Fernando Torres knows all about Real Madrid – and spending half his career in the shadows of one of the world’s biggest football clubs has given him plenty of motivation for a revenge mission.
On Tuesday his Atletico Madrid side take on Real in a rematch of last season’s European Champions League final – a painful 4-1 extra-time defeat for “Los Rojiblancos.”
This time it’ll be the first leg of a quarterfinal tie, but the stakes are high as Real seeks to continue its title defense and Atletico tries to salvage hopes of a major trophy this season.
“Everyone is waiting the whole year to play these kinds of games – the quarterfinal of the Champions League against the biggest team in the world right now,” Torres told CNN Espanol.
“I was born in Madrid – living in the same city, you can see how great they are and how big the club is.”
“Once you are away, you realize that it’s not only in Spain, it’s around the world. Real Madrid is like Manchester United or Liverpool or Bayern Munich. There is so much history, and you need to play and win against that history.
“It’s difficult to play against them because you fight against everything, the history, the players, but because of that the motivation is always so high.”
Torres has already tasted victory against Real since his Janaury return to the club where he made his name, scoring twice in a draw that sealed Atletico’s progress to the Spanish Cup quarterfinals and coming on as a substitute in a 4-0 home derby success in La Liga.
Atletico also defeated Real in the preseason Spanish Super Cup in August.
While Atletico has dropped off the pace in its domestic league title defense, Torres believes it will have little bearing on the pick of the quarterfinal ties in Europe’s premier club competition.
“We need to forget everything that’s happened in the past, the victories, the defeats, everything, because you cannot use that for the game,” the striker said.
“We are focused on winning, and doing everything it takes.”
Torres will also be motivated by the desire to prove his worth after his much-lauded return to Atletico at the turn of the year, on loan from Italian club AC Milan, with over 40,000 filling the Vicente Calderon to greet him.
“I wasn’t really sure what to expect,” the 31-year-old admitted.
“But since the first day until today, it’s been like going back home. I’m enjoying every training session, every game.”
As at Milan and Chelsea, where he struggled to live up to his British-record $75 million transfer fee, the goals have hardly been flowing.
But he has scored in big games – also netting in the Spanish Cup quarterfinal defeat by Barcelona, and converting the decisive spot-kick in the penalty shootout against Bayer Leverkusen that put Diego Simeone’s team into the last eight of the Champions League.
Torres started his career at Atletico, captaining the team as a teenager before Liverpool recognized his goalscoring talents and took him to the English Premier League in 2007.
While he helped Spain lift the World Cup in 2010 and the European Championship in 2008 and 2012, he wouldn’t win a top-level club trophy until his January 2011 switch to Chelsea – where he was often mocked by fans and media during long-term goal droughts.
However, Torres was in Chelsea’s 2012 Champions League-winning team, scoring a crucial goal in the semifinal win over Barcelona, and was also on target in the following year’s Europa League final win against Benfica.
Torres also won the English FA Cup with Chelsea. Judged solely on honors won, his big-money transfer was a success.
“Liverpool gave me a second home. I was 24, I left my team, my town, and I went there,” he said.
“My memories there are just amazing. I have no words to thank them enough, and that’s why I will always be a fan.
“Chelsea gave me all the trophies I have as a football player. I saw my kids growing up in London. So my heart is in both sides.”
Deemed surplus to requirements by Jose Mourinho at Chelsea, Torres was initially loaned out to Milan at the start of this season before his switch to Atletico, and he is hoping the stay becomes permanent.
“I’m still young and I still have many years to play hopefully here in Atletico – I don’t really look forward to playing in a different team right now.”
That will surely depend on his performances and a good start would be helping Atletico beats its fierce local rival in the pick of the quarterfinal ties.
“When it comes to Real Madrid, we are ready. We are ready to compete, to fight, and we have the confidence to pass that game and get to the semifinals,” Torres said confidently.
Long term, Torres is aware that the shelf life of a top striker is limited and has hinted that when the time comes to leave top-flight European club football, Major League Soccer in the United States is very much in his thoughts.
“The MLS is a fantastic competition and it is growing all the time,” he said.
“Many great players are going, some of them opened the way like (David) Beckham and (Thierry) Henry and now many great players are going.”
One of those is his old Liverpool teammate Steven Gerrard, who is headed to Los Angeles Galaxy later this year.
“Playing alongside Stevie was probably the best experience I’ve had as a football player,” Torres revealed.
The pair were briefly reunited for a charity match at Anfield recently, with Torres playing alongside Gerrard and Luis Suarez in a Liverpool All Stars XI.
Whether the pair find themselves as teammates in the U.S. remains to be seen.