By Michael Walker
Last updated at 6:04 PM on 03rd October 2009
Kop idol: Fernando Torres
Sportsmail's Michael Walker heads to the outskirts of Madrid where Fernando Torres grew up to discover how fate led him to Liverpool.
In the tight streets circling the train station you can see signs, on Calle de Grecia there is another, while off it on Paseo de Olimpio, beside Bar Snoopy, there is a hairdressers that would make all at Liverpool chuckle.
Walking alone is an alien concept at Anfield, something about which Fernando Torres feels strongly, but a meander around the streets of Fuenlabrada, where Torres was born and raised, reveals signals that one day Torres would be an international figure and that Liverpool would be his destination.
Torres has spoken lately of the beguiling story of how his best friends in this working-class town, a 30-minute train ride from the centre of Madrid, decided to each have a tattoo done on their arm three or four years ago.
Gestures such as this are not uncommon in Spain, where small gangs of friends often make a non-aggressive pact among themselves to show mutual commitment.
In Torres’ group the choice was a tattoo and, as is the flavour in England, something foreign is seen as cool. Just as ‘Vorsprung durch Technik’ has acquired a place in British life via a TV advert, in Spain the phrase that has sunk deep into the national consciousness is ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’.
Why it is of such resonance is unclear, but it is not because of the Liverpool association we have. That difference could be seen in Torres’ friends’ slight twist.
‘We’ll Never Walk Alone’ is what they decided upon. They were obviously not Liverpool fans, not then anyway, but Torres knew the connection and shied away from it.
He was 22 and Atletico Madrid’s captain and hero. A tattoo would have looked like a come-on to Anfield and a betrayal of his beloved Atletico. So what the friends did was get Torres a new captain’s armband and write ‘We’ll Never Walk Alone’ on its inside.
It would be their secret. But in his new autobiography, El Nino — ‘The Kid’ — Torres explains: ‘When I was playing for Atletico Madrid against Real Sociedad, I was battling with a defender and the captain’s armband I was wearing came loose and fell open.
'As it hung from my arm, you could see the message written on the inside, in English: “We’ll Never Walk Alone” … an eagle-eyed photographer spotted the picture and I was immediately linked to Liverpool.
‘Maybe that was the day I took my first step towards Anfield.’
It is one of those travel tales that demands the introduction of the over-used word ‘fate’.
Follow the yellow brick road: Torres and Kenny Dalglish on the Liverpool streets
But then the streets surrounding Fuenlabrada station are international: Calle de Francia, de Irlanda, de Italia and so on.
Torres’ first youth team was named after a cafe on Calle de Holandia. And on Calle de Grecia there is a college, which just happens to be named after John Lennon, while that peluqueria — the hairdressers — brilliantly, is called Rafa.
In May 2007, not long after Liverpool lost to AC Milan in the European Cup final in Athens, Torres was on international duty for Spain, attempting to qualify for Euro 2008 — a tournament Spain would win with Torres scoring the only goal of the final against Germany in Vienna.
Torres was injured in Spain’s training camp and returned to Madrid to recuperate. It was then that his phone began to receive calls from an unknown UK number, twice one day, twice the next.
Destiny: The signs from Torres' home town show him the way to Anfield
He did not answer. When it rang for a third time Torres joked with his girlfriend Olalla: ‘That’ll be Benitez wanting to sign me.’
He explained: ‘In the end curiosity got the better of me and that evening, a Sunday night, I rang back. There was no answer but a couple of seconds later whoever it was returned the call.
‘“Hello, Fernando,” said a Spanish voice at the other end.
“Do you know who this is?”
‘“No,” I replied.
‘“You mean, you’d ring a random English number when you don’t even know who it is?” said the voice.
‘“Not normally, no,” I said, “but I’ve had three calls from this number and I want to know who it is.”
‘“It’s Rafa Benitez.”’
Torres describes his reaction to Benitez that night as being abrupt — ‘Too cold. 'Off-hand. I’m amazed he didn’t tell me to get lost’ — but that very attitude may have erased any doubts Benitez had about Liverpool breaking their transfer record to spend £26.5million on someone who had never played Premier League football.
But then, as Torres recalls, second-guessing Benitez can be fruitless.
When Olalla became pregnant, Torres said that Benitez offered his congratulations. ‘I assumed he was congratulating me on the pregnancy and I paused, expecting the obvious next question: “How’s the mother?” Or: “Will it be a girl or a boy?”
