MADRID: Atletico Madrid striker Fernando Torres will miss his side’s top of the table clash with Barcelona on Saturday (Sunday in Manila) because of an ankle injury and faces an uncertain future at his boyhood club.
Torres’s loan deal from AC Milan expires at the end of the season, but Atletico have been hit with a one-year ban on registering new players from February by FIFA.
The club would therefore need to hope their appeal against the ban is successful or sign Torres on a permanent deal before Monday’s transfer deadline to secure his long-term future at the club.
The former Liverpool and Chelsea striker returned to a hero’s welcome at the Vicente Calderon last January, seven-and-a-half years after he left for England.
However, his decline in performance in recent years has continued, scoring just eight times in 50 games since his return, including none in his last 19 appearances.
As a result, Atletico coach Diego Simeone has insisted that Torres will have to earn a longer term deal between now and the end of the season, but the 31-year-old is still loved by the Atletico fans who remember his better days when he captained the club whilst still a teenager.
Indeed, despite being sidelined by injury, his name was chanted in Atletico’s 3-2 Copa del Rey defeat by Celta Vigo on Wednesday.
“There is no division between Simeone and Torres for Atletico fans. They love us both unconditionally,” Simeone said on Friday.
“The fans want Atletico to win. They haven’t stopped loving [deceased former player and coach]Luis Aragones who is no longer there, or Kiko, who has retired. Idols like Torres will be loved forever.”
Of more pressing concern for Simeone is how to end Barcelona’s 25-match unbeaten run and regain top spot of La Liga at the Camp Nou.
Atletico and Barca are locked on 48 points at the top of the table, but Barca have a game in hand.
Simeone’s men boast the best defense in Europe – having conceded only eight goals in 21 league games this season – but even Atletico have been unable to stop Barca’s star front three of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez.
The South American trio have combined for nine goals in Barca’s five consecutive wins over Atletico since Suarez joined last season.
“Barca are the best team in the world and these three guys have a special partnership that is difficult to see,” added Simeone.
“There is normally always jealousy and egos, but there it is the total opposite.
“The arrival of Suarez has strengthened the whole system and the marvellous thing about those three is that there is no envy. There are healthy, happy people and for those of us who love football that is marvelous.”