Torres, Joaquin and Reyes: How a trio of Golden Boys found their ways home

Team 33's Raf Diallo looks at returning heroes of Sevilla, Betis and Atletico Madrid on this week's World Is A Ball

Fernando Torres, Atletico Madrid

Torres first made his debut with Atletico de Madrid in 2001. (AP Photo/Paul White, File)

As you watch Atletico Madrid fight tooth and nail with Spain's wealthier top two at the summit of La Liga, it's hard to believe that the club were once a byword for mediocrity.

Famously relegated to the second division in 2000, the Colchoneros failed to earn promotion back to La Liga at the first attempt.

More gallingly, all this was happening a few short years after they won the league and Copa del Rey double in 1996.

The ship has been truly righted since, even if they had to wait for manager and former Atleti player Diego Simeone to arrive back as a coach for an era of success to be kickstarted.

But if you look at the 2000-01 Segunda Division, Atletico were not alone among big teams languishing below La Liga.

It was the season in which neighbours Sevilla and Real Betis fought for a position at the top of that table and more importantly for promotion back to the top flight.

Betis, who as we spoke about on Team 33 last week was led to La Liga glory in 1935 by an Irishman, might have become a yo-yo club of late but their city neighbours Sevilla have enjoyed plenty of trophy success since, including four UEFA Cup/Europa League titles, two Copa del Reys, Champions League appearances and a title challenge in 2007.

But aside from a season together in the Segunda Division, Sevilla, Betis and Atletico are united in another sense.

Sevilla's Jose Antonio Reyes celebrates with the  2015 UEFA Europa League trophy (Picture by: Adam Davy / EMPICS Sport)

That dark period was a time when they each produced a club icon who appeared as a ray of hope, before the phoenix flew from its coop.

For Atleti, it was the blonde scoring sensation, Fernando Torres, who would earn the 'El Niño' nickname (or The Kid in English), while one-time Arsenal winger Jose Reyes was the hometown hero for Sevilla.

And at Betis, it was the Cadiz native Joaquin Sanchez, a lad famously breastfed until the age of seven by his own admission (allegedly a key factor in the development of his pace and power).

All three came through in the early 2000s, before leaving for different clubs at home and aborad.

But what also unites the trio is the fact that all of them have managed to make their way back home to their debut clubs.

Joaquin was the last to make the journey back home, rejoining Betis in summer 2015 after almost a decade away at the likes of Valencia, Malaga and Serie A side Fiorentina.

Joaquin in his first spell at Real Betis Picture by: Adam Davy / EMPICS Sport

Torres has not rediscovered the goal touch that made him one of the world's most feared forwards in his first few seasons at Liverpool, but remains an option for Atletico.

And Reyes, who famously failed to settle at Arsenal, was first to rejoin his hometown club when he signed for Sevilla again in 2012.  

Having made his debut for Sevilla as a 16-year-old in the 1999-00 season, he made just one appearance in the Segunda Division the following campaign, before exploding at first team level after promotion was achieved.

Torres made his first steps at first team level for Atletico in that low ebb season for Atletico, making four Segunda appearances and also scoring his debut goal against Albacete Balopmie with a perfectly planted header:

It was just the first winds of change brought to bear by El Niño, with 90 more goals to come before he left for Anfield in 2007.

Joaquin was the first of the trio to be recognised at international level, winning his first cap in 2002 and being part of the Spain squad which reached the quarter-finals of that year's World Cup, beating Ireland along the way.

You might remember that it was his cross which led to a disallowed goal for Fernando Morientes against hosts South Korea - a goal that should have been given as the linesman wrongly ruled that the ball had crossed the byline before Joaquin was able to divert it towards the box and Morientes' head.

But conversely, Joaquin was frozen out of the international setup as far back as 2007, with his final cap coming just before Spain's golden era. 

Reyes too lost his place around that time, but unlike his fellow Andalusian winger, he had not spoken out publicly against then-manager Luis Aragones.

"Right now, the national team is a mess, chaos and Luis doesn't know how to handle it in these difficult moments," the Betico had said after an infamous 3-2 loss to Northern Ireland.

Joaquin had left Betis by then, playing for Valencia on their right flank until 2011 when he then returned to Andalusia to join a Malaga side initially splashing the cash.

As the money dried up at Malaga, Joaquin was one of many departures and in 2013 went further afield to Fiorentina, which then had a strong Spanish contingent.

But when the chance to return to Betis came up this summer, there was only going to be one answer for Joaquin: "This is a dream come true. To return to Betis is what I wanted. I’m back home and ready to fight for this club."

Trophies will be harder to come by for Joaquin, who did at least win the Copa del Rey with Betis in 2005.

But for Reyes that has come true and Torres' decision to come home was influenced by the improvement Atleti made during his exile as he admitted upon his return: "The club have grown and time has proved us right. I have also won trophies, but I want to win trophies here. At 24 I realised something very hard, that I needed to leave so that the club and I could grow. It was the most difficult moment of my career."

And grow they have!

You can read more from The World Is A Ball series every Wednesday on Newstalk.com. To find past articles, head to the Team 33 show page.