Fernando Torres sits on his couch, in a simple flat on the outskirts of Madrid, watching Chelsea play Swansea City on an illegal internet stream. As his brother Alberto Hernandez steps off the Stamford Bridge pitch, Chelsea fans cheer the entrance of Demba Ba, who will almost certainly take over the starting spot that once belonged to the man Chelsea fans know as Fernando Torres. The real Fernando Torres shakes his head and closes his laptop, then gets up to do the dishes.
Watching his brother struggle on the football pitch hurts, but he knows that his brother is living his dream. When Torres wakes up and walks to the train station to head into work, there will be no media following him. He's an accountant now, and for the first time in his life, he is happy.
A month ago, an SB Nation employee informed me of a tip they received, alleging that the man who currently plays as Fernando Torres for Chelsea is an impostor. Were this tip about any other footballer, it would have gone disregarded, but in the case of Torres, it seemed like the only logical explanation for his terrible play since moving to Chelsea.
I flew to Tenerife to investigate, and the details I was able to unearth are jarring, but simultaneously a perfect explanation for what's happened to the career of the man the public believes to be Fernando Torres.
This story isn't anything like a popular Disney film where two separated siblings meet years later at summer camp. Neither Fernando Torres or Alberto Hernandez knew their biological parents. Their mother, a young and poor single parent-to-be, decided to give her two boys up for adoption when she found out she was pregnant with identical twins. Social services got her in touch with a university that was looking to study the development of identical twins in different households who had no clue that they had a twin elsewhere.
Fernando went to a family in Madrid and was never told that he was adopted. As far as he knew, he was the biological son of Flori Sanz and Jose Torres. His older siblings obviously figured out that their mother was never pregnant with Fernando, but kept the family's secret as children, and eventually ceased to care about Fernando's biological parents. It's not that they're keeping a secret these days, but more that they never think about where he came from. To Israel and Maria Paz Torres, Fernando has always been their brother.
Growing up in Madrid, Fernando had access to high-level youth teams, and eventually won a trial with Atletico Madrid in his youth. He joined the Atletico Madrid youth team at 11-years-old, slowly became a star, won a youth title as a 15-year-old, and was eventually promoted to the first team as a teenager. His football career skyrocketed, as he became a Spanish international and one of La Liga's biggest stars before he transfered to Liverpool.
The story of Alberto Hernandez is a much different one. He was adopted by farmers and worked the land. Until the age of 16, he had never seen cable or satellite television. Alberto's father wanted him to inherit the family farm, but he always had a fascination with numbers and earned excellent marks in math in school. He had big dreams, but his father insisted that if he didn't want to take over the family business, he should at least do something sensible that would earn him a steady paycheck and assist his father in running the farm in some way. So, Alberto became an accountant.
He always liked football, though he didn't know much about the big stars. He read about the Spanish national side, and his grandfather was a casual supporter of Sevilla. He was the best player at his school and regularly kicked a ball around the farm as a child, but never harbored aspirations of becoming serious player. He never tried out for any of the higher level youth teams in his area, because it simply never occurred to him that football was something he should play competitively or work on seriously.
When he went to university, Alberto saw football on something other than a grainy black and white television for the first time in his life, and he was hooked. In 2002, him and his friends watched a young man named Fernando Torres break onto the La Liga scene and score in an Atletico Madrid match. Someone joked that Alberto and Torres shared some features and looked a bit similar. At this time, their resemblance wasn't entirely obvious. In his off-the-farm, early-university rebellious phase, Alberto shaved his head and didn't shave his facial hair.
From the first time he saw La Liga, Alberto became obsessed. He was too self-conscious to play football in a league, but watched the game and worked out constantly. He watched football matches with friends, but just appeared to be a casual fan to most. In private, the game was the world to Alberto, and not just because of what happened on the pitch.
He spent his days dreaming about playing in front of roaring crowds, using the world's finest hair product, and taking money baths. He wanted the exact opposite of everything he had coming to him in his soon-to-be life as an accountant, from the fame to the unpredictability of the lifestyle.
As time went on, more and more people would joke to Alberto that he looked a lot like Fernando Torres. Their status as identical twins still wasn't incredibly obvious, though that could have been because everyone that Alberto met convinced themselves that Torres couldn't possibly have a long-lost twin that no one knew about. The professional fitness training that Torres received and the professional grooming products that he used caused their appearances to be different enough to place some doubt in the mind of anyone who met Alberto.
Life changed a bit for both Fernando Torres and Alberto Hernandez in 2010, just before the World Cup. Alberto had begun to seriously hate his boring life as an accountant, his boring flat, and as sweet as she was, his boring girlfriend. Fernando returned to the World Cup too quickly after injury and had to endure unbearable media scrutiny when he failed to reproduce his form from Euro 2008.
Ever since he became a global superstar, Torres daydreamt about a quiet and simple life, one with no media pressures. Whenever he tried to share these feelings with his girlfriend -- and now wife -- she told him to cut the crazy talk and focus on his football. Since July of 2010, Fernando has been focused on anything but.
Torres had never enjoyed the media spotlight and always loathed the press, but this served as a bit of a breaking point for him. He needed to get away from everything, at least temporarily, or he was going to go crazy. In the week between the end of the World Cup and his return to Liverpool training, unbeknownst to everyone, Torres went on a secret vacation to Tenerife. He didn't even tell his girlfriend.
