Tuesday 12 November 2019

£50m (€58m) man on borrowed time already

Fernando Torres. Photo: PA
Fernando Torres. Photo: PA

Paul Doyle

Excuses are like those miracle diet tips you see advertised on the cover of women's magazines -- the more there are, the less credible they are.

Over the past year or so a host of explanations have been offered for the poor form of Fernando Torres: his confidence is low, non-stop football has left him jaded, he needs a long run of games to fully shake off injury, the players around him are unworthy, his motivation is drained, he is trying too hard. And so on. Much more of this and Chelsea fans will be forced to conclude that the most expensive footballer in British history is, in fact, a waste of money.

It could be, as many have suggested, that he just needs one goal with his new club for his confidence to be restored and his old prolific self to re-emerge. At international level, a goal in the opening game at Euro '96 for Alan Shearer, on the back of a two-year international drought, propelled him towards becoming the tournament's top scorer -- but even during his fruitless streak with England, Shearer was banging in goals for Blackburn; conversely, while Chelsea flop Andriy Shevchenko was failing to score frequently for his club, he continued to net regularly for Ukraine.

Torres' performances, however, have generally ranged from tepid to torpid for both club and country for well over a year: if at Liverpool it was plausible to blame the poverty of his supporting cast, the same excuse hardly washes with Spain, and yet he did not score for his country during their triumphant expedition to South Africa last summer nor even during any of their World Cup qualifiers. Since 2008 his only competitive goals for one of the greatest sides ever seen have come in a Euro 2012 qualifier against Liechtenstein.

FC Copenhagen are not as lowly as Liechtenstein but, given that they come to Stamford Bridge for Wednesday's Champions League tie 2-0 down from the first leg, their visit represents an ideal chance for Torres to open his account for Chelsea, in his sixth outing. Hence Carlo Ancelotti is unlikely to rest him.

The manager needs him to rediscover his scoring mojo fast and if confidence is the problem then it must be boosted at the earliest opportunity, or rather, at the next opportunity, given that in his last game Torres failed to score against Blackpool, the Premier League's most porous defence. The fact that Didier Drogba has been left on the bench for half of Chelsea's matches since the Spaniard's arrival suggests that Torres is seen not merely as the future of the club but very much the present and, as such, the man whom Roman Abramovich expects to shoot Chelsea to glory in the Champions League.

A goal will not restore the speed that Torres seems to have lost, but it may render him less anxious in possession and less rash in his once-cool finishing.

Torres has enough superb displays in the bank to earn him more time to prove his form is but a blip. But at what point does a blip become a terminal decline? Already it is difficult to remember any great striker who has endured such a long run of indifferent form at an age when he is supposed to be in his prime, unless we include Wayne Rooney as a great. But perhaps neither Rooney nor Torres deserves that description? Or perhaps the intensity of the modern game means some players, even great ones, pass their peak much earlier than they used to.


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