Eighteen months ago he was arguably the most coveted centre forward in World football, but Fernando Torres is now the name on every football fans lips for the wrong reasons.
No matter whether you like a player or their respective club it is always immensely disheartening to see fading genius and there is nothing quite like it in football for causing widespread compassion. There are of course people who can’t put aside silly prejudices and fail to have sympathy for players like Torres, but I think it is fair to say that the majority of real football fans would love to see ‘Nando’ firing on all cylinders once again.
Many are attributing his lack of form to the pressure he has felt under the burden of a huge £50 million price tag. This is of course a staggering valuation of one single player’s potential contribution to a football club, but in the modern era you would expect one of the most able footballers of a generation to live up to the expectation rather than collapse under it. Also, it must be said that his form was ailing long before his switch to Stamford Bridge and this begs the question of whether he stayed with Liverpool for too long? Given his injury troubles towards the end of his stay and the lack of silverware won in his time at the club, it is not out of the question that an earlier move away from Anfield could have prevented his continuing slump. There certainly would have been plenty of takers had he expressed a desire to seek pastures new a little while before his eventual departure.
The other buzz-word attributed to Torres’ plight is ‘confidence’. Everyone (myself included) who has voiced an opinion on the topic has been guilty of using this cop-out of a reason for his apparent downhill slide and of course everyone is probably right. Of course he is low on confidence and of course it is inhibiting his play, but really this confidence issue is probably more a symptom than a cause. His lack of confidence is in my opinion just the most prominent knock-on effect of the frustrating period he has endured where he has struggled to avoid injury and to produce his best football.
The first time that Torres appeared to be drastically short of sharpness and form was the World Cup last summer when he begun the tournament as one of the stars of the World’s best side and ended it as the flop of the tournament (along with the England, France and Italy.) It is curious how one so talented can seem to burn out and drop from the pinnacle of World football so quickly, but it is worth baring in mind that he would be far from the first to do this if he never recaptures his finest.
If you think back to other greats of the past ten years then names like Ronaldo, Ronaldinho and Kaka might come to mind. Ronaldo looked to have lost it on a couple of occasions due to weight gain, injury and mental deficiencies before the age of 26 and eventually slipped off the top of the World stage by the time he reached his thirties. Ronaldinho, despite having recently begun to find a little form back in his homeland had already seen easily the best days of his career by the age of 28 (just two years after winning World Player of the Year for the second time). The story unfolding for Kaka appears to be similar also. He too won World Player of the Year in 2007 and has failed to live up to this moment of glory ever since. He is still at Real Madrid but injury and a consequent lack of form seem to have put pay to his chances of lighting up the World again and he is just 29.
These are all sad stories of players losing their touch and their fitness well before their expected use by dates and there is a recurring theme. They are all successful Brazilian internationals, and they certainly aren’t the first players from this nation or South America as a collective that have fallen into premature decline having made it to the very top of the game.
Of course Fernando Torres isn’t South American so his development as a man and a player has been immensely different from the majority of the aforementioned players and his home nation of Spain have managed to produce several players of enduring quality. Current Real Madrid Captain Iker Casillas, current Barcelona Captain Carlos Puyol, and ex-Galacticos Raul, Michel Salgado and Fernando Hierro all provide great supporting evidence having enjoyed long and fruitful careers at the top of the game. The three ex-Madrid stars amongst them all managed to continue as top-class players up to the age of thirty five and beyond, in fact Raul and Michel Salgado are still playing first-team football in the Bundesliga and Premier League respectively.
If Torres needs motivation to work his way back to something like his best and to seek long-term success then he need look no further than his illustrious compatriots and the legacy left in their wake. It is entirely foolish to write Torres off as a spent force and Chelsea fans and management alike are right to keep faith with their man. His performance on Tuesday night was something more like his old self even if his significant contributions were more team oriented than self-glorifying, and maybe just maybe, the appreciation of his team mates on the night will go some way towards repairing his fragile state of mind.
This weekend sees Torres come head-to-head with Manchester United (if selected) and he has enjoyed more success than most against the Red Devils. In the past he has given the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic a torrid time with his unrelenting probing runs in behind and towards the last line of defence and he will hope to be given the opportunity to do so again. If he plays, and if he scores then perhaps the re-building of his game will really gain some momentum. “Right him off at your peril”. “Form is temporary, class is permanent”. They are cliches for a good reason.