Monday 9 December 2019

Torres can't ignite Jose's ardour

Striker falls short in bid to win affection of Chelsea boss

Asmir Begovic of Stoke City saves a shot from Chelsea’s Fernando Torres during their Premier League encounter at Stamford Bridge. Photo: Mike Hewitt
Asmir Begovic of Stoke City saves a shot from Chelsea’s Fernando Torres during their Premier League encounter at Stamford Bridge. Photo: Mike Hewitt

Dion Fanning

If Jose Mourinho's style of management is essentially an act of seduction, it is inevitable that for every player who feels he is the only person in the world as Jose tells him how wonderful he is, there must be somebody out in the cold, wondering why they are being ignored.

In Mourinho's first spell at Chelsea, Joe Cole was publicly criticised by the manager. At Inter, it was Mario Balotelli and during his first year at Real Madrid, he complained about trying to win trophies with Karim Benzema as his only striker. Mourinho's recent complaints about his forwards at Chelsea are not uncharacteristic, even if this time they do appear to be unusually counter-productive.

The criticism of Benzema might be recognised by Chelsea's forwards. "If I can't hunt with a dog, I will hunt with a cat," he said of Benzema. "With a dog you hunt more and you hunt better. But if you have not got a dog and you have got a cat, you hunt with a cat."

Benzema would eventually respond even if Mourinho's time at Madrid is not a precedent which provides a happy ending. If he began by picking fights with Benzema, he ended at war with everyone. It is a scenario that is unlikely at Chelsea, even if it didn't seem impossible last week.

Mourinho moved on from criticising his forwards, a group which at the moment consists entirely of Fernando Torres, as Demba Ba takes a watching brief and Samuel Eto'o is injured, and broadened the criticism to those who had contributed to a third goal against PSG which was "ridiculous" and a "joke".

Yet it is unlikely that Mourinho's second spell at Chelsea will end as his time at Madrid did. At Chelsea, he has the loyalty of the key players at the club and he remains in position to win the Premier League and the Champions League.

They are top of the league this morning but outsiders for the title after last weekend's defeat at Crystal Palace and if Chelsea turn the tie against PSG around at Stamford Bridge on Tuesday it will be a surprise.

Yesterday they played with a purpose missing in Paris. Mourinho left Eden Hazard on the bench but Nemanja Matic's importance to the side was made clear. His contribution to the first goal was another demonstration of his all-purpose style.

Manchester City have games in hand and Liverpool can go back above them if they win at West Ham today. "The table is fake," Mourinho said, returning to another theme.

A home game against Stoke City was elementary stuff for Mourinho's Chelsea. On the sideline, Mourinho spent his time involved in the most straightforward aspect of his job – his equivalent of doing some filing – as he complained constantly to the fourth official, taking a break only to allow one of his deputies to have a say.

A home game against Stoke City is a game Mourinho's Chelsea can win without a striker or even with a striker that cost £50m, a fee which is the least interesting aspect of the Fernando Torres story, nothing more than the prologue to one of the great mysteries of modern sport.

Torres gave an interview yesterday morning in which he promised to work harder and earn the love and affection of Mourinho.

Torres has not diminished as a player, he has become unrecognisable to such an extent that sometimes it seems that the only possible explanation is that Chelsea signed a man who looked like Fernando Torres but was in fact somebody else, a less talented twin perhaps.

He drove a shot wide early in the first half and hovered on the edge of the action enthusiastically, like a teenage boy trying to make an impression on some older kids who are tolerating him. The crowd chanted his name and he kept moving in that distracted way which hasn't altered from those days when he could change a game with his change of mood.

Now this style symbolises a player, not only removed from his team-mates who have won Mourinho's affection, but removed from his own gifts which are never returning now, no matter how hard he promises to work.

"He gave everything he can as always," Mourinho said afterwards. "We stick together. A pity he didn't score a goal because strikers need goals. He worked hard and participated, it was good for him."

With Salah and Willian scoring either side of Lampard, it was a reminder that, for all Mourinho's complaints about weaknesses in his squad, Chelsea had spent over £40m bringing those two attacking players to the club this season.

But that is irrelevant as Mourinho agitates. Those signings don't matter as he moves on to the next conquest, discarding the information that doesn't suit him. He always wants more or he wants something else. He is speaking to one man when he tells the world what he thinks of his strikers and implicitly what he thinks of the decision to spend £50m on Torres while Mourinho was engaged elsewhere. But Roman Abramovich can withhold his affection, even as he gives the manager what he wants.

Mourinho will get his forwards in the summer and he will triumph in another battle. Torres will probably depart, collateral damage in Mourinho's endless quest.

He ended his press conference yesterday repeating his lines that Chelsea must learn to perform in all conditions, in the wind and the rain. "When I go to a wedding, I don't go in jeans," he said, explaining that Chelsea must adapt.

The two defeats had an impact.

"It took us 15 minutes to recover some self-esteem after two defeats."

Mourinho is never searching for his self-esteem. His endless quest is to find players who are worthy of his affection.

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