Fernando Torres. Signed: January 31 2013. On the occasion of his two year ‘anniversary’ let’s have a recap.
The year that was: rise & fall of ‘El Nino’!!
The flash bugs going crazy, fans hold their breath, pinch themselves trying to bring themselves out of this dreamland, the club chief executive has almost a smug grin after pulling out a miracle out of his hat and the miracle himself holds his new blue skin across his pumped up chest and flashes a million dollar smile that is oozing confidence and shouting to the fans “I’ m here, everything’s gonna be alright !! ” ..
Welcome to the setting for Fernando Torres signing for Chelsea . In the modern era of football, the signings of players go a long way in signifying various things for a club – from club’s aspirations (titles, survival etc ) to club’s financial prowess. But when you are backed by one of the richest man on the planet let alone Russia you don’t need to worry the financial aspect. And after almost years of admiration and a month long public courting by Chelsea when Liverpool finally decided to part their ways with one of their prized asset, it was going to be a Breaking News of seismic proportions.
And when Fernando Jose Torres Sanz finally put pen to the paper and became a Chelsea player and in the process a record British signing and the 4th most expensive signing ever in Europe, you could sense world was never gonna be the same. As it turned out It never was !! … So I suggest you take a nice snugly couch, fix yourself some coffee cause it’s gonna be a long ride, a saga of epic proportions !!
The Golden Years:
Young star at Atletico Madrid:
The writing was there on the wall for Torres from the earliest of times. After fiddling with his choices in adolescent years on which position to play, he finally settled onto a position for which he was going to get world recognition. Torres was voted the best under-14 player in Europe following stupendous performances in 1998 NIKE cup.
Torres sailed through the youth ranks of Atletico Madrid and made his league debut in 2001 against CD Leganes and a week later he scored his first goal for Atletico Madrid against Albacete Balompie but missed out on promotion to La Liga that season (Spain’ s top flight league ) which Fernando himself considers one of the disappointments in his career.
In 2002-03 season Athetico Madrid were promoted to the top light football and it was also the season Fernando Torres announced his arrival to the world with 13 goals in 29 appearances a stupendous return for a player of his young age. But Fernando always had maturity levels well beyond his age as in his next and only the second season in top flight Spanish football he scored 19 goals in 35 appearances for Madrid and in the process became the joint third highest scorer that season.
At a young and ripe age of 19 he was handed the captain’s armband reaffirming the clubs belief in this precarious young talent who was setting the scoring charts on fire. This was only the beginning as many more goals-laden season came after this and by the end of 2006-07 season he had scored 82 goals in 214 league appearances for Madrid and in the process established himself as one of the top young marksmen in Europe.
Tryst with history and glory at Merseyside:
In the summer of 2007 it was clear that Torres had outgrown his boyhood club , he was now a big fish in the small Atletico pond and a move looked eminent to one of the top dogs of European football. The British clubs were the first to register their interest from Chelsea to Manchester united to Liverpool, everyone hoped onto the Torres bandwagon. But it was the red half of Merseyside who were the quickest to respond and snatched Torres off the market for a reported 24 million euros in a deal involving Luis Garcia going the other way.
At Liverpool, Torres was given the no.7 shirt worn famously in the past by the legendary Ian Rush and Robbie Fowler. Torres now had his chance at greatness in a once powerhouse club but now defunct in terms of winning trophies. Liverpool will always be one of the few clubs that can boast of a glorious past, a rich heritage, a barrage of world class players in the years gone by and a trophy cabinet overflowing with past heroics. But the club was going through a lean patch in domestic arena. Surely the signing of Fernando Torres was all about Liverpool sounding out the war drums to their rivals and that they were dead serious bout wining trophies and recapturing the past glories.
Fernando Torres was supposed to be their trump card, their key to past laurels, their golden eggs laying goose and to say that Torres didn’t disappoint will be an understatement. In only his second match and Anfield debut he scored his first goal for Liverpool against fellow title aspirant and rivals Chelsea. His debut goal personified everything Torres was all about when he took the ball near half-line and steamed towards the goal , took on a defender, skimmed past him and drove a low shot into bottom corner and the goalkeeper could only stand and admire !!
