Graham Hunter: Tears plus massive love-ins with fans as ‘kids’ leave stage

Andres Iniesta of FC Barcelona faces the media during a press conference at the Ciutat Deportiva Joan Gamper on April 27, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. At the end of this season Andres Iniesta will leave the Catalan Club.
Andres Iniesta of FC Barcelona faces the media during a press conference at the Ciutat Deportiva Joan Gamper on April 27, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. At the end of this season Andres Iniesta will leave the Catalan Club.

Although they are the two men of the moment one looks like a kid and the other still bears the nickname The Kid.

They are Andrés Iniesta and Fernando Torres. This weekend they’ll both play their last games for the clubs they truly and absolutely love – Barça and Atlético.

What’s more they’ll each finish with trophies having been freshly pressed into their hands – the “right” way for two legends. Two gents.

Iniesta, as you read this, is crying while he tries to say goodbye to his team-mates and various club officials in a ceremony because saying “adios!” in front of a packed Camp Nou on Sunday against Real Sociedad isn’t really sufficient homage for the man many consider to be the greatest in Spain’s football history.

He arrived in tears, aged 13 and with his heart broken that his parents, having wept themselves dry too, promised they’d be there to pick him up at the end of his first day in Barcelona but weren’t.

Because they knew, deep down, that if they picked up their son and he was still traumatised they’d simply whisk him up and remove him from the club before driving the seven hours home to near Albacete.

He was literally a tiny kid then and, apart from the grey flecks and the receded hairline, still looks about 22.

But his sign-off is to have captained Barça to the Liga and Copa double. A signature with a flourish.

A massive achievement for someone who, as leader, had to play a significant role in patching up wounds in August as Neymar wrenched himself free of the club in a hurtful, damaging and embarrassing manner.

A leader who had to tell his fellow troops after having been utterly mauled by Real Madrid in the Spanish Supercup “we can fight back, honestly we can”.

And Torres. El Niño.

The Kid came back to Atleti, not because it was his only option on leaving Milan, but because when his beloved grandfather made him promise to be a loyal Atleti fan all his life young Torres took it brutally seriously.

Since returning to Los Rojiblancos his relationship with the man he once actually captained, despite Diego “Cholo” Simeone being significantly older than him, has been a little choppy.

Not spiteful, not ruined …but not totally harmonious.

So there might have been a little frisson late on Wednesday night when the other substitutes with ambitions to come on for Atleti, with the Spaniards already assured of lifting the Europa League trophy because they led Marseille 3-0, saw the clock tick past 89 minutes.

Thomas Partey and Juanfran had already entered the fray.

Just one more switch could be made and Simeone was high up in the Stade Lyon main stand because he’s banned by Uefa after his unseemly, but typical, outburst in London against Arsenal.

I guess they were wondering, those on the bench, whether Cholo might order his assistant, Germán “Monkey” Burgos, to leave the club legend hanging?

Torres, like a good ’un, had been trotting up and down that Stade Lyon touchline for what seemed like an eternity.

Was that a little trench emerging as he sprinted 20 metres, turned and sprinted back over and over and over again?

Then came the moment. Two-goal Griezmann took the decision out of Simeone’s hands. The Frenchman, after the 3-0 moment, trotted over to Burgos and demanded that Torres replace him. A magnificent gesture and the two men hugged as they swapped places for the last couple of minutes.

It took my mind back to briefly sharing a moment of triumph with Torres.

It was in Munich and Chelsea had just won the Champions League thanks, partly, to the corner he forced in the last minute for Mata to cross and Didier Drogba to head home one of the best, and most unfeasible, goals in Champions League history.

Backstage in the Allianz Arena I’d just interviewed Mata and Frank Lampard in a private dressing room, with the European Cup, and as I was leaving through the main lounge out walked El Niño.

Because we get on well, and partly because he’d had a Heineken or two, he shouted: “Hola, Amigo!” and reached out for one of those Mediterranean hugs which we Scots shy away from by nature.

Anyhoo, the moment being the moment and all that, I reciprocated and was shocked that he felt flimsy, bony and breakable.

Different from the imposing, muscular centre forward he’s once again become back home.

2012 was a difficult time in his life.

He wasn’t enjoying himself much with the Blues.

His recuperation from a knee problem incurred with Liverpool and worsened when playing in the World Cup final and crossing for what would become Iniesta’s infamous winning goal had cost him mentally and physically.

The spirit was willing but mind and body were trailing a little behind. Nor did he feel particularly wanted at the Bridge.

Be all that as it may he helped them win that Champions League, scored a beauty in winning the Europa League final the following season and has, now, won his first ever trophy with the club of his heart – Atleti.

A point on Sunday, against Éibar, would guarantee second place, ahead of Madrid, for only the second time in 22 years.

And, having finally authorised his presence on the pitch in the final, Simeone spoke about Torres. It was “pukka” too.

“For Fernando this is a dream made reality. On Sunday I hope the stadium absolutely explodes in gratitude to him, he’s a fantastic guy. Everything he’s got he earned, himself, I never gifted him one single thing.”

Then, a couple of hours after Torres says goodbye to the fans who love him so, SO much at Atleti, Sunday night will conclude with a mass love-in for Iniesta at the Camp Nou.

You’ll read more about that here, and about him, because there’s still a chance he sees off his career in Europe with a World Cup win. Watch this space.

Thanks kids, Andrés and Fernando, it’s been emotional.

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