As Chelsea edged increasingly close towards signing Fernando Torres from Liverpool, the decision wasn’t as straightforward for the fans, as it appeared to be for the club.
“Fernando Torres is not worth £50m. He will soon be 27 and has a history of breaking down at alarming regularity. The club had burnt its fingers once, and should not go down that road again“, argued those who were against the move. “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“, instantly retorted the other set of supporters. The club, essentially the owner, couldn’t resist the temptation either and Fernando Torres signed for Chelsea on the fateful day of 31st January, 2011.
They overlooked the fact that the player they were signing wasn’t the one they’d fallen in love with; they overlooked the fact that he had appeared a shadow of his dangerous self in months preceding the transfer, only to rise when Liverpool came face to face with Chelsea. On other occasions, in other matches, he appeared to have lost that sudden burst of pace that shattered the legacy of many seasoned defenders; he lacked self-belief and often drifted out of games. Moreover, his off the ball movement, ability to make devastating runs behind the backline appeared to be on the wane. Injuries and overuse had taken their toll, and it was then that Chelsea appeared with a truck full of money. Such was his aura, such is romance that it blinded everyone involved as they celebrated the biggest signing in the history of the West London club.
Today, twenty-two months later, it’s safe to say that the signing has turned out to be a failure of monumental proportions, but not entirely useless as it has helped reshape the transfer strategy at Chelsea. From signing superstars at the peak of their powers whose value only depreciated, those looking for a final substantial contract after already making a name for themselves to signing world-class young talent with high potential, hungry for success, hungrier to improve, those with at least two contracts in them, Chelsea’s strategy has undergone a paradigm shift.
Fernando Torres was signed on a five and a half year deal for £50m, with the player earning around £180,000 per week in salary. Over the course of the massive contract, the Spaniard will cost Chelsea close to £100m. As of today, he has drawn £20m in salary so the total cost on the books is £70m, with the club yet to spend £30m on the contract. If a club were to today offer say £15m for his services, in reality, the deal would relieve Chelsea of a burden in the region of £45m, and the club should jump at the offer. Frankly, it’s not just about the money.
Only thing that depicts that Fernando is a finisher, in most games, is the number 9 on the back of his shirt and not what he manages to do on the pitch. Three managers, at least three formations, and two distinctly different teams (players) haven’t managed to get the best out of the player. With Didier Drogba around, Chelsea predominantly played to his strengths, and to be fair, in such a setup Torres wasn’t a perfect fit. He couldn’t hold up the ball, play with his back to goal, wasn’t particularly strong in the air, and didn’t depend on his physical attributes to get past defenders. Previously, he relied on speed, on his movement to get behind the defenders, with intelligent balls being played through the middle, rather than crosses from the wings.
He did display flashes of his old previous self occasionally; the hattrick against Queens Park Rangers, the breathtaking shot against Sunderland that led to the only goal of the game, and the last goal at Camp Nou were reminiscent of his time at Liverpool. Yet, on the whole, he continued to appear a shadow of his former self. The fact that he wasn’t getting regular minutes on the pitch was considered to be the reason behind his lack of confidence, resulting in the abysmal form that he found himself in.
Once Didier Drogba departed, Chelsea announced that they believed in Torres and that he will be the first choice target-man come next season. With Drogba moving on, Chelsea too decided to reinvent their gameplay. Extremely intelligent, creative players such as Eden Hazard and Oscar, amongst others, were added to the squad, and they didn’t waste anytime in establishing a devastating attacking band alongside Juan Mata, behind Torres. Yet, Chelsea’s number 9 continues to struggle. He has scored more goals, but none when the club has actually needed him to step up and deliver.
Chelsea have got off to a fabulous start this season not because of Torres, but in spite of him. The players behind him exchange positions, spot movement of their teammates early, understand each other and deliver delightful, sometimes unbelievable, through balls in the final third. More often than not, Mata, Hazard and Oscar themselves are the ones making the runs to get to the end of these passes, and not Torres. He’s seldom in goal scoring positions, drifting either wide or deep with alarming regularity. With the kind of playmakers operating alongside him, all he has to do is finish the innumerable chances that they’re bound to create rather than try to play the role of creator himself. When he used to provide assists last season, it came as a relief as he was at least contributing to the team’s cause. That’s not required this season, with the kind of players Chelsea now have.
The need of the hour is a proper striker, a centre-forward who knows where the goal is, who backs himself to shoot at the right time, who can run with the ball for five yards without falling over or meekly losing possession, who can gauge the intent of players behind him and is confident enough to receive the ball in decisive areas, and most importantly, who can score goals in the most difficult of circumstances. Sadly, Fernando Torres isn’t that player anymore nor will he be that player again in his career. Chelsea have been very patient with him; the fans have left no stone unturned in supporting him, but a time has come for the club to accept the harsh truth that they made a mistake and end this unfortunate, horribly disappointing chapter.
It is said that hallmark of an astute businessman is his ability to know when to swallow his pride, cut losses and move on. An astute businessman, Roman Abramovich certainly is. A time has come for him to end this venture of his, howsoever desperately he may have wanted for it to succeed. Chelsea would undoubtedly take a big hit, but the writing was always on the wall the moment signatures were put on the dotted line.