Torres returns in eye of buy-out storm as Pool's most bankable asset
FERNANDO TORRES should have enjoyed a low-key return to work yesterday morning. The World Cup-winning striker arrived at the gates of Liverpool's Melwood training complex at 9.0 to undergo treatment on his troublesome groin and have his fitness assessed by the club's medical staff.
As Torres knows, though, timing is everything. As it turned out, he walked straight off the beach and into the storm.
On a day that might otherwise have been dominated by talk of takeovers, rather than transfers, the 26-year-old's return served only to remind all those parties engaged in the battle raging for control of Anfield how rich the spoils of war may be.
It is his appeal that, in no small part, has attracted the Chinese billionaire Kenny Huang to the club, as well as the five further suitors sources close to Liverpool claim have made their interest plain.
It is the idea of capitalising on his fame which means Liverpool's debt-laden absentee landlords, Tom Hicks and George Gillett, will not quietly acquiesce to the inevitable.
For two years, the red of Liverpool, imprinted with Torres' name and number, has been the most popular Premier League replica shirt sold anywhere in the world.
He is both evidence and cause of the club's global appeal. He is symbolic of the financial potential Liverpool's owners, current and would-be, see at Anfield, the reason why a side that finished seventh in the league last season remains an attractive proposition to one of the world's largest investment funds.
He is more than Liverpool's best player. For all his travails in South Africa and for all the lingering doubts over his fitness, he is the club's most bankable asset.
Whoever emerges with control of Anfield at the end of next week, they will hope to build their future, short and long-term, around Torres.
Whether they will have a chance, for now, remains open to question.
The player is yet to make any public utterance over his plans despite a summer of the most intense speculation he is ready to cut his ties with Liverpool.
Though Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson offered assurances Torres was ready to commit his future to Liverpool last week and the pair are thought to have held "positive" talks before the player left Melwood at 4.0 yesterday, until Torres himself speaks, the doubts will linger.
Barcelona's financial problems may have ruled the Spanish champions out of a move, and the player's apparent unwillingness to sign for Manchester City may have rendered the riches of the world's wealthiest club irrelevant, but the spectre of Chelsea continues to loom large.
A deal remains a distant prospect, but until Torres pledges allegiance to Anfield, Chelsea will retain a glimmer of hope that a £70m bid for the player may be enough to tempt Liverpool to sell.
Should Huang's takeover -- by far the most advanced offer on the table -- not be approved, Torres may yet decide to agitate for a move.
Should he do so, Hodgson would be left with just David Ngog, scorer of the opening two goals of his reign, Milan Jovanovic, a free transfer, and Dirk Kuyt, a target for Inter Milan, as his frontline strikers.
The Liverpool manager has spent just £4.25m in the transfer market this summer. He has re-signed Fabio Aurelio, rather than buy a new left-back, and, should no takeover materialise, faces the prospect of the Royal Bank of Scotland calling in a portion of their debt in October. A top-end replacement is unlikely. So much for the season.
More than that, though, is at stake. Liverpool without Torres are not nearly as attractive a proposition.
The battle for Anfield is centres on Liverpool's future. Without Torres, it may not be worth fighting for. (© Daily Telegraph, London)