Torres‘s class began to shine through and he ended his first season with rich returns of 31 goals in 41 appearances for Liverpool. Torres, over the years kept terrorizing the opposition defences with his blistering pace, delightful touch, amazing skills and expert technique. His goal scoring exploits earned him a demigod status with the KOP faithful and his stature continued to expand in the Merseyside.
By the 2010-11 season, Fernando Torres had achieved a goal tally of 65 goals in 102 league appearances for Liverpool. More than half a goal per game or to put in other terms a goal every second game. Personal glories aside, he hadn’t won the number of trophies he wished for. Despite being the standout performer he was not able to drag his side towards glories and trophies. Experts pointed out that in today’s competitive world of sports you can’t expect a single man however brilliant to carry an entire team on his shoulders and in the process win trophies. A change was imminent again but “who would it be? ” was the question. Who had the financial muscle and the lure of trophies sufficient enough to prise him out of the claws of Liverpool.
Fernando Torres the international star !!
A star of Fernando Torres’s pedigree was always destined to be a star on the international stage. Form being the top scorer as well as the player of tournament at under-19 Euro championships to his World cup finals debut in Germany in 2006, it was all a smooth ride. His amazing club performances were rewarded with international football and soon he was selected in the Spain’s national team.
On September 6th 2003 he made his international debut against Portugal. In 2006, at the world cup in Germany, Torres lit up the tournament with his explosive displays, ending up as Spain’s top scorer. But Spain’s decades old search for international success continued. And it was only in Euro championships of 2008 that Spain finally realized it’s potential after decades of under performing.
And it was only fitting that it was Fernando Torres, country’s brightest young talent who scored the winning goal in the finals against Germany. Fernando Torres had finally etched his name in the history books. Fernando Torres was also the part of 2010 World cup wining Spanish team. Fernando Torres had helped his country achieve every major honor on the international stage and in the process managed a healthy goal tally of 27 goals in 91 appearances for Spain.
In search of Glory and Success!!
Torres “The international Star” had enjoyed every bit of success with the Spanish national team but the same couldn’t be said about Torres “The club footballer”. Unfortunate, but true and this was certainly playing on the mind of Torres. Especially after watching his Spanish teammates enjoying fair amounts of club level success with the likes of Barcelona and Real Madrid.
Ever since Torres came over to the Merseyside, Liverpool couldn’t manage to get their hands on any silverware in fact their last piece of substantial silverware was in 2006 when they won FA cup. So to say that a desperation or obsession for trophies was stemmed out of a long barren spell at Anfield wouldn’t be entirely false.
In the summer of 2009, Liverpool sold Fernando’s Spanish teammates Xabi Alonso and Alvaro Arbeloa to Spanish giants Real Madrid. After having just finished as runners up to Manchester United in the title race in 2008-09 season, The KOP faithful were expectant and envisaging good things in the 2009-10 season. But the sale of one of the two most influential squad members and stars of international pedigree was largely perceived as a “Regressive step”.
These recent turn of events and the age old barren spell were forcing Torres to reconsider his future and he was subject to a massive bid by Chelsea’s Roman Abramovich in the summer of 2009. But after assurances from club owners and manager Rafael Benitez, Torres decided against joining Liverpool’s rivals. Torres was promised club will be ambitious in future and will smartly reinvest the funds gathered from the sales of Alonso and Arbeloa. But he was soon to learn all these were hoax promises just meant to entice him in staying at Liverpool.What followed in the summer of 2009 will go down as a seismic shift in English football.
