'They'll never know it's me.'
'Hang on a minute' he thought, albeit quickly and in Spanish. 'I looked bloody different in 2007. And I could have sworn I played for Liverpool at some point. How long have I been here? It feels like 13 years, but I thought that was just because I'd been struggling for form. Maybe it is though. Maybe I have been here since 2000, even though that would also predate my debut for Atletico Madrid and mean that I was signed by Gianluca Vialli even though I had a cracked shinbone.'
'Watch some videos of yourself at your peak', they had said, albeit angrily and in Portuguese. 'Rediscover some of that fire. We need the old Torres back.'
And so it was, apparently, through an innocent enough DVD mix-up, that Fernando Torres turned into a parody of Fernando Torres trying to be like he was back when he was good. A once glorious apple, trying so hard to apply new skins in search of a solution to its inexplicable dull colour that it became a bulky onion, still with its place in culinary environments on occasion but much more likely to get in and around people's eyes and make them cry.
Who scratches someone in the face? He actually dug his nails in. It's mad.
Torres's most recent resurgence has since ended in injury, but his performance on Saturday told a story. No matter the perpetrators of such a myth, this obsession of returning to the old Torres has seemingly had the supremely bizarre effect of making Torres actually try and work out what the 'old Torres' actually was. And what's he's come up with more a parody of himself trying to impersonate the original great Chelsea warhorse, Didier Drogba.
Never before has Torres seemed so precociously petulant as he did again Tottenham. It just seemed like he was trying too hard to BE a hard man. Scrapping with Vertonghen, getting proper niggly, protesting his innocence, entering 80-20s as if they were 50-50s, and getting sent off - like he'd found a recipe for 'Drogba off the ball' in a cupboard in the kitchen. Granted, on the ball, he was electric at times. But the old Torres had glee about running past people. Torres 8.2 (or whatever version we're up to now) embraces the physicality, all the while seeming to take contact as a personal affront, as if to say that now he's a bigger, fitter Torres, now he's worked so hard to get into this shape, it's time everyone else just let him go back to being that old Torres again.
Pop profound philosophy time - Torres's view of the old Torres is largely irrelevant as he can't get back there even if he wanted to. But that doesn't stop us - and to an extent him - being addicted to the idea anyway.
But the obsession with the ‘old Torres’ is so deep-seated a concept because he was so good. At Liverpool he could be devastating, unplayable and totally unafraid of risk. He’d run at someone like he didn’t give a shit and they’d panic because there was no way of predicting what ludicrous way he’d find to get past them, all the time wedded to the equally ludicrous certainty that he would. At Chelsea, the running continued, but it was into channels. Until, in parts, it was again direct and aggressive at Swindon and Spurs.
There’s no doubt the Premier League loves/needs its devastating, unplayable footballers to placate the viewing public and further endorse the idea that it is the greatest thing since sliced bread. And if you can’t provide the devastating or the unplayable you can be damn sure that the erstwhile viewing public and associated scribblers will find another narrative thread that you DO fill, and that really is a double-edged banana.
Whether Torres will ever fully get to the odd holy land of turning back into himself without the aid of time travel is still of fascination in that he may (just about) still have it in him to do so. Whether he does or not is a different matter but it couldn’t hurt for him to get the right DVD in the player, sit down and study what made him a menace – and a joyful menace at that – in the first place.