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After beating Barcelona and Real to La Liga, Simeone needs an even bigger miracle to resurrect Torres

If the Argentine coach succeeds where Jose Mourinho and Carlo Ancelotti failed and gets the best out of the AC Milan flop, it will be his biggest achievement yet.

Homecoming: Torres will try to resurrect his career at his boyhood club.
Homecoming: Torres will try to resurrect his career at his boyhood club.

AT THE BALLON d’Or ceremony in Zurich in a fortnight’s time, Diego Simeone will battle it out with Real Madrid’s Carlo Ancelotti and Germany’s Joachim Low for the title of FIFA World Coach of the Year for 2014.

Simeone would be a more than deserving winner. He has achieved miracles at the Vicente Calderon since taking over in December 2011, bagging five trophies on a limited budget and masterminding one of football’s greatest ever achievements in beating Barcelona and Real Madrid to La Liga last season.

But his toughest challenge yet now awaits him as he attempts to succeed where Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas, Roberto Di Matteo, Rafael Benitez, Jose Mourinho and Pippo Inzaghi all failed by rediscovering the old Fernando Torres.

Earlier, Atletico Madrid confirmed that the AC Milan striker will return to his boyhood club on an 18-month loan deal following a disastrous four month spell at San Siro.

As Torres departed Chelsea just before the end of the summer transfer window, his team-mate Petr Cech predicted he would score 50 goals in two seasons at Milan.

The goalkeeper probably now regrets that statement. The Spaniard only managed one in 10 Serie A appearances – a header against newly-promoted Empoli in September. Deployed mainly in the centre of a three-man attack, Torres was way off the pace every time he stepped onto the field. His touch was heavy, his shooting erratic and even in the slower-paced Serie A he was unable to compete with faster and more physical defenders.

Just like a string of Premier League summer signings – including Ashley Cole and Nemanja Vidic – he has looked like a player ready to go into semi-retirement.

By November, Milan were already planning to offload him and after a dreadful performance in the Milan derby five weeks ago he didn’t play again. The fact that vice-president Adriano Galliani was able to convince Atletico to swap Torres, who turns 31 in March, for Alessio Cerci is some achievement.

It is six seasons now since Torres hit double figures in a league campaign. He has become such a figure of fun for fans around the world that one almost forgets that prior to the 2010 World Cup he was one of the most complete strikers in the game.

He burst onto the scene at his beloved Atletico, becoming the club’s youngest-ever captain at the age of 19 and top-scoring for five straight seasons. Then an explosive frontman with pace, power, skill and dynamism he enjoyed some truly special moments in the Spanish capital – none more so than his brace against Barcelona at Camp Nou in 2004-05 and his strike in the Madrid derby in 2006-07.

Transferring to Liverpool in 2007, Torres would establish himself as a world-class striker – scoring 81 goals in 142 games and combining wonderfully with Steven Gerrard as the Reds went close to the Premier League title in 2008-09.

After his much-publicised €58m failure at Chelsea, followed by another humiliation at Milan, Torres now has one final chance at the club where he made his name.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester United v Liverpool - Old Trafford Source: PA Archive/Press Association Images

“I’m happy because I’ve said many times that I can’t hide where I come from. It’s an honour to be a part of Atletico Madrid,” Torres said at the International Sports Conference in Dubai on Monday.

“I made my dream come true when I played my first game for them at 17. I was standing in the stands when I was a kid. There is a time when everyone must go back home.

“I didn’t get what I was looking for when I left England. So we agreed it was best to find a solution. I was not helping the team. I thought I would be important for Milan, but I was not really important, so I needed to find my happiness, and there isn’t a better place than Atletico.”

But going back to his spiritual home is unlikely to be enough on its own to inspire Torres. There have been numerous examples from the past where fallen former heroes have returned to their old hunting ground purely for sentimental reasons – these include Andriy Shevchenko at Milan and Robbie Fowler at Liverpool.

If Torres is to succeed he will need the help of Simeone – a magnificent motivator who is famed for toughening up his players mentally and physically. Atletico star Juanfran is confident that the Argentine coach can work his magic.

“Like all our fans, I want to see the signing of Torres. Fernando is a brilliant player,” Juanfran enthused.

“I’m convinced that, with the desire he has as a Rojiblanco, and the help of the boss, we’re going to see a great Fernando.”

And if we do see a great Fernando, then it will be Simeone’s biggest miracle yet. Two of the greatest coaches of all time in Ancelotti and Mourinho have been unable to resurrect Torres; now it is the Argentine’s turn to put his healing hands to the test.

– Carlo Garganese

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