Transfer Deadline Day on 31st of January, 2011, will never be forgotten. Footballers were pursued ruthlessly, all kinds of records were smashed, and players were flown in helicopters to meet the deadline. All this while, the fans worldwide awaited their clubs to announce the signings with baited breath. The case which exemplified this perfectly was Chelsea’s pursuit of Fernando Torres. By the time the window was shut, Chelsea FC had spent over £70 million in acquiring the services of the Liverpool centre-forward and a young and talented centre-back David Luiz from Benfica.
To put things into perspective, the West London club spend more money on the last day of January than it had collectively spent after Mourinho’s departure. In the period between September 2007 and December 2010, the club’s approach had been conservative in nature. Andriy Shevchenko remained the only superstar signing, priorities were realligned to blooding the academy graduates, bringing in relatively unknown players to fill any obvious gaps in the team, and releasing experienced but high wage-earners.
Roman Abramovich and Chelsea FC – A fabulous partnership!
Many reasons were attributed to this conspicuous change in the club’s outlook. Hearing things such as “Roman Abramovich has lost interest in football and thereby in Chelsea FC. He would soon sell the club to the highest bidder, and leave.”, “With UEFA’s financial fair-play mandate coming into the picture, the club is trying to stand up on its own feet, and not rely on their owner’s largesse.”, and also “Upon winning the bid to host the World Cup 2018, Chelsea Football Club’s owner is under extreme pressure to finance the massive projects planned in Russia. Thus, has very little money now to entertain the masses that flock the Stamford Bridge every week.” Then 31st january happened!
When the club was en-route to turning back the time to 2003, many discerning Chelsea supporters were fighting a battle of their own. The 72 hours between Chelsea’s £35m bid for Torres and the official announcement witnessed the biggest battle a man can fight – that between his head and his heart.
The Head’s Argument
After stories of the first £35m bid broke out, the head outrightly refused to accept that the club could have tried to attempt something as audacious as this, and the report was outrightly dismissed as a hoax. Then Liverpool FC confirmed that Chelsea had officially bid for their star striker, but it was rejected as the player was not for sale. This was followed by a startling admission by the Merseyside club that Fernando Torres had submitted a written transfer request for a move to West London.
In the presence of the jury, the man himself, the head began his argument.
1) Roman Abramovich transformed the club from being the perennial underachiever to a Eurpean force by injecting his own money. Then he converted all the debt that the club had acquired by vitue of his investments into equity. The club embarked upon a mission to become self-sustainable, with an eye on the imminent financial fair-play mandate. After self-restraining ourselves for over two years, why should we go down the same path again?
2) Carlo Ancelotti didn’t mince any words while expressing the club’s desire to replace the departing veterans with five academy products, in the beginning of this season. A lot of money and effort has gone into establishing a well-functional youth structure, and it’s time to reap the benefits now. With players such as Gaël Kakuta, Patrick van Aanholt, Joshua McEachran, Fabio Borini, Jeffey Bruma, and Daniel Sturridge on the brink of the first team, there’s no need to splash that kind of money on a single player.
3) Unless Carlo has plans to change the formation from the presently deployed 4-3-3, we need a right winger. Considering Bruma is still raw, and Alex and Terry have been injury prone, we can sign a centre-back, but the priority is a young and dynamic winger who is equally comfortable with delivering crosses as he is with cutting in front the right.
4) Fernando Torres is not worth £50m. He will soon be 27 and has an history of breaking down at alarming regularity. We had burnt our fingers once, and should not go down that road again. Drogba and Anelka are on the wrong side of thirty, I know, but they still have at least an year in them. Rather than signing the Spaniard now, we can get a younger striker in the summer, who will not demand an immediate starting position in the team.
The Heart Responds
The heart, who had been waiting for the head to shut up, wastes no time and begins his argument.
Two words. Fernando Torres.
A player Chelsea fans have secretly yearned for ever since the Spaniard ended the Chelsea career of Tal Ben-Haim, before it had even taken off, in his first match for Liverpool on English soil. Each of the subsequent goals that El Niño scored against Chelsea only increased the respect and admiration the Blues had for him, even though his strikes, more often than not, led to a Chelsea defeat. After every loss, the distraught fans were struck with pangs of jealousy towards Liverpool. Now, the dream of seeing Fernando play for the team may become a reality and it’s too relishing to give up.
At Chelsea, most of the vital cogs in the team are over thirty, in particular Drogba and Anelka, who will soon be 33 and 32 respectively. There are a few promising but raw teenagers coming through the ranks, whose potential cannot be doubted but would need another couple of years, before they can be branded as “English-football-ready”. A batch of players aged 23-26 is the need of the hour, who can not only help in replacing the old guard, but will also aid the development of youth. Torres, at 26, is one such player. He is arguably the best striker on the land, with a proven goal-scoring record, and not just that, he also wants to play for Chelsea FC.
Fernando Torres is not the only man who should be blamed for the injuries that he has suffered at Liverpool. There are three reasons why Rafa Benitez should also take the blaim. Firstly, ever since Rafa has left England, Torres has played in almost all games this season. Secondly, Inter, under Rafa, had become a medical facility, with as many as 40 injuries suffered by the first team in the first four months of the campaign. At Inter, this was blamed on Rafa and his training methods, as most of the injuries were muscular in nature and were suffered in training/gym rather than on the field. Lastly, there was no quality back-up at Liverpool who could occasionally step in for Torres and give him some much needed breathing space. Here, he would have Drogba and Anelka.
As Chelsea continues to push for its first Champions league triumph, this season the West London club has an opportunity to ruthlessly pursue Europe. In Fernando, Carlo Ancelotti will have a potent weapon in his armoury.
Although £50m price is a steep one, Chelsea would not just be investing in sheer quality of Torres, the player but also in Torres, the brand. In the last two seasons, the Torres Number 9 jersey has been the most sold Premiership replica shirt across the world. His individual sponsorship deals are worth close to £9m, earning more than Rooney and Tevez combined. He would also help the club expand its reach and fanbase worldwide, and particularly in Spain.
Finally, the sheer joy a Blue would get while witnessing El Niño play for Chelsea cannot be measured in pounds.
As it is with all romantics, the jury ruled in favour of the heart, and thereby began the anxious wait for the club to announce the biggest news in years.
Fernando Torres – Chelsea Number 9.
The news of Chelsea’s biggest signing ever was met with widespread euphoria and celebrations. Also, the manner of announcement was befitting the stature of the player. Minutes after the Spaniard signed on the dotted line, he was interviewed by ChelseaTV, a live telecast of which was available for subscribers worldwide. Photographs of Chelsea kitman printing Torres’ first CFC shirt was seen doing the rounds on the internet.
With this signing, coupled with the signing of David Luiz, Chelsea FC and Roman Abramovich have sent out a strong message, a statement of intent rather. This is a well thought out move, with a hint of gamble associated with it. Whether it plays off or not, remains to be seen. Fernando Torres may or may not live up to the expectations at Stamford Bridge, but if he plays with the same zeal and passion with which he began in England, the fans won’t complain.
By virtue of a single signature, Roman Abramovich has answered all his detractors.
Writer’s notes: In the game against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light, Ancelotti dropped Malouda from the line-up and deployed his preferred 4-3-1-2 diamond formation after more than a year, instead of a usual 4-3-3 one. Drogba and Kalou played upfront, with Anelka operating just behind them, in the hole. The midfield comprised of Mikel, Lampard and Essien, while the defence remained unchanged from previous matches. This is a clear indication of things to come.