A debut Plains of Almeríá piece by Paul Wentworth, a writer and Chelsea season ticket holder, about the Chelsea career of Fernando Torres. An interesting take from someone who witnessed Torres’s first press conference.
“Big money comes with big expectation, but it is normal for me. I am excited for a new life, a new era in front of me” Fernando Torres – February 4th 2011
Those words uttered by Chelsea’s new No.9 in front of a hushed Cobham press room seemed to signal the start of something spectacular at Stamford Bridge.
Having been fortunate to be covering the press conference on the day I was sat front row, gawping up at the £50million jewel that Roman Abramovich had bestowed upon Carlo Ancelotti’s double winning side.
This was much more than another big money signing. This was Fernando Torres, the golden boy of the Kop, the darling of Merseyside. 81 goals in 142 games. What goals they were. This was the culmination of a courtship that had begun years in advance of Liverpool’s systematic decline. We had snatched the clubs star, in the prime of his career.
His form had been faltering, we assumed, naively perhaps that this had been down to his growing disenchantment at Anfield. An injury sustained on World Cup duty had set him back but the raw talent was there, he buried us on a cold November at Anfield, two exquisite goals. He would score them for us now.
The images of Torres holding up the red collared, blue Chelsea kit, beaming smile, seemed like mirages, fantasy, had we really pulled this off?
His debut was to cruelly wake us from our dreams.
A home defeat against his former employers. Torres was bullied, battered and kicked off the park by a rightfully aggrieved Liverpool. A few flashes of talent a scant glimpse of a debut goal in front of an expectant Stamford Bridge before he was substituted.
We blamed Ancelotti. Poor judgement. It was too early for him, not fair to throw him in at the deep end. Give him time. Poor Fernando.
Hope and expectation soared, the goals still never arrived so let’s flash forward 734 minutes. April 23rd and the heavens have opened above SW6. Perhaps the divine was offering a hand of mercy; Fernando Torres had just scored his first goal for Chelsea Football Club. We had beaten West Ham 3-0. The noise when the ball hit the net was deafening.
Ultimately this was a season of unfulfilled potential. Finishing behind Manchester United in the race for the title and with that solitary strike in the April showers representing Torres sole contribution the voices in the media prepared the rod for the Spaniards back.
Ancelotti departed. Andre Villas Boas arrived.
2011-2012. More hope, more expectation.
A beautifully executed chip over David De Gea and a virtuoso performance against Manchester United forgotten as the blues slipped to a 3-1 defeat with Torres missing an open goal after he had rounded the keeper. The clip went viral. The rod got heavier.
Again it verged from the sublime to the ridiculous with the Spaniard; the next home game saw him net a fine volley against Swansea scoring in back to back games for the first time for Chelsea before an ill-timed two footed challenge saw him receive a red card and three game ban.
By the time he returned it would be another 7 months before he found the net in the Premier League again. The world’s media has decided. The rod had broken. Torres was shot. Shaken to his core, the fragilities laid bare for all to see. This had been a beauty parade by the clubs owner that had been grotesquely misjudged. A figure of ridicule from supporters of rivals.
Still however the fans stood by him. After all, he was our No.9. He had been in the shadow of Didier Drogba, poorly managed by Ancelotti and undermined by Andre Villas Boas. He will come good. You’ll see.
Redemption seemed to arrive late on and in the most unlikely of arenas.
His injury time strike against Barcelona in the Camp Nou in the Champions League semi-final may well go down in history as one of the clubs most iconic moments, his run from the halfway line into an empty Barca half seemed to last an eternity. The ethereal quality of the clip, coupled with the ‘what if he misses’ dread and the unexplainable elation when the ball hits the net and you realise that Chelsea will be in the Champions League final is truly a landmark goal in the history of the club.
That said; had we managed to see out the remaining minutes we would have progressed regardless, so whilst the goal was a wonderful moment and a definitive tribute to a campaign of unexplainable greatness in the most bizarre of circumstances. It is still a goal at odds with the player himself.
We would go on to win the Champions League on that famous night in Munich; Torres himself cut a forlorn figure on the substitute’s bench. He would come on and force the corner that led to Didier Drogba’s unfathomable equaliser (arguably his truly most significant contribution in a blue shirt) but his post-match comments spoke of a man at odds with his surroundings, this was not his final.
Roberto Di Matteo’s decision not to allow Torres to be one of the designated penalty takers seemed to irritate him but nothing could take away the glory of that night.
Exit Didier Drogba and so the stage was set at Stamford Bridge. Fernando Torres would be the leading man in this third act.
His season started again with a glimmer of hope. A well taken goal against Manchester City at Villa Park in the community shield got him off the mark. Form, it seemed, finally found him as strikes against Reading, Newcastle, Norwich and a fine volley against Arsenal to set up victory at the Emirates and have Chelsea and their invigorated No.9 top of the Premier League.