For the first time in recent years the monopoly of Arsenal , Chelsea, Manchester United and Liverpool on the “TOP 4” was broken when Tottenham Hotspurs managed to finish 4th and Liverpool missed out on qualification for the prestigious UEFA Champions League in 2010-11 season. It soon dawned on Torres that he was promised a rosy bed but all he got was a bench full of thorns. Things simply had to change if was to have any shot at winning some silverware in his club career. His situation alerted all the top dogs of not only English but also European Football.
And it was no surprise his age old admirers Chelsea were the 1st to register substantial interest in acquiring his services in the summer of 2010. But Liverpool were again able to fend off any interest and hold onto their newly crowned world champion striker. The season of 2010-11 brought new hopes and aspirations with their newly appointed manager Roy Hodgson. But what followed was a disaster not a single Liverpool fan could have envisaged.
Roy Hodgson’s reign at Anfield was what can be best described as disastrous, and after 9 draws and 9 losses out of 31 games he was sacked. The shortest reign at Anfield came to end. Roy Hodgson was far from convincing in his first high profile job but he surely convinced Torres. Roy’s disastrous spell surely convinced Torres his time at Anfield won’t get him the sniff of trophies he was craving for, it convinced Torres he had to move on in the search of trophies, it convinced Torres he had to take drastic measures to realize his unfulfilled dream of winning trophies, it convinced him he can’t please everyone and that to be successful you have to be ruthless. So with Roy’s departure the final nail in coffin had been struck for Torres’s Liverpool career. Time to move on !!
A new chapter: The blue dreams
In January 2011, the moment every Liverpool fan had been dreading for arrived. When after a month long public courting by Chelsea, on the final day of January transfer window, moments before the window closed, in a bid to resurrect their fading title hopes, Chelsea finally got their man. Fernando Torres signed for Chelsea amidst all the uproar and name calling by the Liverpool fans. His jerseys were burnt on the Merseyside streets; he was called a Judas, a traitor and what not. He was perceived as the missing piece in the Chelsea jigsaw, a star who would lead Chelsea onto glory roads, a star who would bang those goals for fun every weekend.
Irony rose its ugly head, as Fernando Torres’s first game in the Chelsea shirt came against his former employers on 6th feb 2011. Torres didn’t score, and Chelsea lost that match 1-0. Irony rose its ugly head once again and it was a bitter truth to swallow. But it was just brushed off as just another defeat, Or was it?
Predicting success in sports will always be one the toughest things or maybe even impossible and Torres was soon to find out and that too in a not so friendly way. His dreams were going to go up in flames and turn into his biggest nightmare. For a natural goal scorer, his biggest nightmare would be if he can’t score for extended periods. And that’s just what happened, for 734 minutes after signing on with Chelsea he just couldn’t score!!
And when he finally did on that wet, unlikely night of 23rd April 2011, Stamford bridge his new home, his newly acquired blue set of fans, owner and managers heaved a sigh of relief and thought the worst is in the past and lets now enjoy the new blissful future. But this won’t be a saga if it was all so happy and rosy, so early, cause Fernando Torres didn’t score again that season for Chelsea and ended up with an embarrassing and measly tally of 1 goal in 18 games for Chelsea. Embarrassing even for a striker in a semi-pro league but for a 50 million signing this was suicidal.
Trials and Tribulations of a shooting star !!
50 million transfer money, 1 goal in 18 appearances, 734 minutes for the debut goal, statistics and numbers weren’t exactly Fernando Torres’s allies in the summer of 2011. His dream move was just on the verge of turning into a suicidal one for his career. Critics and “media pundits” were ready as ever to pan and bring down a star.
Many reasons were provided for his supposed failure from team formation and style to insufficient off season breaks in recent years to plain lack of confidence. But the question looming over Chelsea’s hierarchy was how to transform this big money failure into success. Chelsea just couldn’t afford another big money flop given their bad record of big money flops (Adrian Mutu, Chris Sutton, Mateja Kezman, Hernan Crespo, Andriy Shevchenko will testify for that horror record).