Sign of intent: Torres' captain's armband at Atletico Madrid
‘I was wrong. I’d forgotten that the man standing in front of me was a coach who thinks about football 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
‘“Just as we’d anticipated, attacking the near post really paid off yesterday,” he said.
“You got ahead of the defender into that space we talked about, which gave you an advantage and allowed you to beat Cech with a header. It was a good pass from Fabio but you worked it well. Congratulations”.
‘And with that Rafa turned and headed out for training.’
The goal in question was presumably Torres’ dynamic first against Chelsea in February. The cross came from Fabio Aurelio. Take in the eight from seven league appearances this season and Torres has 46 goals in his first 64 Premier League games.
There can be no surprise he was named Barclays player of the month for September.
Last Saturday’s hat-trick against Hull was preceded by two goals at West Ham that demonstrated the smooth combination of power, speed and balance which marked Torres out as a boy.
Atletico first recognised this when Torres was 11. Shortly after his 17th birthday he was in the first team and at 18 he was made captain. He scored 130 goals in 256 starts for Atletico.
Real Madrid’s scouting department must have faced questions. Not only was Torres an exceptional footballer, he was possessed of stardust. Nike saw this when he was 14 and signed him.
When he led Spain’s Under-16s to the European Championship title at Sunderland’s Stadium of Light in 2001, the Spanish media began to speak of ‘The Torres Generation’.
Torres’ head remained unturned. Just as the rare blond hair may be due to his Galician heritage, his love of Atletico came from his grandfather. Torres has remarked often that he was the only boy in his class who supported Atletico.
He would not be moved. That was in Fuenlabrada, this small, built-up town that has seen its population mushroom from 7,000 in the 1970s to over 200,000 today.
Eur-eka: Torres scored the only goal as Spain beat Germany in the final of Euro 2008
Immigration has been internal — Torres’s policeman father Jose was one — and external — there were investigations to see if the Madrid bombings of 2004, which killed 199 people, originated here.
By Fuenlabrada station there is a memorial to eight of the town’s citizens who died.
Torres sees comparisons with Liverpool.
‘There are similar characteristics between playing for Atletico and playing for Liverpool — at the club and with the people on the street.
‘Liverpool is a working-class city, the people work hard all week and then try to be happy with the football at the weekend, so it’s very similar to Madrid. I was born in a working-class town in the suburbs of Madrid and Atletico was the poor team in the city — the small one, next to a massive club like Real Madrid.
'It’s difficult to live like this, but it makes you stronger.’
At Anfield the first thing Torres did was immerse himself in the club’s history, watching DVDs in his dockside apartment, reading books, having dinner with Kenny Dalglish, Graeme Souness, Sammy Lee and Michael Robinson — who is of influential status in Spain.
Torres knew the significance of being given Robbie Fowler’s locker. He understands the meaning of Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher and he saw in Sami Hyypia what a foreigner can achieve through longevity.
Early days: Torres during his Atletico Madrid days
Torres calls Hyypia ‘the best team-mate I’ve ever had, 10 out of 10 as a player and a person’.
From Germany this week, Hyypia returned the compliment.
‘What’s special about him is how quickly he adapted,’ said Hyypia.
‘Physically he is strong, so that helped, and one-on-one, he is lethal. The fans love him because of his goals but also because he works so hard.
‘To them it’s Stevie, Carra and Fernando and that’s after just two years. If Fernando stays a long time then I’m sure they’ll think of him like a Robbie Fowler or an Ian Rush.’
For English football as well as Liverpool, that would be something.
The Premier League has lost its most glittering star, Cristiano Ronaldo, to Madrid, but Torres had already made the opposite journey.
‘If he keeps scoring goals, great as Ronaldo has been for Manchester United, I think Fernando could be the one who dominates the Premier League,’ added Hyypia.
‘That’s on the field. What I don’t think he’ll like are the photo shoots and that type of thing off it. He is a quiet family man. But as a footballer he has everything to be the best in the world.’
Then Hyypia said: ‘It’s funny, but did you know that when Fernando was handed the armband at Atletico Madrid, it said on it: “We’ll Never Walk Alone”?’
We didn’t. We do now.
Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/football/article-1217766/Why-Liverpool-hotshot-Fernando-Torres-knew-hed-walk-alone.html#ixzz0SxEQ7VqI