Outsider needs to show he belongs
Fernando Torres' life at Chelsea has, so far, been a life of hesitation, confusion and regret. He joined knowing his first game would come against Liverpool and there were some close to him who suggested that if he could discover an injury, it would be a convenient way of avoiding the game.
Torres wouldn't consider it but the havoc in his head was apparent in his performance. There have been times since when it's looked like the havoc has never left him.
He had arrived at Chelsea talking about broken promises and false hopes at the club he had left behind. He travels to Old Trafford with his new club today wondering if they will change to suit him while others wonder what exactly suits Fernando Torres anymore.
There was an over-reaction to his comments about Chelsea's players last week. "When I changed club, I knew it was going to be a slow process, although I didn't expect it to be so long," he told La Liga's website. "Chelsea is, between the English teams, maybe the least English. That's because of the kind of player Chelsea has -- an older player, who plays very slow, who has a lot of possession, and that's what the club is trying to change now." Yet Torres' mistake was to say these things in public, because he is at a club where everybody has their say.
Chelsea offered escape when they courted Torres, but he knew as well as everybody else that there would need to be major changes. He may not have expected that so much of the talk of change would centre on himself and ask if he was worth it. Sid Lowe, writing for the Sports Illustrated website last week, suggested that when Torres was discussed by Chelsea in the summer, selling him was part of that discussion.
Torres was too central to Roman Abramovich's re-imagining of the club for that to happen, but Torres has found that he is not central to how the dressing room imagines itself.
Torres is, according to those who know him, shy and stubborn. At Liverpool, he was often goaded into his most destructive performances but Rafael Benitez would have considered offers for him if he had stayed at the club beyond 2010. By then, Torres had become dissatisfied but Benitez's stats also told him that the player wasn't making the effort he once had.
Torres is, essentially, a loner and like all loners, he can be tolerated as long as he doesn't reveal why he prefers his own company.
Torres found another solution for some time and that was scoring goals. At Liverpool, even as he struggled with injury, his record was extraordinary -- he scored 24 league goals in his first season, a record in a debut season for a foreign player; he scored 50 league goals quicker than any Liverpool player in history; he left with 81 goals from only 142 appearances.
Much of that was forgotten by the manner of his departure and the club he decided to join. Torres had appeared to embrace much of what was good about Liverpool yet he left feeling isolated and torn.
"There are more personal relationships and jokes between the players than there were at Liverpool," he said a couple of months after joining Chelsea. "Everything was much more serious there. Here, you don't have to prove you are a professional, it is assumed."
The greatest assumption made about Torres at Chelsea has yet to be demonstrated. He has yet to score the goals he was bought to score, but there have been glimpses of the player he once was.
Against Bayer Leverkusen last Tuesday, Torres didn't look like a player unsure of himself or of his place in the team. He laid on a goal for Juan Mata when he had the option to shoot himself. Torres looked sharp and capable of those devastating surges that leave defenders helpless. He looked like many things and none of them corresponded with a player short on confidence, who has scored only once in 23 games since he arrived at Chelsea (he had scored 15 times after 23 games at Liverpool) or was said to be diminished irretrievably by injury.
He may get a chance again at Old Trafford today. It is a ground that has allowed him to demonstrate his greatness but also his reduction to a trophy striker in the Champions League last season.
At that stage, nothing appeared to have worked for him. "Someone was saying that people weren't happy here," Liverpool's owner John Henry said after Torres had compared Liverpool unfavourably to Chelsea. "But I think since that person left people are happier."
Suddenly it was beginning to look like the problem was Torres, not the people around him.
Now Torres may wonder how much happiness matters or whether he has found it at Chelsea. Andre Villas-Boas is said to be already tired that the questions in England revolve around personalities not tactics, but that's English football and that's life with Abramovich.
Carlo Ancelotti might like to have talked tactics but when it came to Old Trafford in the Champions League last season, it appeared that Torres was being shoehorned into a side that craved Didier Drogba.
Torres entered another strong dressing room when he arrived at Chelsea and he has sometimes felt on the wrong side of it.
Last summer, Salomon Kalou, a member of one strong dressing room group at the club, remarked that "our players were preoccupied with finding out who was in the side and who wasn't. This disrupted our progress".
If this seemed like a general criticism rather than one aimed at Torres, he went on: "It is better to build a team gradually than to bring in players who will pout and sulk."
Torres was on the outside again. At Chelsea, outsiders have rarely lasted long but they have usually been the managers who have tried and failed to emulate Jose Mourinho.
Despite his time working under Mourinho at Chelsea, Villas-Boas is an outsider too, determined to bring in new methods and transform a team that needs transforming.
He has arrived at a club full of ambition and intrigue. While some players seemed to have achieved permanence, a manager, no matter how highly thought of, no matter how much he was part of Chelsea's most glorious time, can expect little. Ancelotti could tell him that.
All managers crave time, the good ones to complete their job, the bad ones to conceal the mess they are making. Villas-Boas is a thoughtful, technical and intelligent coach but that won't get him time. Success will and that will have to be achieved immediately.
The Torres who Chelsea thought they were signing would be perfect for his rebuilding. The Torres they signed can still give glimpses of the player he wants to be. In the past, he would seize the opportunity presented by a game at Old Trafford. If he could do it today, the outsider might begin to feel like he belongs.
Sunday Indo Sport