There are few previous examples of professional footballers who undergo such a huge change in form and image than the one-man saga that is Fernando Torres.
After Chelsea’s late and lucky winner against title rivals Manchester City last weekend, few football fans and pundits would have predicted the outcome that saw the much-maligned striker grab the points for Jose Mourinho’s side, especially in the fortuitous manner that the victory was snatched by the Spaniard.
With Chelsea currently favourites for the Premier League title, it seems like the right time to explore the on-going revival of the man who will be expected to carry much of the goal scoring responsibility on his shoulders if the west London side are to achieve more domestic silverware.
What do we think when Torres comes to mind? The man who gave up the adoration of the Kop at Anfield for life in the capital under the Roman Abramovich regime?
The talented, proven, strong-willed striker who tore many of Europe’s best defences apart single-handedly, but who then lost it all among the hysteria and bitterness of a gargantuan £50million switch? Or perhaps just a man who suffered such a huge drain of confidence that he could never return to his former self?
All of the above views are correct, but after a promising turn of fortune in this early part of the season, and a slow and gradual build-up of self-confidence and belief, there are increasing signs of not only an improvement in Torres’ all-round game, but a change in fortune as well.
In an ideal world, the former Reds man should have sat in the stands for his first game as a Blue. He should have then been introduced for a less significant match when the pressure and furore surrounding his move had calmed. Instead, he was thrown into the eye of the storm against his seething former teammates and fans, a recipe for disaster.
The decision was regarded as one taken by the Chelsea owner and not the cool, calm and collected Carlo Ancelotti. Abramovich wanted to see if his new star had what it took to break through the psychological barrier and perform immediately in his new surroundings. The move backfired dramatically, Chelsea lost 1-0 giving Liverpool fans immediate revenge, and the proceeding decline of Torres began.
There are too many negative aspects of Torres’ Chelsea career to mention since that wet and windy day at Stamford Bridge kicked-off a turbulent period for the number nine. But is there light at the end of a long, dark tunnel?
Whether it’s the television, the radio, the internet or in general discussion, when the subject of Torres arises, the immediate focal point is the contrast in his all-round game at Chelsea compared with his time as a Liverpool player, an obvious comparison to make when discussing such a high-profile and blatant decline.
Torres’ performance against City last weekend had many tell-tale signs of the misfortune and underachievement he has suffered so far in west London, but then something changed.
His miss from seven yards that went over the crossbar reminded many, I'm sure, of the multitude of simple chances he has missed as a Chelsea player.
SkySports commentator Gary Neville asked the question, ‘what have you done Fernando Torres?', almost eluding to the potential repercussions of yet another confidence-draining miss.
The former Reds man then took it upon himself to lead-the-line in the same fashion as Chelsea’s former leader up front. He won headers, made tackles, created a goal, showed instances of skill, clever movement, physical dominance and bursts of pace. All attributes not only associated with ‘the old Fernando Torres’, but ones associated with a mature striker.
To cap a gritty and determined performance, he then showed persistence and belief to anticipate the calamitous mistake that would provide him with the slice of luck needed to steal the headlines, but for the right reasons once again.
Many will now make the valid points to dismiss the potential revival of El Nino. His winner was his first Premier League goal since the last game of the previous campaign. He still missed an easy chance. His goals last season mainly came in the Europa League, and finally, he will never be the player he was at Liverpool, all valid points to make.
Didier Drogba is arguably Chelsea’s greatest ever player and striker, and the club’s most decorated and successful forward of all time. The Ivorian lead-the-line for Chelsea and this is something Torres’ wishes to emulate. Drogba did not always score, he did not always play well, but he was the man for the big occasion, and he forged an illustrious career by being that man.
The Chelsea number nine does not have to be the best player on the pitch to achieve glory. He does not have to score in every Premier League game to have a significant effect on the outcome.
Torres, like Drogba, should be forgiven for missing an easy chance. And if the Spanish international can score in most of Chelsea’s big games this season, or at least contribute to a victory in those vital matches, then he is emulating his former team mate sufficiently.
Finally, it must be said that the return of Mourinho is most definitely a huge factor in the apparent revival of Torres. Mourinho is the best man-motivator in the game according to some of the world’s top players. His influence and team selection have so far had the desired effect on the £50million striker, but there is a long way to go before the Chelsea owner can finally see his prize player fulfilling some of his potential.
The Chelsea boss defended the decision to send the talented Romelu Lukaku on loan to Everton, and described the Belgian’s immediate success in front of goal on Merseyside as impressive but at the same time, with respect, a different proposition than doing it for Chelsea.
The same outlook can be given to the Torres situation. Chelsea are a different team to Liverpool, even captain Steven Gerrard admitted it is a different task for Torres at Chelsea with so many world class players surrounding him, whereas although Liverpool had world class talent at the club, Torres was arguably the best.
Chelsea had Drogba among others, more experienced and arguably a better player than Torres in his prime.
This is the defining season for Torres. He is 29-years-old, in the supposed prime of his footballing life, and finally the main man at Chelsea. He has a great opportunity to work and improve under Mourinho and is lucky enough to be challenging on all fronts for silverware.
More importantly, Torres has to become a role model and a leader at the club.
With the likes of Frank Lampard and John Terry in the evening of their careers, Torres will be looked-upon by Chelsea’s talented young squad for guidance and direction.
When Gerrard was discussing his dismay at the departure and apparent demise of the striker, he was asked if Torres had lost the ability to be a world class forward. The Liverpool captain, a top professional and world class player, was obviously upset at the Spaniard’s decision to leave, but would not admit for a second that Torres was finished, even if he might have liked to.
Chelsea travel to Newcastle United this weekend. Having been rested in midweek against Arsenal it’s likely the striker will start. A goal for Torres and a Chelsea victory would go a long way to capping an impressive run of form for both the club and its Spanish forward.
For those who said he will never get back to being his former devastating self, you may be right. However, if fortunes continue to turn, many may have spoken too soon. Beware of Torres, a man on a mission, a player finally on the up.
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