The appointment of Rafael Benitez at Stamford Bridge has got pundits and fans discussing the possibility of a return to form for the misfiring Fernando Torres. Some have even suggested that Chelsea’s trigger-happy owner Roman Abramovich appointed Benitez solely for the purpose of reviving Torres – a £50m vanity purchase carried out by the owner.
Since Torres’ move to west London from Liverpool, he has been an abject failure. After joining in January 2011 he made 18 appearances that season, bagging just one goal and, more worryingly for Blues fans, performing poorly. However, it was reasonable to cut him some slack. Joining a team in January isn’t always easy and all players need time to blend into new surroundings.
But Torres’ form has never shown any signals of a real improvement since. In the 2011/12 season, the Spaniard made 49 appearances and scored just 11 goals. Throughout the season, his form drifted between terrible, poor and reasonable. Glimpses of “the old Torres” appeared here and there, but on the whole he was a waste of a jersey. It reached the point where pundits began showering praise on the player for making simple passes or good runs. This would be all well and good for a £5m player, but not a £50m one.
This season began a bit better. Some Torres goals coincided with Chelsea’s bright start, with Eden Hazard, Juan Marta and Oscar adding a new creative flair to the old, more pragmatic Chelsea machine. But his form has dipped again. So far, in 25 appearances, Torres has scored 6 goals.
Some pundits tried to make the point that Torres was contributing to other areas of Chelsea’s play. Again, all well and good for a bargain buy. But even so, Torres record of 2, 12 and 1 assists in his 3 seasons with Chelsea doesn’t point to a particularly fruitful time away from the goal.
Consistently, people have said he will “be back”. Some suggested he just needed a different type of pass. Some said he needed time to recover from injuries. Some said he needed a new manager.
From my point of view though, it’s quite obvious: Fernando Torres is second rate.
His most productive years have come at his previous 2 clubs. Firstly, at Atlético Madrid. He burst onto the scene in the 02/03 season, scoring 13 in 30 appearances as a fresh faced 18-year-old. The goals continued to flow. El Niño, in the following 4 seasons scored 19, 16, 13 and 15 goals in an Atlético team that floated around mid-table in La Liga. Their highest finish in his time at the club was in the 06/07 season when they finished a respectable 7th. Incidentally, Torres left for England that summer and Atlético ended the next season in 4th.
Onto Merseyside, and Torres’ undeniable potential began to blossom. Whilst at Liverpool, he scored 65 goals in 102 games, became their first player since the man they call “God”, Robbie Fowler, to score 20 league goals and scored 50 league goals quicker than any player in the history of the club. In those 3 seasons, Liverpool finished 4th, 2nd and then 7th but didn’t pick up a trophy.
Atlético and Liverpool are great clubs with success in their history. But since Torres began playing, they have both floated between the second and third tier of European clubs. And it is accepted that teams line up differently against a club like Atlético than they do against a club like Chelsea. Playing for Atlético and Liverpool, Torres would have seen more gaps in defences that were less cautious due to having a sniff of victory. Playing for Chelsea, that is totally different. Chelsea have won Premier Leagues and European Cups in the last few years. When teams are planning how to play Chelsea, they plan to lock up. They take up positions that cut out options. They sit deeper against the attackers, fearful of their quality. The best players adapt to this, and they flourish. Didier Drogba did it at Chelsea. At equivalent top tier clubs over the last decade or so, Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Lionel Messi have all done it too. Only the very best players can cut it at Europe’s very best clubs because of the way in which the opposition approach games against them.
And Torres has never appeared to be able to cut it at Chelsea – at the highest level of the game. There is no Steven Gerrard firing quarter-back passes into him because there is simply no space behind defences against Chelsea. Torres’ movement is one dimensional. At Liverpool he offered explosive runs into space. He tore holes through defences that didn’t organise well enough. But if you compare his movement with that of Didier Drogba or even someone like Javier Hernandez, the difference will be stark.
Torres found his level at Liverpool. A once great club who others had become sufficiently curious about the possibility of winning against that they took risks. That left the space for Gerrard and Torres to exploit. Liverpool stretched themselves up to 2nd for only one season. The elasticity of their rise was shown by their immediate plunge back down to 7th the following season. Even the most ardent of fans must admit that they have not been on the same level as Manchester United or Chelsea who have sustained their levels of performance and achievement for long periods of time.
Of all of the options given for a Torres revival - new manager, new midfield, new passes, recovery time from injury – one is missing: a new club back in Europe’s second tier. Only there will El Niño stand a chance to find his old form.
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