Glory was to be fleeting however, a red card against Manchester United led to the sides defeat and the league form evaporated. A goal drought that lasted some 11 hours had driven a nail into the coffin that housed Roberto Di Matteo.
His ignominious departure closely following a Champions League defeat to Juventus in which Torres was dropped ignited a fury in the fan-base that would only be inflamed by the appointment of Torres’ old mentor and Chelsea nemesis; Rafael Benitez. The architect of Torres most successful form of his career at Liverpool was now manager at a club whose fans despised him.
The two being intrinsically linked began to further fan the flames of supporter discontent. Hard to separate visions of the player and the manager as one. A January transfer window saw the arrival of Demba Ba to help alleviate the pressure on the misfiring forward. The club it seemed would continue to place its faith in the Spaniard.
His league form continued to draw blanks but in Europe, Torres began to shine, apologising to fans and acknowledging his short comings saying “I want to do the things I used to do. I did them at Atlético, I did them at Liverpool, but I am not doing them at Chelsea”, he vowed to “try his heart out” to “do everything for the fans” regain his best form. Scoring 6 goals en route to the Europa League final in Amsterdam it seemed that Torres was thriving, albeit against sub-par opposition.
Scoring in the final, his final against Benfica delivered the club and its fans unprecedented back-to-back European trophies, something that all supporters should be grateful for and show respect to him duly. He would end another campaign of turmoil, disruption but ultimately success with 22 goals in 64 games.
Not horrifying statistics but as ever with Torres, these only tell half the tale.
There have been goals. There have been trophies. Perhaps in any other era we would hail Torres.
On a personal level, I myself still find it hard to lose that youthful excitement that I had when we signed him. I was practically shaking in the press room, asking him a question about how the senior players had helped him settle was met with an articulate response and I was enthralled.
When Torres scores I still celebrate harder than when anyone else does (Lampard excluded and should Mikel ever find his way to a goal, even of the Makalele variety, I will need sedating) but as with many rational, level headed blues fans it is now becoming increasingly difficult to ignore the gaping void that hollows out the head of our attacking line.
Sublime finishes, powerful headers and cultured link play can be offset at times with a meandering slowness to react on the ball, a concerning, heavy first touch, whilst his mood is at best apathetic off the ball. An outright refusal to enjoy any moment of playing football shows a man who is a sullen figure at the best of times and at worst downright nihilistic towards the game. The Curious Case of Fernando Torres Psyche will not be solved anytime soon.
Contrasted to the frontmen of other clubs in Europe and it is through green eyes that we view RVP’s brash self-confidence, Luis Suarez ‘hunger’ (excuse the pun) for the game, whilst Edison Cavani and Radamel Falcao both delight in scoring goals, which they do, by the fucking truck-full. It is a horrid thing jealousy, a destructive damaging presence in football but one that has crept in amongst even the most ardent Chelsea supporters.
Failed moves in the transfer window for the two South American’s mentioned above alongside the prolific Robert Lewandowski and the absolute travesty that was the Wayne Rooney saga this summer saw the arrival of the 32-year old Samuel Eto’o from Russia which has left us with a bloated, mismatched front line.
That Romelu Lukaku’s departure on loan frustrates and confuses is more down to a desire for change at the club, despite the fact that it may work out better for the player himself. (A 20-year-old who needs to play regularly. Let that sink in, he’s still only 20, and still ours. Cor.)
Torres sympathisers (which despite the tone of this article, I am one) will hold the candle for another revival, a run of form that doesn’t result in a 36 hour barren spell, maybe an FA Cup final winner (against Liverpool) perhaps even, dare to dream, a second Champions League.
With returning manager Jose Mourinho revealing that Torres is very much part of his plans there is a viewpoint to be taken that the Portuguese can utilise Torres frustration, hunger and desire into something tangible beyond the odd performance; goals. Any change in attitude will have to come from the player himself. Eto’o’s arrival brings an increase in competition, a fresh challenge and one that perhaps, under Mourinho, Torres will relish.
This however is ill advised, logic dictates that we will never see the best of Fernando Torres and he will be allowed to see out the remaining two and half years of his contract unchallenged. His price tag, salary and form prohibitive to potential suitors and with an owner seemingly unwilling to lose face, at all costs, to the detriment of the team he has lavishly assembled, over his £50million jewel.
Torres has survived managerial sackings, crippling loss of form, red cards, seen off Didier Drogba and Daniel Sturridge, been vocally critical of the club and received a vociferous show of no confidence from the fans (the boos in the League Cup tie against Swansea still irk some) with constant criticism from the media and opposition fans.
Our glorious/infamous captain John Terry is often referred to as ‘Teflon John’ in some quarters but perhaps that moniker suits ‘Teflon Torres’ more appropriately. His powers of self-preservation are legend. One must hope that with the array of creative talents that fill the ranks in behind him, the club can once again, against the odds achieve success.
Fernando Torres, Chelsea’s No.9 and you’d better get used to it.