Why I don't share some Liverpool fans' hatred of Fernando Torres

Torres “You what?” said the man in front of me, clearly astonished by what I had just said. I’d been talking to this guy about the then-upcoming Chelsea-Liverpool game, and he’d mentioned that he “couldn’t wait to see those traitorous t**ts Torres and Morales (that’s what he called him) get what they deserve”, to which I replied that I didn’t bear a grudge or any ill-will towards either Torres or Meireles and still wanted them to do well (though not against Liverpool). This man was amazed that I didn’t share his wish to see Torres come to harm, or to see him continue to under-perform for Chelsea.

It’s not just Liverpool fans who feel this way toward a former player. All over England players now seem to get nothing but a hostile reception when they play against their former club, no matter how good or bad they were when they played for the club, or how good-natured or acrimonious their departure was. For years, I’ve seen players who were mediocre at best in a Liverpool shirt get a fantastic reception on their return to Anfield, as well as returning star players, but sadly those days seem to be gone, as Liverpool fans have now fell into the trap of becoming increasingly blinkered and tribalistic, which they had by and large avoided for a long time. Fernando Torres was one of the best, if not the best, strikers I’ve ever seen for Liverpool, with an excellent goal return, and I think that’s what should always be remembered about him, and as such, he should always be given a warm welcome on his return.

I could understand the hostile reception Torres got last season at Stamford Bridge from Liverpool fans, though I didn’t agree with it, as that game was only days after his move to Chelsea and emotions were still running high, but I honestly didn’t think he’d get such a vitriolic reception as he did on Sunday, as I thought time would have healed any initial disappointment over Torres’ move. I failed to see at the time, and still fail to see, why Torres is considered to be a traitor by some Liverpool fans. What exactly was the big crime he supposedly committed?

A footballer’s career is ultimately defined on what they won. Torres saw an opportunity to move to a club that he believed gave him a better chance to achieve what he wants to achieve in his career, and jumped at it. I’m sure you, just as I would, got offered a job that you considered to be better than your current one; you’d want to take it. Well, that’s what Torres did, and I have no problem with it.

Torres, as any footballer with ambition should, wants to win as many trophies as he can in his career; his only club honour he’s won so far is the Segunda División with Atletico Madrid, so if he believed that he stands more of a chance of winning trophies with Chelsea than he did with Liverpool, I don’t see what the problem is with that. Footballer’s careers are both short and precarious. The best-case scenario for Torres is that he plays until his mid-to-late thirties; worst-case is that he has an accident in training tomorrow and his career’s over. So I don’t blame Torres for moving in order to further his career, I just hope he’s wrong about having to leave Liverpool to do so.

One accusation was that Torres moved for the money. It’s true that Torres is making more money at Chelsea now than he was at Liverpool. I don’t know Torres, so I’ve no way of knowing if what I’m about to write is true or not, but Torres doesn’t strike me as a person motivated by money. He doesn’t seem to be an ostentatious person, he’s rarely, if ever, in the media for reasons other than football and seems to prefer a quiet, family life to one permanently lived in the public eye. Torres took a pay cut to join Liverpool in the first place (though his pay was later increased), so if he was some kind of mercenary, whose sole intention is to wring as much money out of football as he possibly can, why would he have done that?

Some fans say that their problem was not so much that he moved, but that he moved to Chelsea. Well, what was the alternative? He stated his intention to go, so it was pointless for Liverpool to keep an unhappy player, so then Liverpool had to find a buyer willing to pay the high price they wanted for their best player, which immediately ruled a lot of clubs out. Clubs in Serie A are not paying out the enormous transfer fees anymore, clubs in Germany are run in a financially responsible manner so don’t pay those kind of fees either. That left few viable options.

Barcelona were going through financial problems of their own, and probably didn’t want him anyway, so they were never really a realistic option. Real Madrid might’ve paid the money Liverpool required but Torres, as a lifelong Atletico fan, may not have wanted to go there. That left three options in England; Manchester United and Liverpool don’t do business with each other, Manchester City, who were stacked for strikers at the time and Chelsea, who could offer Torres the Champions League football he wanted. Realistically, Chelsea were the only option open to Liverpool for selling Torres.

I don’t buy any arguments about a lack of loyalty; loyalty does not truly exist in football. If all players were loyal, your club would be seriously limited in who they could sign, as no player would ever leave a club unless they weren’t offered a new contract, and football would be very boring as a result.

Torres isn’t and never claimed to be a Liverpool fan; he’s an Atletico Madrid fan, so it’s not realistic to hold him to the same standards of loyalty as local players such as Carragher and Gerrard, who very nearly left too. He never ran around kissing the badge after he scored. He had other opportunities to leave Atletico before he eventually left, just as he had chances to leave Liverpool before he did.

It’s quite common in football that players are given a ‘loyalty’ bonus if their club sells them without the player having asked to leave. I’d be surprised that the transfer request by Meireles so late in the transfer window was done as a way of getting around having to give him a bonus. I think Torres’ request was him showing he was serious about wanting to leave, so Liverpool didn't dismiss any bids for him out of hand. I don’t see a player handing in a transfer request as a sign of disrespect to the club.

Torres at his best was one of those rare footballers, one who actually looked like he was genuinely enjoying playing. In his final season at Liverpool, you could tell that he wasn’t enjoying himself anymore. The joie de vivre had gone and he looked short on fitness and confidence and looked completely fed up. I wouldn’t say he wasn’t trying, but he definitely looked distracted and like he wanted to be elsewhere.

I’m not one of these so-called fans who take some sort of schadenfreude in Torres’ misfortunes so far in his Chelsea career. Unfortunately in England taking pleasure in talented people being unsuccessful is a national sport in itself. Any true football fan wants to see the best players playing at their best, so I hope that we will see Torres back firing on all cylinders sooner rather than later.

Torres didn’t do what Steve McManaman and Michael Owen did, which was run their contracts down before leaving, with Liverpool receiving a fee for Owen which was only about a quarter of his true value at the time, and nothing for McManaman who left on a Bosman free. Liverpool received a British transfer record fee for Torres, the sixth highest fee in football history, the money from which has been invested in several players in a bid to make Liverpool a more competitive team. Both parties were probably happy with the outcome, Torres got the move he wanted, Liverpool got a huge payday.

Torres leaving Liverpool doesn’t mean he hates the club; football, like life, just isn’t that black and white. Torres has spoken about how much he enjoyed playing for and living in Liverpool, so just because he now lives in another city and plays for another club, it doesn’t mean that his time in Liverpool meant nothing to him.

To have any residual feelings of anger or bitterness toward Torres is to disregard just how good a player he was for the majority of his time in a red shirt, giving Liverpool fans many memorable moments. I hope that ultimately Torres will be proved wrong about having to leave Liverpool to achieve the success he craves, but I will remember Torres fondly, and even if I’m alone in this, will give him a warm reception when he plays at Anfield later this season and in seasons to come.