So Fernando Torres finally did it. He usurped Steven Gerrard's position as the main man in the Liverpool football team. No, he hasn't taken over the captain's armband. Torres has simply overtaken Gerrard where shirt sales are concerned.
The sale of those ubiquitous club jerseys (real or fake) has always been used to gauge the popularity of a player. And it is a correct measure because fans today can put a player on a pedestal or bring him down to terra firma in one small instant. And El Nino is the bigger icon now, at least for the time being.
Fans can be spotted sporting Torres jerseys (even in India). The wiry Spaniard is just so lovable (both on and off the pitch). His name has not been dragged through the mud, or caught up in some sex-related voyeuristic controversies, or linked to millions and millions of swooning women. El Nino works on the pitch, celebrates, then goes home to his family. He won't be seen drinking himself to death in a bar, punching a DJ because he wouldn't play your favourite music (ala Stevie G), use cherry and whipped cream for carnal purposes (ala Carra), punch his own team mate, or drop his shorts on the pitch (ala Joey Barton), or crash his Ferrari 599 GTB in a tunnel (ala Cristiano Ronaldo), or be accused of raping someone and then being jailed (ala Robin van Persie), or show their famous middle finger (ala David Beckham) to fans who pay their multi-million pound salaries. Fernando Torres is in a different class. A class intended to make fans worship and love players, never accuse them of wrongdoing, never catch them in a guilty and inebriated state.
Torres professionally started out with Atletico Madrid in 1999, playing in the Spanish Segunda Division (the second division). Atletico narrowly missed being promoted to La Liga in his first season with the senior side. He became the club's youngest captain at the age of 19. 'The Kid' was marked for greatness.
Torres might have been a Newcastle player if the Geordies had signed him (a phenomenal talent spotted by Sir Bobby Robson's scouts). He might have been playing in a blue jersey in London if Chelsea had decided to sign him in 2005. But it was not to be and Liverpool came calling in 2007. The club broke its records by making him the most expensive signing in its history, shelling out 20 million pounds for the striker. He was signed on a six-year contract (and recently committed himself to the club again).
Torres, as a player, is exceptional. His genius is undisputed. He is a player in the league of the Kakas and Ronaldos. He has a killer strike and can finish off a move in one perfect shot. He can lob, chip, square, half-volley, bicycle kick, lash - any and every adjective one might want to use here. El Nino is a master at what he does best - strike the ball with immense coolness and composure. He hardly works himself up into a frenzy and never shoots his mouth off. He is humble, polite and incredibly down-to-earth. In the age of the crass commercialisation of football, where players are pictured with different women almost every other week, Torres has been with his childhood sweetheart since 2001. That is a good eight long years. A husband and now a father, Torres is widely worshipped at Anfield, with fans raucously cheering his every move and pass.
Liverpool needed someone as classy and talented as Torres. His services are much in demand. But time and again, he has come out to squash every transfer rumour by insisting that his future belongs to Liverpool Football Club. When Chelsea wanted to upset the apple cart by trying to lure him to Stamford Bridge at the start of this transfer season, Torres made his position known beforehand. (Unlike a certain Mr Chelsea who kept his fans waiting on tenterhooks before making his position known. And that was only after a fat, lucrative contract for him was ensured by the oligarch owner).
Torres has in him to be a legend. In a way, he is already one. As mentioned earlier, shirt sales are a good indicator. Liverpool has not had a striker of the calibre of Ian Rush ever since he said goodbye. Or Robbie Fowler, the man from Toxteth. Torres has come in and filled the void. The club can now boast of a world-class footballer, someone who splits defences in one lethal second, someone whose partnership with the club captain is one of the best attacking ones in the world, and someone who is fanatically loyal and wears his heart on his sleeve. Only this time, it is the Liverbird.