Fernando Torres a superstar of international pedigree struggling for form in such an embarrassing fashion refreshed the ghastly images of Andriy Shevchenko’s miserable time at Stamford Bridge. To put in simple terms, Chelsea just couldn’t afford to have another Shevchenko situation at the Bridge and in the process become a laughing stock for British media.
All these events lead to the sacking of the Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelotti. He was blamed for the mishandling of Torres and his inability to successfully integrate Torres into the team. Andres Villas Boas (AVB) the enigmatic young 33 year old manager of F.C. Porto who had just finished a remarkable season in Portugal after winning three major trophies in his first season in charge was then signed as the new Chelsea manager.
The make or break season !!
The season of 2011 represented a lot of different things for different people … hope, optimism, borderline daydreaming was in the air, after all it’s the only time of the season when all the 20 teams are equal. But for Fernando Torres this season was all about second chances. A second chance at glory, a second chance at super-stardom at a different club, a second chance at reaffirming the belief that his fans showed all through his torrid time at Bridge but most of all this was a second chance to showcase to the world that “it’s still there !! ” , the old spark that made him the superstar that he is , “is still THERE !! “.
Torres did nothing in his first match for anyone to think otherwise. With a man-of-the-match performance in the season’s opener at Stoke, where he showed enough guile, willingness and sharpness of the old , made intelligent runs and was confident enough for a 50 million man. The blue contingent heaved a sigh of relief and hoped this was one of those steps onto the road towards recovery.
But this optimism was mixed with a sense of skepticism and no one could fault them as Torres had shown flashes of his 50 million talent at the Bridge in the last 6 months but not enough consistency to justify the heavy price tag. He still didn’t score and the match ended 0-0 draw but he still showed enough glimpses to shut the doubting thomases for a wee bit longer. But it all went down the drain from there on, he was giving good or average performances every match but not glittery enough for a British record signing and it provided more fodder for the never forgiving and nosy British press who were quick enough to brush him aside as just “ANOTHER CHLELSEA FLOP”.. or was he ??
The Theatre of NIGHTMARES!!
18th September 2011 represented a chance for Torres to undo all those things BAD in past months and become a cult hero at Chelsea. Because this was a fixture which he relished during his time at Anfield and his goal tally of 3 goals in 7 appearances against them will vouch for that. More than the goal tally it was the effect he had on these duels, how he made Nemanja Vidic (Manchester United skipper and one of the best defenders in the world ) look like a kid chasing a truck of dollies, how he toyed with them and embarrassed one of the best defenses in the league and made an absolute mockery of them. Nemanja Vidic’s two sending offs when facing Torres will testify for that. But that was the Fernando Torres of old , the Fernando Torres of Merseyside, the Fernando Torres of ruthless demeanor but can this pale shadow and poor representation of past reach the Hallowed heights of Torres of old was the question and only one man had all the answers.
But it all started horribly for the Fernando, if the fact that he scuffed a shot in the early moments when Anderson had carelessly conceded possession was not enough, United made them pay dearly when Chris Smalling scored a header on 7th minute. Chelsea missed number of chances and United pounced on their share. And United ended the first half on a commanding 3-0 score line. But all was not lost for the blues as the score line failed to paint the real picture. As this had been a real open match where no team enjoyed real dominance over the other.
At the first half interval Boas switched to a 4-2-3-1(A formation which Torres relished during his Anfield days.) from 4-3-3 and brought on Nicolas Anelka in place of Frank Lampard. And impact was almost immediate as Anelka pierced the United defense with a sumptuous through ball which rendered the United defense helpless and Torres obliged with a finish to match. He just chipped it past the United keeper and into the goal, a finish reminiscent of his glory days. The goal proved to be an impetus just what Chelsea needed and it infused a new life into Chelsea and its misfiring strike force.
