Fernando Torres realistically nearing end of line with Atletico Madrid
Finally it happened. Fernando Torres, five months after scoring goal number 99 for the club, managed to bag number 100 for Atletico Madrid. It was somewhat fitting in what has been a bizarre spell back in the Spanish capital that he rung up his century against the side he netted his 99th goal against back in September.
Rojiblancos fans would be lying if they said they would have bet their mortgage on Torres finding the back of the net hen Luciano Vietto wriggled free and squared for him to tap home. He had already squandered a couple of chances, and there is a reason the phrase "doing a Torres" has become commonplace in European football -- and not in a good way.
Nevertheless, finish he did, and the Vicente Calderon erupted. It had been one of the striker's better cameos since rejoining just over a year ago and the crowd showed their appreciation for El Nino in the quarter of an hour he was on the pitch. It was his 20th appearance since the day in the Basque country when he made it 99 and ever since the milestone had been more like a millstone around his neck weighing him down.
The striker was so obviously desperate to bring up three figures that he was almost trying too hard. It sounds silly, but often at the top level players need to do what comes naturally and force the issue, and that is exactly what Torres was doing.
It had been a long time coming for Torres. After scoring in only his second appearance aged 17 in the Segunda against Albacete, there were six more seasons in the Atletico first team for the man from the southern Madrid suburb of Fuenlabrada.
The Atletico fan was living his dream. He was appointed club captain and led a number of strong personalities, including a certain Diego Simeone. His goalscoring first time round in Spain was good, albeit not outstanding. A Liga high of 19 goals in 35 games came in 2003-04, while the rest of his campaigns generally came in around the 13 or 14 goals mark.
It was not until his move to Liverpool in 2007 that he truly exploded, notching 65 Premier League goals in 102 appearances. That Torres was probably the most-feared striker in Europe. He scored the winner as Spain defeated Germany in the Euro 2008 final and his performances against Chelsea in particular caught the eye of Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich.
Unfortunately for the 31-year-old, it all went downhill from there. He was unable to live up to the heights he had set himself at Liverpool and was deemed a £50 million flop after moving to Chelsea. He cut a forlorn figure and went to AC Milan before returning home last year.
In retrospect, it is perhaps the three years he spent with Liverpool that are the anomalies in his career and the exception, as opposed to the rule. His goalscoring record at Atleti, Chelsea and Milan is not a patch on his time in the Northwest of England and perhaps his purple patch has skewed the way people look at him.
He will forever be a legend amongst the Colchoneros faithful, but perhaps the man many deem a "shadow" of his former self, is in fact just being himself.
Torres' name has been sung at the Calderon ever since the club let slip that it appeared unlikely he was going to be offered the chance to extend his stay beyond this season. Even with the prospect of a transfer ban -- lest we forget Torres is still technically on loan from AC Milan -- Atleti did not show any inclination to make the deal permanent.
With Chinese football on the up and Torres still one of the most marketable players in the game, it would appear that one last payday awaits, either in the Far East or Major League Soccer. Atletico Madrid are a side that harbour ambitions to win the Champions League and while the Torres return story has been something of a fairytale, the reality is he is not good enough any more for a top-level outfit and has to be moved on.
Deep down the Calderon faithful know it and one suspects that Simeone, Enrique Cerezo and the rest of the club hierarchy have already made their decision regarding him.
The only way he will be able to change minds is to score goals, something he has never truly consistently done in the Spanish capital. Do that and one never knows, but for now it appears El Nino will be riding off into the sunset for foreign climes. At least Torres can go having made it to 100. There was a time when it genuinely looked like he might never score again.
It has been emotional, but if the club want to keep up their ambition of progression and become serious players both at home and on the continent, there is no room for sentiment. With Jackson Martinez already gone to China, the club have shown there is no future for players who cannot perform. Moving forward, they need to look at bringing in new recruits capable of taking the team to the next level, as opposed to clinging onto the past.
Joseph Walker covers Atletico Madrid for ESPN FC. Twitter: @Joe_in_espana.