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Back in 2008, Fernando Torres became the first player to finish third behind both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in their era of Ballon d’Or dominance. He had scored 38 times for Liverpool since the start of the previous season and six months earlier, his goal had ended Spain’s 44-year wait to win an international tournament. And yet, he was uncertain whether he belonged in the same room as the finest footballers on the planet.
“I could not believe I was nominated,” he told Simon Hughes in his book Ring of Fire: Liverpool Into The 21st Century, describing his “shock” that he was deemed important enough to be travelling by private jet. His club captain and friend Steven Gerrard reassured him, insisting that he deserved to win the award. Torres remembered Gerrard’s words, even if he did not quite believe them, adding: “He told me that like he really thought it.”
Call it imposter syndrome, a Jonah complex or a simple lack of self-esteem – perhaps any attempt at interpretation is an exercise in cod psychology – but at the very least, that episode offers us a window on how Torres saw himself when at the absolute peak of his powers. Even then, as a fresh-faced, befreckled goal-scoring phenomenon, he felt unworthy of the acclaim which his performances attracted.
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Torres was not naturally drawn to football. His interest in the game only came about by watching anime series Captain Tsubasa – titled Oliver y Benji in Spain – and he has said he only started playing because his brother Israel “forced him”. Even his affection for Atletico Madrid came relatively late. He attended his first game – a 1-1 draw against Compostela – with his grandfather Eulalio in 1995, not long before his 11th birthday.
“I wasn’t hooked when I left the stadium,” he admits in his autobiography, recalling that first night at the Vicente Calderon. “It was cold, there wasn’t much excitement and the flat atmosphere in the stands didn’t help.” But only six years later, he was the club’s greatest hope while at their lowest ebb. With Atletico struggling to recover from relegation to the Segunda Division, Spain’s secon
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