By Rob Boulton
It wasn’t so long ago that the name of Fernando Torres on a team sheet would strike fear into the hearts of defenders and opposition supporters alike, with the Spaniards blistering pace and deadly eye for goal making him one of European football’s most lethal and sought-after marksmen.
Looking at him now it’s hard to make any sort of comparison to that sharp shooter, as a serious injury coupled with doubts and demons in his head have left us with the shell of that once tremendous player. One who must now be seriously questioning what his footballing future holds.
After bursting onto the European football scene as a teenage goal assassin, he was nicknamed “El Nino” (The Kid) for his boyish looks but quickly proved he could look after himself as he battled Spain’s toughest defenders week in week out and managed to find the net on a regular basis. Becoming the spearhead of the Spanish national team’s rise to world football dominance also increased his market value, and when Liverpool finally prised him away from the Vicente Calderon in 2007 for £20 million they beat a whole host of European superpowers to his signature.
It’s fair to say his first three seasons on Merseyside were pretty spectacular, with Torres slotting into an emerging Liverpool side seamlessly and benefitting from the vision and passing of Steven Gerrard to score wonderful goals on a regular basis. He showed he could mix it with the rough and tumble of English football, something that had been a question mark against him when he first arrived in the UK. Scoring 72 goals in 116 appearances, he became a hero to the Kop and when Liverpool pushed Manchester United all the way for the title in 2008-09 before finishing just four points behind on 86 points, it felt as if Torres could be the man to finally end the long wait for Liverpool to become league champions again.
Whilst they couldn’t quite keep up that momentum, in the 2009-10 season Torres had scored 22 goals in 32 games before a serious knee ligament injury in April ruled him out for the rest of the season. With Benitez leaving Liverpool to be replaced by Roy Hodgson, speculation grew that the Spaniard may be looking for a move away from Anfield after seeing his close friend and mentor depart – and despite strenuous denials from both Hodgson and Torres, his form had dipped alarmingly as he seemed to have lost some of the blistering pace on his return from injury. After a disappointing first half of the season, Hodgson was replaced by Anfield legend Kenny Dalglish in January 2011 but in Dalglish’s first game in charge away to Manchester United, Torres cut a dispirited figure and offered virtually nothing to the game as Liverpool were beaten 1-0. When substituted in the game, Dalglish gave Torres a very public show of affection but within a few days he’d been allowed to depart Merseyside and move to London to join the Roman Abramovich revolution at Chelsea
Looking back now on the outcry from Liverpool supporters, it becomes clear that the man they were devastated to see leave was no longer the player the Liverpool coaching staff were seeing on the training ground, and the £50m Chelsea paid for him would have looked like fantastic business – had Liverpool not subsequently blown £35m of it on Andy Carroll…
As football fate often decrees, Torres’ first game for Chelsea was at home to old club Liverpool – and whilst the Chelsea supporters goaded their Liverpool counterparts in the early part of the game, a fine Jamie Carragher challenge with Torres bearing down on goal seemed to sap his early confidence and he suffered a miserable debut as Liverpool ran out 1-0 winners – with the Anfield faithful giving him full verbal notification that he was no longer anywhere close to their hearts. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but that game has pretty much encapsulated Torres’ time at Stamford Bridge, and were it not for the huge investment Abramovich has made in him there is a strong argument to suggest he’d be plying his trade elsewhere by now.
Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto Di Matteo have all tried and failed to get the best from him, and after the hugely unpopular decision to sack Di Matteo this season, it didn’t take a genius to work out the appointment of Rafael Benitez was as much about trying to get into Torres’ head as it was about getting a seasoned and well-respected (though not by Chelsea supporters!) European coach. Despite early signs of promise and a few goals to offer glimmers of hope that he could once again find top form, Torres has slipped away quite dramatically once again. The January arrival of Demba Ba from Newcastle has only intensified the pressure on the Spaniard as Ba has come in, scored goals and looked like a striker they can build a team shape and tactical formation around.
Torres knows this is his last chance saloon in English football, for if he can’t find the form and goals to shift Ba from the starting line-up it’s hard to see how he has a future at Chelsea – and were he to be allowed to leave which other English club would feel he was worth the fee and wages he’d be seeking?
If his time in England is coming to an end, then the only feasible options I can think of would be a move to Germany and the hugely competitive Bundesliga, or a possible return to Spain where maybe only Atletico or one of the lesser sides would be seriously interested. His German options would perhaps be limited to maybe Schalke 04 or possibly Borussia Dortmund (if they lose Robert Lewandowski), but even they may see him as too much of a risk and too much of a fallen figure to make the deal happen. In that situation you could only really see Spain as his other major European league option, and Atletico might welcome him home if they lose Radamel Falcao as is widely expected this summer – but other than those it would appear maybe a move to Russia or the middle east and their money-rich leagues could be his one of his only other alternatives.
Whatever happens from here on in, the spectacular fall from grace of Torres is surely one of modern football’s most fascinating tales and there are few left in the game who truly believe we’ll ever see him at the peak of his powers ever again.
Can you hear the drums Fernando? They used to beat for you…
What does the future hold for Fernando Torres? How long will he continue at Chelsea? Tweet us @talkingbaws or comment below.