The fall from grace suffered by Fernando Torres has become the stuff of footballing folklore. Not only does it fuel endless debates in the watering holes up and down the country, but it also has a number of experts scratching their heads.
Just how does one of the most feared hit-men in the game plummet down the rungs to find himself the laughing stock of the Premier League in a mere three years?
What’s most peculiar about the Spaniard’s decline is that it wasn’t a gradual drop brought on steadily by advancing age or a dip in form, it was a sudden snap. One season he was on top of the world, the next season he was a £50 million joke.
Torres at Atletico
Having kick-started his career as a burgeoning talent in the halls of Atletico Madrid’s academy, Torres - who came to be known as El Nino thanks to his youthful features - quickly made the step up to the first-team, making his senior debut in 2001. From there on in he didn’t look back.
Following Atletico’s promotion to La Liga prior to the 2002/03 season Torres started to make headlines in Spain, finishing with 13 domestic goals in 29 appearances. The following term he continued his potent streak, ending up with 19 to his name in 35 matches. His club knew that they had something special, having already rejected a £28 million offer for his services from Roman Abramovich’s now-mega-rich Chelsea, and made him captain aged just 19.
The move to the Premier League
Three years later however and the now world-renown Torres got his big move to the Premier League. However it wasn’t Abramovich’s billions which had driven a wedge between him and his career at Atletico, but Liverpool, managed by a certain Rafael Benitez.
£20 million and Luis Garcia heading the other way proved enough to convince Atletico chiefs to part ways with their golden boy, and so Torres moved to England with a reputation hanging above his head which promised goals in abundance. As is the case with all foreign imports he had his fair share of doubters who suggested that he wouldn’t be able to adequately acclimatise to the English game. He quickly set about proving them wrong.
142 appearances for Liverpool in all competitions yielded a healthy return of 81 goals, whilst Torres set a new record for being the most prolific foreign striker in the Premier League during his debut season, bagging 24 to eclipse the 23 scored by Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Running in tandem with an equally impressive strike rate for Spain on the international scene, Torres’ form under Benitez ensured that his stock was at an all time high. The youngster from Atletico had become one of the most highly regarded forwards on the planet.
The monumental transfer
Naturally though his meteoric rise did very little to put to bed the interest from Stamford Bridge, and it wasn’t long before rumours began to whisper of a colossal package being put together to force Liverpool into selling their prized asset to one of their biggest rivals.
Soon thereafter, in a deal which has become the stuff of legend since, Torres was transferred to Chelsea for £50 million, once more carrying a weight of expectation around his neck. Yet where in the past he prospered the 30-year-old’s luck ran out, and it was only a matter of weeks before the opportunistic pessimists began to fill their boots with predictions of woe and the unthinkable notion that the man who had achieved god-like status whilst at Anfield may have already peaked.
A drought of 24 games without a goal, which was ended when Torres fired in a brace during an F.A Cup clash with Leicester City in March 2012, did little to ease the trepidations over his goal-shy fortunes, and though the club persevered with the man they’d broken the English transfer record to land, it surely wasn’t long before even they were questioning the deal.
The rest, as they so often say, is history. Torres now finds himself on the brink of a Chelsea exit following four seasons which have wrought havoc on his fearsome notoriety. Benfica and AC Milan look to be the two sides ready to scrap for his signature, with neither being able to boast of being amongst the superpowers of European football.
Of all the theories - and there are many - which detail why the Blues forward may have lost his midas touch, by far the most prevalent appears to be the confidence argument. ‘He over thinks things,’ ‘he doesn’t take the risks he used to,’ etc etc.
Yet whilst they are valid excuses for his accrued inability to find the back of the net like he used to, they’re hardly without their holes. The main one being that Torres had worked under some of the greatest coaches in the world.
The likes of Carlo Ancelotti, the aforementioned Benitez - who had the benefit of working with him at both Liverpool and Chelsea, and of course Jose Mourinho, have all failed to configure their teams in a way which gets the best out of Torres, despite the fact that so many believe the striker’s ability to put fear into defences remains lying somewhere under the surface of the shell he has become.
The truth of the matter, or at least how it takes shape in my mind, is that Torres will never be the player he was when he so effortlessly steered the ball home on a weekly basis at both the Vicente Calderon and Anfield. Far be it from me to claim that he’s done and dusted, but the stats speak from themselves, and it looks more and more with each passing season that he is rapidly tumbling down the other side of the peak when it comes to the highest point of his career.
He was the golden boy at Atletico, the hero who delivered at Liverpool and now he has become the subject of ridicule at Chelsea. If there's a player out there who has experienced such contrasting fortunes during his career then I have yet to hear of him.
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