On Thursday night, Fernando Torres completely upstaged newly crowned 2014 Ballon D’Or Cristiano Ronaldo, scoring twice as his Atletico Madrid bundled Ronaldo’s Real out of the Copa del Rey.
That is not something that many observers, even many Atletico fans, thought they would ever see.
Even on Thursday at the Estadio Santiago Bernabeu, there was an expectation that Ronaldo and his teammates could well turn around a 2-0 first leg deficit and progress.
This feeling grew before kick-off as Ronaldo showed off his third career Ballon D’Or trophy to the crowd.
But just 47 seconds into the game Torres, who was third in the voting when the Portuguese first won in 2008, rolled back the years by rifling in a precious away goal for Atletico.
After Sergio Ramos’s header had given Real Madrid hope of a comeback, Torres did it again. Just past half-time he superbly cut inside marker Pepe and calmly made it 2-1. Even though a subdued Ronaldo did equalise on the night, the tie was already decided.
These were the first goals El Nino, now almost 31, has scored since September. And his first for Atletico since May 2007, just before he left for Liverpool. It was also the first time in six visits to the Bernabeu that the boyhood Colchoneros fan had found the net.
When substituted midway through the second half, Torres pointedly applauded the few Atletico fans way up in the Bernabeu’s north-west corner. The slumped figure who had looked so forlorn through recent years at Chelsea, and during most of his cut-short loan spell at Milan before Christmas, was the one beaming now.
“The smile was as we were winning, and for scoring my first two goals,” Torres said after the final whistle. “And even more for having done it at a stadium where I had never scored before. We must enjoy this. It was a nice game. I feel at 200%. I am very happy. The goal so early meant we could play the game we wanted to.”
Torres really must be enjoying himself. During his first spell at Atletico, from 2001 to 2007, he played nine derbies and won none. His first game back at the Estadio Vicente Calderon was the Copa first leg against Madrid 10 days ago. He was caught offside more often than he shot at goal, but still emerged with his first win over Real thanks to his teammates’ superb display.
That team is now unrecognisable to the one Torres left six and a half years ago. Until Diego Simeone completely revitalised the club, Atletico went 14 years without a ‘derbi’ win. This season Simeone’s ultra-competitive side have already overcome their much richer neighbours in the Spanish Supercopa, La Liga and the Copa.
The Argentine, a teammate of Torres during the dark days, was also smiling at his post-game press conference.
“I am very happy for Fernando, and all the fans who greeted him the other day at his presentation,” Simeone said. “After a game like today’s, to respond in the way he did, everyone is very happy. His return so far is going well for us, even though there were some who doubted.”
Those doubters would have included many Premier League fans who had grown accustomed to seeing Torres as a bungling target for ridicule. They even included this column, which just two weeks ago came pretty close to calling his return to the Calderon a cynical publicity stunt.
But at the Bernabeu on Thursday night, everyone had to admit that Torres’ second coming is already among the sweetest success stories of recent times.