coaching philosophy which transformed Barca into the world’s most exciting side — to quit his post and take a year-long sabbatical.

A year later, he took up the head coach job at Bayern but is yet to taste Champions League success with the Germans.

After three years at Bayern, Guardiola will join Manchester City next season and how he would relish leaving Bavaria as a treble winner with the club on the cusp of the Bundesliga title and in the German Cup final.

As Guardiola looks to leave behind a legacy, Atletico and a rejuvenated Torres stand in his way.

With Simeone only sending him on as a late substitute in Atletico’s 1-0 win over Rayo Vallecano on Saturday which kept them level on points with Barca at the top of La Liga with two matches to go, Torres looks to be a certain starter as he returns to Munich.

This time again, the side he’s on is the underdog.

“Bayern are still the favourites,” he said. “But we are ready to compete against anyone.”

Published in Dawn, May 3rd , 2016

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