Ferran Torres: ‘Lamine Yamal should be banned for what he is doing at 16!’

This is getting serious. Well, sometimes. Ferran Torres is sitting at the home ground of tiny SV Aasen 1928 laughing about how Lamine Yamal should be illegal, playing darts with Phil Foden and being David Villa when he is asked about the man about to stand before him and his Spain teammates. “If the last one had to go in off the post, the next one’s going to need three lots of curl on it to beat ‘Mama’,” he says. “You have to visualise it, believe it. You need a clear chance too; we were watching him last night and he’s amazing.”

Mama is Giorgi Mamardashvili, the 6ft 6in Georgia goalkeeper who has made more saves than anyone. Torres’s goal, bent past Albania’s Thomas Strakosha, completed a perfect group stage for the selección, nine points from nine and no goals conceded, although it was also the only one they’ve scored themselves since half-time in their opening game, and the margins are getting finer. “We’ve been the best team in the group phase, and that gives us confidence,” he says. “But things change now. We gave Italy a going over? In the semi-final last time we gave them a going over and we still went home then, a thorn in our side still. You can play well or badly, but now you have to win.”

Spain have played very well. Better than anyone and better than anyone expected too. Anyone outside the Öschberghof, at least: the team, strolling down from their isolated woodland hotel by Donaueschingen to training each morning, had more faith than everyone else. “Without doubt,” Torres says, pausing. “Without a doubt,” he says again, and there is another pause. Then a smile. “Without a doubt,” he adds. It could be his motto. “The first step towards doing anything is to believe it. If you don’t believe, there’s no point trying. But we have faith. Outside, there’s always less faith but as the games go by they start climbing on board. We have to ignore the outside noise.”

Which doesn’t sound like a man ignoring the external noise; instead it may even suggest one affected by it, resisting it. Could the doubts, the criticism, actually be helpful, something to fight against? Some external enemy to prove wrong? There is a big breath. “It depends … it depends …” Torres begins.

Much has been made about him calling himself the Shark – too much, in fact – but he too suggested it says something about his personality and has talked about working with a psychologist, learning to live with the pressure, to channel it. Xavi Hernández described him as the strongest player he had met. At times, he has appeared driven by vindication, a determination to fight back, an edge about him. And yet today, it feels quite different; he does. There is an ease about him here, the analysis delivered calmly, a reflection perhaps of his development and the environment.

Ferran Torres profile

“It’s not nice sometimes when the press in your own country doesn’t believe in you,” he says. “It’s not a fuel, exactly; it’s …” He cracks up. “I’m not going to use the word. You have to support your country. It’s not that they weren’t; just that maybe they didn’t have the belief we did. Ultimately few people have the belief we have. I wouldn’t call it fuel because we know how it is; we’re used to them not believing in you one day, believing in you the next.”

Today they do, more and more climbing on board. The difficulty for Torres is that Spain’s shift, their success has been driven at least in part by the wingers Lamine Yamal and Nico Williams, which has seen his opportunities limited. At Barcelona too he has not always been a starter, doubts that he would be in Germany growing. Luis de la Fuente, though, trusts in a player with a versatility and capacity to score when no one else has, again demonstrated against Albania. One of 10 changes to the team, Torres’s strike was his 20th in 44 games; no one has a ratio as good, a hint of Villa about his movement and the clean finishing. “My idol,” he says. “Hopefully I can catch him one day.” There is a contribution to be made, he is convinced, even if it is off the bench.

“I score with my club too – my numbers are there – but there’s something about putting this shirt on, something inside. I’ve been with the national team at youth level and there’s a pride. This is more than a team, our strength is the group. You have to make the most of the minutes you get; make them count and you’ll get more. For a forward, it’s important to score, to say: ‘I’m here, I’m ready.’ Sometimes the starting XI tire the other team and we can come on fresh and change the game.

Lamine Yamal has already made a big impact with Spain and Barcelona. Photograph: Foto Olimpik/Action Plus/Shutterstock

“Maybe we’re more direct that before; we don’t have so much possession. Maybe it’s a little freer. Every coach has his nuance. But more than a style, what you see is that we are friends on the pitch. You see the energy, the connection, the atmosphere: everyone is totally involved. You see us train and it flows. Above all, you feel empathy, synergy. There’s no rivalry; there’s competitiveness, but not rivalry. Of course we all want to play but it’s healthy and that’s super-important.”

What then does he make of Lamine Yamal? Ferran grins. “That he should be banned. What this kid is doing at 16 years of age!”

Actually, strictly speaking he is banned, or so it goes: under-18s are prohibited from working after 11pm. No one is taking it seriously but if the last 16 goes to extra-time, Bild claimed that strictly speaking he can’t play. Which, come to think of it might be an opportunity. Torres laughs. “Nah, I’ll report him to the police after 14 July,” he jokes. “Let him help us win it first. I didn’t know that; I’m going to go and tell him now, wind him up: there’s a joke to be played here. Off the pitch, we spend all day, all together: there aren’t groups. I play darts. I learned in Manchester with Phil Foden and all that lot. I’m not bad, but not as good as them: they’ve been playing years; in the pub with the beer.

“I don’t watch a lot of football normally but at the Euros I am because they are opponents we could face. We watched Georgia against Portugal. We beat Georgia 7-1 and 3-1 in qualification but those results are a bit false and things change now. The group is finished. We can expect anything. And we’re going to take it game by game. If we get to the 90th minute against Georgia and we’ve won then OK. Now you just have to win, any way you can. God willing on 15 July everyone everywhere says we played like shit and won it.”

The Guardian