A Different Week - The man behind Crawley’s late Serg
With a name like Sergio Torres, the curly-haired, white-booted Argentine was always going to stand out in the Blue Square Premier. However, since firing in Crawley Town’s 90th minute winner against Derby County on Monday, the exciting attacking midfielder has catapulted himself to back page glory, just the latest turn in an unusual career path that has already seen him go from being rejected by Brighton and stacking shelves in Boots, to playing against Chelsea in a cup semi-final.
Torres grew up in Mar del Plata, over 7 000 miles away from Crawley, and, after an unsuccessful trial with Boca Juniors, he began his football career with local side Banfield de Mar del Plata, combining playing with working in his father’s brick factory while attending a higher education course to be a PE teacher. He spent two seasons with Banfield until, in 2004, he decided to take a gamble, spending all his savings to fund a trip to England, where Brighton, having seen his highlights video, had offered him a two week trial. However, Albion manager Mark McGhee turned him down and Torres suddenly found himself stranded. "I just had an aeroplane ticket and a lot of hope, I didn't know much English…I didn't know what the people at Brighton were talking about."
Torres, however, was undeterred. "Mark McGhee told me I wasn't strong or fit enough for English football and that motivated me…I thought, maybe you're right now, but I will get myself fit enough and strong enough." He found some accommodation - sharing a house with some similarly destitute Cameroonian hopefuls - and joined non-league minnows Molesey, before moving to Conference South side Basingstoke Town just two months later. Whilst playing for the Dragons, Torres made ends meet working at the local branch of Boots, cycling between his two places of work. On a Saturday, he would get up at 5am and cycle to work, putting in a full shift before cycling to Basingstoke’s Camrose ground to play in the afternoon. "The first time I did this I was falling asleep in the dressing room while the manager was talking to us before the game. The strange thing is I got man of the match that day. But it was hard. The hardest thing I've ever done," he said.
The following year, Basingstoke hosted Wycombe Wanderers in an eventful pre-season friendly that saw Wycombe win 7-2. Despite the emphatic defeat, Sergio’s performance caught the eye of Wanderers' manager John Gorman, who offered Torres a trial and just two days after the game at the Camrose, he was lining up for the Chairboys in a friendly against Stevenage. He was signed later that summer for an undisclosed fee and made his professional debut a few weeks later in a League Two match against Cheltenham. With his long curly hair, affable nature and silky South American skills, Torres quickly became a cult figure amongst the Wycombe faithful, with some Wanderers fans even turning up to games sporting Sergio wigs. However, his first two seasons in Buckinghamshire were hampered by injury, severely limiting his time on the Adams Park turf. At his lowest, he contemplated returning to Argentina, but his parents persuaded him to persevere and he eventually returned after five months out to feature in both legs of Wycombe’s historic League Cup semi-final tie against Chelsea in 2007. The following season was arguably his best at Wycombe, playing in almost every game and being ranked 76th in Four Four Two magazine’s list of 100 best players in the Football League, sparking rumours of interest from Championship clubs.
Despite the Argentine’s sparkling form, Wycombe missed out on promotion to League One via the play-offs and at the start of the 2008/09 season, Torres moved on and went up a division, joining Peterborough United for £150 000. However, despite an initial good start to his Posh career, Sergio found himself drop out of favour at London Road and even though Peterborough won promotion to the Championship that season, Torres was transfer listed and the seemingly unstoppable midfielder suddenly found his career faltering for the first time in five years. Faced with having to drop down the leagues to kick-start his career, Torres enjoyed a successful loan spell at League Two Lincoln City before moving back into the non-league last summer, signing for newly-affluent Crawley Town in the Blue Square Premier, for a fee rumoured to be around £100 000. Yet again, the gamble paid off and with the Red Devils through to the fourth round and challenging for promotion to the Football League, Torres has no regrets about moving back down the divisions and could well find him returning to the professional game next season.
Ultimately, the man once dubbed ‘The Basingstoke Maradona’ is perhaps best summed up by a statement he made upon signing for Wycombe: "I am so excited. I want to play professional football in England so badly. I have given up everything to do it. I have left my family behind, my sister and all my friends in Argentina. I have lost a lot for football. But I love football and having come this far I am determined to make it. I know it is now or never."
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