For the next 45 minutes Chelsea kept on probing, in the hope of a draw or maybe even an unlikely win, who knew!! Because the way Chelsea was playing anything was possible. And then on 82nd minute the ugly side of Fernando Torres rose its head once again. At 3-1, Torres is provided with a chance to make it 3-2 and in the process shift the balance in Chelsea’s favour and make United deal with remaining 8 minutes + injury time in a nervy fashion. This chance represented Torres’s Season – “make or break”!! . When in that moment when he collects a through ball from midfield and goes past the keeper with a step over when he’s done the most difficult parts in the move flawlessly and only has to poke the ball into an empty net , when there’s a pin drop silence in the ground housing thousands …”HE STABS IT !!”… Simply stabs the ball into orbit instead of stroking it lovingly into the empty net. All he could do afterwards was hold his head in disgust and think “is this me … Is this really me??” In a single match, in space of 37 minutes he showcased to the world both sides of his game, the beautiful and the ugly, all in the space of 37 minutes!!
The UGLY side!!
After the horrible miss at Old Trafford which no need to mention became a YouTube sensation in no time and got its fair share of hits, Torres scored once again, in the next match against Swansea. And just like Old Trafford his ugly side rose his head once again, as he was sent off 10 minutes after scoring for a two footed lunge on Mark Gower. Due to the straight red, he was sidelined for the next three domestic fixtures.
Just when things were looking up for Torres, just when he thinks he’s clawing his way out of this whirlwind storm of predicament, just when he thought he had rediscovered his scoring touch, he’s flung into this obscurity of a 3 match ban.
And it was downhill from then on. Looking at Torres’s case was almost equivalent to being stuck in a dark hole or quicksand. Every time you try to find your way out you would find yourself sucked even more so into it. Every step forward was followed up by a leap backward!!
A few assists here and there, each goal like an oasis in desert, few and far in between. The assist column and the key passes would indicate that he has been involved in a lot of the team’s good work but he was not brought on by Chelsea to start the moves but to finish them emphatically. Let alone the emphatic manner of finishes, the finishing itself has been missing.
Turn over to 31st January 2012, exactly one year after he made his move to north London from the Merseyside, exactly one year after he crossed over in the search of trophies and promised trophies to blue section of London, he’s still stuck on the crossroads of his career.
The AVB & RDM era
It’s fair to say, there wasn’t much difference in the pattern which Fernando Torres played and behaved under both Andre’ Villas Boas and his assistant manager Roberto Di Matteo who later replaced him as a caretaker boss. Di Matteo’s short interim reign proved to be glorious one for Chelsea Football Club as the club went on to win the most coveted European trophy for the first time i.e. Champions League, which had evaded them all these years. Despite all the success, Di Matteo couldn’t do one of his primary jobs – “Revive Torres” and hence as a result was sacked mid-season just months after famously lifting the Big-eared trophy in Munich.
Although, implying that Torres was a sole reason Di Matteo got sacked would be outright foolish & obnoxious!! Because managers getting sacked & hired just doesn’t work this way and I absolutely refuse to believe that he was fired because he couldn’t make Torres “Work”. But to overlook the fact that Torres failed to deliver the performances that were expected of a striker playing for a team challenging for top honors, would be short-sighted.
Football is a results business and manager existing or perishing primarily depends on that. Obviously, Torres didn’t help Roberto much in achieving the results which were expected of him. Irony reached its pinnacle when Roberto was sacked after the Champions League match against Juventus in which Di Matteo decided to bench Torres after a string of recent disappointing performances.
Di Matteo’s last Premier league match in charge of Chelsea was against West Bromwich Albion wherein he hauled off Torres at the 60th minute after another one of his anonymous performances where he offered no penetration, goal-threat & involvement. Writing was on the wall.
Torres under Andre Villas-Boas or AVB as he’s called in some circles, was intriguing to say the least. Andre Villas-boas came into Chelsea with a promise that he has a plan to reinvigorate Torres & bring back his old spark just as he managed to do with Falcao at his previous club Porto.
AVB successfully managed to transform the fortunes of a misfiring Falcao who in turn repaid him with glorious performances in the Europa league & Primeira Liga, enabling Porto to achieve a glorious “Treble”. The owner, fans and maybe even Torres himself were filled with a tinge of belief that all will be great once again under this new enigmatic, methodical and young Portuguese manager who came at Stamford Bridge as one of those Managerial Pied-pipers.
