Fernando Torres was unique in so many ways, as Atlético Madrid and Spanish football as a whole had never seen anything quite like the man they called El Niño and they probably won’t again. But when a teenage striker scored a goal for Los Colchoneros last weekend against Eibar, many found it hard to resist drawing comparisons. “A new Niño to hold onto,” was the headline of MARCA’s match report. “The reincarnation of Niño Torres,” wrote Atleti-supporting publication Revista Indios.
Like Torres before him, Borja Garcés found the back of the net for the capital city club before his 20th birthday. The teenager had only made his debut for the B team a few days previously, before a mini injury crisis saw him named on the bench for the senior side’s fourth league match of the 2018/19 campaign, but he marked his competitive first-team debut with a goal in the final minute of stoppage time. It earned Los Rojiblancos a 1-1 draw against Eibar, the team Torres had scored his final Atlético goal against before his summer move to Japan.
Like Torres, Garcés said all of the right things after the game. “The debut is a bitter one because I wanted to win,” he said. “It’s nice to have scored, but it was a draw and I’d have liked a victory. I’m not very happy.” Just as it was all about the team for Torres, Garcés would have rather been on the winning side than been a goalscorer in a draw.
However, beside both strikers being Spanish and scoring for Atlético while still in their teens, there are a number of differences to their stories. The Torres comparison was an easy and obvious one to make, but scratch beneath the surface and these are actually two quite different players. Whisper it, but the still-alive Torres might not have been reincarnated after all.
For a start, Torres made his debut significantly earlier in his career. He was just 17 when introduced in a second division match against Leganés and he didn’t get on the scoresheet on his first appearance. It was a week later when, during his second outing, he scored the first of his 129 goals for the club against Albacete. Torres’ rise from that point onwards was rapid and when he was 19 he was made captain of the club. That’s quite different to Garcés’ timeline.
Torres’ debut was a lot more spontaneous too. Towards the end of the 2000/01 campaign, the youth teamer received a phone call from Atlético’s director of football Paulo Futre, advising him that he’d be joining the senior side for the 2001/02 season and that the club’s plan was for him to join the senior squad for the final weeks before the summer break. The call came on a Tuesday, he trained with the first-team stars on the Wednesday, before he was listed in the squad on the Saturday. On the Sunday, he played.
On the other hand, Garcés’ rise to the senior side had been a lot steadier. For a start, he’d already played some friendly matches for the club, playing and scoring in Nigeria back in May, a match which Torres actually played in and scored in as well. Then, Garcés took part in pre-season and played against Arsenal, PSG, Stuttgart and Cagliari. He even scored another goal against Cagliari and missed a penalty in a shootout against Arsenal. These might not have been official matches, but Garcés was well versed in the experience of wearing those red and white stripes by the time he came on last weekend.
Perhaps the biggest difference between the two, at least in the eyes of supporters, is that Torres is ‘one of their own’. The man from the southern Madrid suburbs went along to the Vicente Calderón as often as he could with his grandfather when he was a kid, before joining the academy at the tender of 11. Garcés, on the other hand, grew up in Melilla, one of the Spanish enclaves across the Strait of Gibraltar and on the Moroccan coast. It wasn’t until he was 16 that he left CF Rusadir Melilla behind to join Atleti’s academy. His skills have been refined there and he is very much an academy graduate, but just not in the same way as Torres, who’s spent his entire childhood representing the club badge and dreaming of playing for Los Rojiblancos’ first team.
Footballistically, Garcés has a long way to go before he can truly be compared with the World Cup and Champions League winner, but it’s true that there are similarities in their game. “They are the same height,” his father Manolete explained in an interview published this week by MARCA. “I have recorded some of Torres’ matches and they have the same way of moving, they have the same runs. On top of that, my son shoots the ball well and can header the ball well.”
Torres himself believes Garcés has what it takes to follow in his footsteps and was one of the first to post a congratulatory message on social media after the goal against Eibar. But what’s important right now for the rising star is that he is allowed to carve out his own path, his own career. Sure, there may be a few similarities, but he is not Fernando Torres and his story is unique. Let’s not do him the disservice of viewing him as Fernando Torres 2.0. Let’s look at him as Borja Garcés 1.0.
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