His trip -- booked through a massive all-inclusive vacation provider, so he could partake in a holiday like somewhat normal people do -- happened to coincide with the similarly secret vacation of Alberto Hernandez. For a year, Alberto had saved for his first ever trip outside of the Spanish mainland, though a man of his background could only dream so big. He wanted to go somewhere he'd at least feel comfortably with culturally.
In July of 2010, Fernando Torres and Alberto Hernandez met for the first time in Tenerife.
Alberto and Fernando crossed paths a horseback riding class. Alberto knew how to ride horses, of course, but he felt like coming in from the beach to laugh at posh people who had never touched an animal larger than a lap dog. And there, atop a horse, looking like a complete jackass, was Fernando Torres.
The resemblance that the two shared suddenly became very real to Alberto. When watching Torres on television, it was easy to rationalize the improbability of the most expensive striker in history having a secret, long lost identical twin. But with Fernando staring him in the face, he couldn't deny the striking similarity between the two anymore. Like a ton of bricks, the reality hit Alberto that he had more than a coincidental connection with a man who his university friends had joked about being his twin for nearly a decade.
For Fernando, this meeting was even more stunning. At least Alberto knew about the existence of a very famous person that resembled him strongly. Fernando had no idea about Alberto's existence, because he had no reason to know and no way of knowing.
"I was already stunned to meet Fernando Torres at the resort where I work here in Tenerife," Fernando and Alberto's horseback riding instructor, who has asked to remain anonymous, told me as we met at a cafe in Santa Cruz. "But you can imagine my shock when I saw another man who looked exactly like him in my class. It was surreal."
"They were much more stunned than I was, though the brother who was not Fernando Torres looked a bit less shocked. I guess he probably always suspected that he had a twin brother, since he's seen Fernando on television."
I was able to track down the waitress and bartender that served Fernando and Alberto at the resort as well.
"I know it's rude to eavesdrop on customers," said the waitress, "but I couldn't help it. I mean, there was Fernando Torres, the Fernando Torres, sitting at a table with a man who looked like a mirror image of him. How can you not want to listen to what they're talking about?"
"They tried to retrace their childhoods and couldn't come up with any evidence that they had been separated at birth or anything like that, but the resemblance was so obvious. There's no other reasonable explanation."
After dinner on the night that they met, Fernando and Alberto moved to the hotel bar, where the bartender claims the pair drank heavily and began to talk about their lifelong dreams.
"Fernando kept babbling on about how he hates football and the media, how the media's treatment of him during the World Cup made him want to quit football forever, and how he just wants to disappear from the public eye and live a quiet life, " said the bartender. "Alberto was flabbergasted, and told Fernando that he's dreamed about having a footballer's life for years. At one point, after he had at least 10 drinks, Fernando yelled 'You want to be me? You want the pressure? You can fucking have it!'"
Apparently, the pair took that drunken outburst seriously.
The details of how Fernando and Alberto swapped lives are murky, but here's what we do know*:
- Sometime during their holiday in Tenerife, Fernando Torres and Alberto Hernandez decided to swap lives.
- The pair did not decide to inform their significant others. Alberto is now living as the father of Fernando's two children, and Fernando is dating Alberto's now-ex girlfriend, Maria.
- The actual swap did not take place until January of 2011.
- When the pair met, Fernando gave Alberto enough money to pay his bills while taking unpaid leave from work.
- Alberto concocted a family emergency that would allow him to keep his job -- or for Fernando to take his job -- while he left for six weeks.
- During the six-week period comprised of the last two weeks of December 2010 and all of January 2011, Alberto hired a personal fitness trainer in an attempt to get himself into good enough shape to pass as a professional footballer. He already kept exceptionally fit, but needed to come as close as possible to emulating Fernando Torres.
- While Alberto was able to duplicate the fitness of the real Fernando Torres -- who suffered from various fitness issues during his career -- it took him the better part of a year to occasionally look like a professional footballer on the pitch.
*This information was obtained through anonymous sources at Chelsea football club and Madrid accounting firm Raul, Raul and Raul.
When I asked the horseback riding instructor when he decided to go public with his knowledge, he said that he feels Chelsea FC have a right to know that they've been conned out of hundreds of millions, while the public have a right to know that they're being duped. The bartender and waitress were unwilling to tell me why they decided to come forward, but the Chelsea t-shirt clearly visible under the bartender's company-issued polo shirt might be a clue.
Fernando Torres' new landlord has figured out the swap too. "I've been an Atletico Madrid fan my entire life. My father was an ultra. His father played in the youth team. I bleed for the club. So when Alberto left and came back looking even more like Fernando Torres than usual, I had a suspicion."
"I knew it was Torres for two reasons. One, because Alberto always had this miserable look on his face. This man was smiling when he came into the building. Two, because he had a Dolce and Gabbana watch on. Alberto wouldn't live here if he could afford something like that."
For some reason, Fernando Torres still wears an expensive watch, even though his landlord and my source at his place of employment who has discovered the swap inform me that Torres has a wide smile on his face every day. He loves his job, his small apartment, his quiet life, and he's grown to love his 'boring' new girlfriend, Maria.
Perhaps he keeps it as a reminder of where he came from? Or maybe a small part of him misses a life of fame and fortune? His landlord has another theory.
"I think it's his subtle way of showing everyone around him that his lifestyle is a choice. He wants everyone to know he can go back to being somebody whenever he wants."
But that's all it is. It's a symbol of power. Because Fernando Torres is happy with his new life, and he's never returning to the spotlight if he can help it. I've done my duty in getting the truth out in the public, and I hope that, for Torres' sake, the truth is too surreal to be taken seriously.