Steven Gerrard, more than most, is familiar with Liverpool’s revolving door of strikers. His illustrious career saw him take to the pitch with Robbie Fowler, Michael Owen and Luis Suarez, along with many more who cannot claim to be such household names. One by one, each came and went – the captain remained, doggedly turning in performance after performance even as the team around him was in constant flux.
The same fate would ultimately befall the partnership that Gerrard struck up with another forward to come to Anfield; he, like the supporters, could only watch on in horror as Fernando Torres departed for Stamford Bridge in January 2011. However, in the three and a half years prior to this frustratingly familiar end, Gerrard and Torres created something altogether unfamiliar. The unique partnership between the English midfielder and the Spanish forward is still revered on the Kop to this day.
There was huge optimism at Liverpool from the moment Torres signed in the summer of 2007. The 22-year-old had been top scorer at Atletico Madrid for each of their last five La Liga seasons, and had been entrusted with the captaincy since 19. Excitement on Merseyside reached fever pitch when his captain’s armband came loose one game to reveal four words on the inside: You’ll Never Walk Alone. In fact, this had little to do with Liverpool’s anthem, instead referring to the motto that he and a group of friends had adopted, but it reinforced the feeling that Torres belonged at Anfield.
This feeling would only grow following the Spaniard’s start to life at the club. It was immediately apparent that this was the player Gerrard had been crying out for – the instantaneous understanding between the pair was almost beyond belief. As early as his home debut against Chelsea, Torres profited from his first Gerrard assist; the captain set him free with a typically inch-perfect pass, and the striker ghosted beyond Tal Ben Haim before curling the ball effortlessly beyond Petr Cech.
This was a sight to which Liverpool fans would become accustomed. Perhaps the greatest passer of a generation working in tandem with a forward whose movement terrified defences was enough to undo almost any opponent in the path of Benitez’ side; it would take just a month for Torres to complete his first hattrick for the club. Who should set him free of the entire Reading back line for the crowning third goal? Steven Gerrard, of course. In many ways it is hard to pick out the highlights of this pairing, because so many of the great goals were almost carbon copies – even after these first few weeks defences knew exactly what they could expect, but they were helpless to prevent it.
Premier League, Europe, it didn’t matter. The duo was all-conquering: Torres scored his first Champions League goals in a crucial meeting with Porto, converting a Gerrard corner early on before slotting away another chance in the 78th minute. This highlighted his double-threat; few players have been able to boast such a lethal right foot as well as a major aerial presence. Gerrard himself scored from the spot and registered another assist, this time for Crouch, on the way to a 4-1 victory. Together, the pair dragged Liverpool through a tricky group stage. All too regularly it would fall to the duo to deliver results on their own, but more often than not they managed to do so.
It would be a mistake solely to cast Gerrard as the provider and Torres as the finisher. Amongst his array of talents, Gerrard was a consummate goal-scorer in his prime: El Niño was not often the one laying on goals for others, but when he did do so it was invariably the captain steaming in to apply the finishing touch. This is reflected in the numbers from their debut season together, where the two combined to score a remarkable 54 times. This was enough for 4th in the league as well as an eventual run to the Champions League semi-finals.
Ultimately, this was an era in which Liverpool were destined to continually fall just short of glory. In the following campaign, 2008/09, Gerrard and Torres came agonisingly close to the Premier League title that their partnership warranted, but the side could only manage second behind Manchester United despite amassing 86 points. It was cruel that injuries restricted the number of games the pair could play together – the two of them featured in the same starting line-up just twelve times. In a season where the title slipped away as a result of too many frustrating draws, the trophy would surely have found its way to Anfield had the duo been able to play together on even a few more occasions.
As it is, there is no silverware to commemorate the time Gerrard and Torres shared at Liverpool. Off-the-pitch problems at the club began to bubble to the surface in 2009/10 – Xabi Alonso’s departure ended up being the first of many over the course of the next two years, as an array of talent flocked away from what was turning out to be a sinking ship. An ownership dispute that ultimately had to be settled in court sent the club into chaos.
Despite all of this, El Niño managed 22 goals; Gerrard, meanwhile, contributed twelve goals and thirteen assists. It is testament to their partnership that they could produce these figures essentially on their own, at a time when the team around them was collapsing in on itself. Even these two greats did not have the capabilities to deliver trophies at such a turbulent time in Liverpool’s history, but they continued to deliver memories that last to this day.
One goal in particular that is embedded in the minds of supporters came against Everton: it was Gerrard who scored it, charging on to the end of a delightfully improvised flick from Torres to fire past the keeper at his near post. This epitomised the telepathy between the pair – each knew where the other was going, and they were both blessed with the ability to pick the pass. This has since led Torres to declare that Gerrard was “by far the best player [he has] ever played with”. The feeling is mutual: Gerrard has called the Spaniard “an absolute joy and pleasure to play behind”. Though they may have come together at the wrong time in the club’s history, the fact that they came together at all is something worthy of celebrating.
For some, even the memories are now tarnished. The tale of Gerard and Torres cannot be told without reference to the sudden and acrimonious split of January 2011 – murmurings in the background exploded into harsh reality on deadline day, as Torres completed a move to Chelsea. That the switch was to a team which he had repeatedly helped put to the sword was particularly painful: in the context of Liverpool’s bitter rivalry with Chelsea in the preceding few years, this felt like a final concession of defeat. In a cruel twist of fate, the move ultimately signalled the start of a torrid spell for both Torres and Liverpool – El Niño never recreated anything like his best form in London, while his former employers underwent a testing rebuilding phase that is only now truly coming to fruition.
A majority of fans have now made their peace with Torres. Much as it was too painful to admit at the time, nobody could be blamed for wanting to leave the club in that period – the circumstances surrounding the move were far from ideal, and certainly left a sour taste, but such things are sometimes unavoidable. It would be a shame to erase from the history books the sheer joy of the partnership that he struck up with Steven Gerrard; he took one of the greatest midfielders of all time and allowed him to reach new levels, and the result was a privilege to witness. No matter where he has been since, he will always be Fernando Torres, Liverpool’s Number 9.
There was one last bow for the duo at Gerrard’s testimonial in 2016. Anfield rose to welcome back the man who was once a favourite son; all is not quite forgotten, but is mostly forgiven. The connection was still there for all to see – Torres twice flicked the ball through to a rampaging Gerrard in a manner almost painfully reminiscent of that goal against Everton more than seven years previously. The match also brought to the fore the haunting thought of what might have been; Luis Suarez, who had also happily taken up the invitation to return to Anfield to honour Gerrard’s phenomenal career, wreaked havoc alongside Torres. The last decade has seen some exceptional talent at Liverpool, but rarely all together in one place.
Gerrard and Torres, though, did hit their primes together at Liverpool. Had the union occurred a couple of years earlier or later, who knows what might have been for the side; it is foolish to dwell on these hypotheticals, however, when the football actually produced by the pair was magical in its own right. Torres did ultimately end up as another striker through the revolving door, but in all Gerrard’s seventeen years at the club he never had a better partner.
First published on These Football Times as part of the Duology series: https://thesefootballtimes.co/category/duology-footballs-greatest-partnerships/
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