Atletico Madrid veteran Fernando Torres said that the Europa League final victory with his boyhood club was more emotionally satisfying than winning the World Cup with Spain or the Champions League with Chelsea.
Torres, 34, is leaving Atletico for a second time this summer, having first departed for Liverpool in 2007. Since then he has scored Spain’s winning goal in the Euro 2008 final, won the 2010 World Cup and the 2012 Champions League — before returning “home” in January 2015.
“El Nino” has not been a regular starter during his second spell at the club, but, after coming on as a substitute in Wednesday’s 3-0 victory over Marseille, he told reporters postmatch that he would now be “forever grateful” having achieved his “boyhood dream.”
“On an emotional level this is the highest,” Torres said. “In my career I could win many trophies, I had the luck to play in great teams, to be part of the best generation of Spanish players who achieved everything there is, but when you have a dream since you were small, like this, to win with your team… When I left I did not think I would ever do it, but what I was taught was that if you battle hard then you can achieve things. I am forever grateful.”
Os merecéis el mundo atléticos. Orgullosos de este equipo y de esta afición. Gracias de corazón . No puedo ser más feliz / Atléticos you deserve the world. Proud of this team and this fans. Thanks from the bottom in my heart . I can’t be happier . pic.twitter.com/QT4KWPE9Qj
— Fernando Torres (@Torres) May 16, 2018
Atletico were too streetwise and also just too good for a spirited Marseille side — with two Antoine Griezmann’s goals superbly finished after naive mistakes from their opponents, and Rojiblanco captain Gabi wrapping up the scoring late on.
Atletico won the 2012 Europa League, 2013 Copa del Rey and 2014 La Liga title during coach Diego Simeone’s first three seasons at the club, but also lost in the 2014 and 2016 Champions League finals against Real Madrid.
“We had to keep going,” Simeone said at the postgame news conference. “The best way to win is to keep insisting, we had already lost two Champions League finals, one in the last minute, and then penalties, but these kids are the living history of Atletico, they are marvellous.
“First of all they are very strong men, and afterwards they are footballers who have grown year after year. The team began the game with some difficulties, but as time went on, and with the goal, we got comfortable. We have won again, which was what we needed.”
Atletico captain Gabi had memorably called the Europa League a “s— competition” when his side surprisingly dropped into it from the Champions League in December. The 34-year-old admitted he had not chosen his words well that night, but added that his team had now shown they remained one of the continent’s top sides.
“Now I’ll have to eat the s— myself,” Gabi said with a smile in the mixed zone. “That was a tough moment for all of us. This [final] was a very important game, as it allowed us to keep up at the top level. We have shown we have a capacity to suffer, and we killed the game when we had to do it. We have shown we are one of the best teams in Europe.”
Dermot Corrigan is a Madrid-based football writer who covers La Liga and the Spain national team for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @dermotmcorrigan