The spectacular rise and fall of Fernando Torres

Fernando Torres during the Besiktas v Chelsea, Pre Season Friendly Mini-Tournament at the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey. -- PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES
Fernando Torres during the Besiktas v Chelsea, Pre Season Friendly Mini-Tournament at the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium in Istanbul, Turkey. -- PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES
Fernando Torres celebrates scoring the third goal for Liverpool in the FA Barclays Premier League fixture against Derby County on Sept 1, 2007. -- PHOTO: ACTION IMAGES
AC Milan's forward from Spain Fernando Torres (right) takes a shot during the Italian Serie A football match AC Milan vs Fiorentina on Oct 26, 2014 at the San Siro Stadium stadium in Milan. -- PHOTO: AFP
Liverpool's Spanish striker Fernando Torres (left) dribbles past an opponent during a friendly football match against Singapore's national team at the National Stadium on July 26, 2009, as part of Liverpool's Asian tour. -- PHOTO: ST FILE
Liverpool's star striker Fernando Torres leaving the football pitch with his teammates, wearing Singapore defender Daniel Bennett's jersey, after the friendly match at the National Stadium on July 26, 2009. -- PHOTO: ST FILE

Not too long ago, Fernando Torres was a world-class striker, feared throughout Europe for his deadly finishing. However, the goals dried up inexplicably after a record-breaking transfer from Liverpool to Chelsea.

Almost four years after that fateful move, the Spaniard is reportedly returning to his boyhood football club Atletico Madrid, hoping to recapture his old magic. Whatever happened that contributed to his steep fall from brilliance?

When Liverpool signed him from Atletico in 2007, former manager Rafael Benitez built the team around his lone striker. Playmaker Xabi Alonso and wide players like Yossi Benayoun, Ryan Babel and Dirk Kuyt were all instructed to feed the star player. Captain Steven Gerrard was also pushed further forward to lend support.

With such strong supporting crew, the world got to see Torres at his peak. Defenders struggled with his acceleration, he had an adhesive first touch, aerial ability and his finishing was lethal, from tap-ins to solo runs to outrageous volleys.

With tactics that suited his style of play and plenty of service, Torres flourished, banging in 65 goals in 102 EPL games. His first couple of EPL seasons were undoubtedly a success.

Then he suffered a series of niggling injuries which caused him to lose some of that blinding speed, and suddenly his performances dipped and fluctuated. He became moody in his final two seasons with Liverpool, and in January 2011, Reds manager Kenny Dalglish sold him to Chelsea for a then-English record of 50 million pounds (S$101 million).

But when Torres swopped Anfield for Stamford Bridge, it was not just the colour of his jersey that changed. The Blues' playing system was vastly different from that of the Reds', and Torres suffered.

Used to being "numero uno" in front of the Kop, he had to play second fiddle at Chelsea. Told to play alongside and even drift wide to make space for Didier Drogba, the Spaniard had fewer scoring opportunities and his confidence went into a tailspin.

His time at Chelsea started on a torrid note when it took him 903 minutes to get his first goal. That was also the only time he found the net in a blue shirt that season in 18 games.

He missed an open goal in comical fashion against Manchester United at Old Trafford during that dry spell. It would be a blooper that would haunt him throughout his Stamford Bridge career.

In March 2012, he netted twice for the Blues in a 5-2 FA Cup quarter-final win over Leicester. Those were his first goals in five months, a run that stretched over 24 games.

This season, it is clear he is no longer wanted at Chelsea when the club signed Diego Costa and Drogba, now 36 and still very much a fan favourite, returned. To make it even worse, his form plunged to such depths that he was dropped by Spain, although he did make the 2014 World Cup squad.

Overall, he scored just 20 EPL goals for Chelsea. That worked out to be 2.5 million pounds per strike. Even a billionaire like Roman Abramovich will feel the pinch.

Loaned out to AC Milan, it is thought that the slower, more deliberate nature of Italian Serie A football will suit him, as he no longer has the searing pace.

But after three years of struggling in London, his confidence is shattered. His first touch is rusty, he was reluctant to shoot, he was running around aimlessly. In 10 league games for Milan, he scored just once. Still, some of his misses at Milan is pure comedy gold.

From being the scourge of defences, he was downgraded from his status as a blue chip footballer to the sport's laughing stock. There are YouTube compilations of his greatest misses. Memes had been created to mock his fall from grace. It is hoped that by rejoining Atletico, his first club, can bring back the Torres of old.

But at 30, his explosive speed no longer there and totally sapped of confidence, there are fears that his best days are already far behind him.

As one of the jokes go, he might be better off at playing tennis... because he never hits the net.

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