As soon as he came in, he made no bones in making it clear that Torres was the first choice, but due to his awful confidence and form meant Villas Boas had to look elsewhere, namely Drogba “The Old Blue Warhorse”. However, it was evident that Drogba who all through his Chelsea career made a living out of surviving threat to his starting place by illustrious strikers in past ( Shevchenko, Crespo & Gudjohnsen to name a few) didn’t like being second fiddle to Torres.
Fernando too, as evident from his time at Liverpool & Spanish National team wanted to be the focal point of his team & disliked sharing his striking duties. It dawned upon Villas Boas that these two Centre Forward heavyweights can’t co-exist in the same starting lineup & he’ll have to make a choice between either of them. Villas-Boas though still alternated between Torres & Drogba until Christmas. But with Drogba going to African Cup of Nations meant Torres had to play. So, Boas was left with no option but to play Torres as the main Centre Forward & try to revive the flailing 50 million investment. But when Torres failed to shine even with Drogba away, Villas boas confined him to being a squad player & a Drogba replacement when required. This left the fragile confidence of the Spaniard in tatters. AVB’s last piece of action as a Chelsea manager was a tame draw against West Brom where he confined Torres to the bench, Just as his successor would do months after, Deja-Vu.
Fernando Torres was a magician under both former Chelsea managers. By using the word “Magician” I just did what Torres has been doing all this while at Stamford Bridge – “Create illusions”. His performances were unpredictable, refusing to be bound by a uni-dimensional pattern. Just when you thought all hope was lost & we just wouldn’t see any improvement in his case, he’d come up with goals/assists/performances that smacked you right in the face and shattered your beliefs. These bright performances generally were patches of rich oases in a grim desert of mediocrity.
These superb performances were never able to culminate into a rich vein of consistency & form which obviously didn’t please the Stamford bridge faithful & often left them high & dry with frustration. Part of the problem was expectation heaped onto Torres due to the humongous price tag & the pressure emanating after becoming the British Transfer record signing. Torres never was a 50 million player, it’s just the fact that Liverpool bullied Chelsea into paying the 50 million transfer fee & Chelsea obliged, as simple as that.
Another prominent factor contributing to this saga is, how Torres has changed over the years, Physically as well as skill wise. Torres first burst onto the scene as a young striker who would make darting runs behind the defense while playing off the shoulder of last defender. In order to fulfill this pattern of play, Torres was required to show bursts of explosive acceleration & finishing ability while remaining isolated from the build-up for most parts. But maybe as Gary Neville said Torres is not the same player & maybe will never be in future. Maybe his case wasn’t helped much by his teammates at Chelsea but if you want to be termed as a World Class striker you need to adapt how the team plays but that simply hasn’t been the case. After the summer youth revolution of Chelsea’s squad after becoming the European Champions, Roberto tried to implement a new dynamic style which was perceived, would suit Torres. But apart from some initial success, even that effort has failed too in majority.
Hope? Is there any? This would be easily discarded by some skeptics and some would say “Why not ??” .. He’s Fernando Torres for Christ sakes, Spain’s golden boy but the point is he indeed was “Spain’s Golden Boy” but is he anymore? Is the predator still there? These are the questions only “El Nino” can answer himself. Because if he still believes that it’s all there and it’s all just a bad phase then no one can stop him from being the ghostly striker that we all know he can be. But lack of confidence has been one of the things that has been his undoing during his time at Chelsea.
So will Fernando Torres go down in the history as one of those misguided Knights who lost his way by the lure of success or will he turn out to be a phoenix who rises from the ashes!! Time will tell!!
2012-2013 Season still in progress. Another Manager is at Chelsea a.k.a Benitez. Will he be able to revive Torres of the old? We shall see in due course of time. Torres has a competition named Ba in the squad. To be continued….