The Summer Sales: Benfica, Dortmund and Bilbao amongst those likely to pay for their success

As the summer draws closer and the vast majority of Europe’s domestic leagues are winding up for the summer break and the transfer window that comes with it, rumours are rife about who could go where and why they might seek pastures new.

It is the time of year when all sides who have either performed beyond their means or who have been outgrown by their leading lights fear the most as they head into the year’s most lengthy and protracted period of transfer-related vulnerability.

We have already seen clear examples of what this summer’s transfer window may have to offer as the Bundesliga’s relegation threatened Cologne have lost their talismanic local hero Lukas Podolski to Arsenal for what appears a bit of a bargain. Arsenal have also moved to try and avoid last season’s mad rush for recruits on deadline day by attempting to secure a deal for Yann M’Vila who is also fast becoming too big a fish in the small pond that is Rennes.

Podolski

Podolski has a fantastic international record

In addition to  players like Podolski and M’Vila shining at their clubs and attracting attention from ‘Big-Time’ clubs from around Europe, there are also whole clubs around Europe who may pay the price for their success and they could be set to lose multiple players over the forthcoming summer.

Benfica, having forced their way ahead of Porto in Portugal’s domestic pecking order for much of the Portugese league season and having entertained en-route to a place in the last eight of the Champions League are now surely set for a summer of fending off interest in their most-prized assets.

Gaitan impressed against United and will have attracted interest from SAF

Arguably the hottest property at the club is their versatile attacking midfielder Nicolas Gaitan who has attracted many potential suitors with his strong performances both in Portugal and in the Champions League. It is the creative talents of the 24 year-old Argentine which have earned himself a now regular slot in amongst Argentina’s rather special attacking contingent in the national squad and that have drawn interest from huge club’s like Manchester United who have been linked more closely with securing his services than any other side.

Another huge talent plying his trade at Benfica is Swiss international Axel Witsel who has this season emerged as one of Europe’s most talented and

Witsel has shone this season and a big club will surely come calling

combative central midfielders. His consistently strong and disruptive performances amongst Benfica’s talented midfield impressed has I’m sure impressed many scouts at the top European clubs, and perhaps never more so than in Benfica’s Champions League group games which resulted in them outdoing both Manchester United and FC Basle.

Benfica’s impressive displays this year may have gone some way towards re-building their reputation and improving their financial outlook but if they don’t manage to hold onto the likes of Gaitan and Witsel then it could well have cost them dear when it comes to the strength of their playing personnel.

Another club who could come under the radar of many of Europe’s top clubs are Borussia Dortmund who have for the second season running overcome Bayern Munich in the Bundesliga title race.

Shinji Kagawa

Kagawa and Gotze both look set to fly the nest at Dortmund

Already it is being said that Shinji Kagawa might have agreed a deal with Manchester United which would be a major loss for the German club and others may well follow him out of the door as Dortmund have failed to cash in on their domestic success with a strong return to European football.

Centre-backs Neven Subotic and Mats Hummels have both impressed greatly over the past couple of seasons and have also become key players in their respective national set-ups and it would be absolutely no surprise if Europe’s major forces tried to recruit either one of them.

The jewel in Dortmund’s crown though is Mario Gotze the diminutive, young attacking midfielder and he again is being linked with a move away having featured regularly in transfer talk throughout much of the past two years. If he were to part company with Dortmund it would perhaps be the greatest loss of them all as he is very much the golden boy at the German Champions and he is the very embodiment of all that has been positive about their re-emergence as a major force in German football.

Another side likely to be the subject of a lot of transfer attention are Athletic Bilbao who have won many admirers during their European adventures this season. Though their Europa League campaign ultimately ended in major disappointment when they lost 3-0 to fellow Spanish side Athletico Madrid, many of their young and talented squad have caught the eye of on-looking scouts and as they are a side struggling to break into La Liga’s upper echelons and into real contention to secure Champions League football they will surely lose a hold of some of their stars this summer.

Iker Muniain Javi Martinez

Bilbao have entertained in the Europa League

The two most sought after members of their squad would appear to be versatile holding-midfielder and captain Javi Martinez and their star striker Fernando Llorente both of whom were a part of Spain’s world cup winning squad in 2010.

Martinez, who has for a long time been linked with Real Madrid and Barcelona, has starred for Bilbao and has demonstrated great maturity in captaining a side who have impressed under his leadership in spite of his relatively tender age. Not often is one so young placed in such a position of responsibility at a football club but Martinez has led by example providing much of the thrust which has made his Bilbao side such a dynamic force this season. He may be reluctant to leave such a prominent and valued role at his boyhood club but he will also be aware that he must be playing Champions League football if he is to fulfil his ambitions of becoming a regular in Spain’s line-up.

The same can also be said of Llorente who’s sublime volley against Manchester United in the Europa League will live long in the memory. If his talents aren’t also taken onto the next level, which is surely regular Champions League football, then perhaps he will miss out on the opportunity to stay ahead of the likes of Fernando Torres in Spain’s pecking order.

It would be a surprise if Bilbao managed to hold on to both Martinez and Llorente in the wake of their hiccup in the final of the Europa League and their consequent failure to secure Champions League football for next season but perhaps they can be hopeful of holding onto another of their prodigious talents Iker Muniain who is maybe a step behind the likes of Martinez in terms of his development.

The diminutive forward has provided great support for Llorente over the course of this season and though Bilbao have the means to hold onto him for now it might well be beyond their power if he decides that he is already primed for a first crack at Champions League football. There will certainly be no shortage of sides willing to look into the possibility of tempting him away from the San Mames if he does want out so expect rumour a plenty about where his future might lie this summer.

A big factor in Bilbao’s attempts to hold onto their emerging stars could be whether they manage to hold onto their Coach Marcelo Bielsa who has a fine record since taking charge and could perhaps be on the hit list for many of Europe’s top clubs. The club’s directors will though be breathing a huge sigh of relief that Barcelona have turned to Tito Vilanova as Pep Guardiola’s successor as Bielsa was the name on everbody’s lips as soon as the job became seemingly up for grabs.

If Bilbao’s agonising shortcoming in trying to secure Champions League football hasn’t already proved enough for their skipper and other key players, then surely the loss of Bielsa would put the final nail in the coffin in terms of sealing their respective decisions to part company with the Basque club.

It is indeed sad for football that many emerging sides tend to lose the best of their playing crop every time they show any major signs of development and bridging the gap that lies between them and the more dominant clubs in Europe but that is the nature of the modern game. Money talks and so does the opportunity to play at a higher level on a more regular basis, so expect the likes of Benfica, Dortmund and Bilbao to pay for their success and have to fight valiantly in order to hold onto their most prized assets.

Other names to watch out for in this summer’s transfer market:

Radamel Falcao (Athletico Madrid), Hulk (Porto), Papiss Demba Cisse (Newcastle), Cheick Tiote (Newcastle), Eden Hazard (Lille), Loic Remy (Marseille), Gonzalo Higuain (Real Madrid), Dani Alves (Barcelona), Robin Van Persie (Arsenal), Ricky Van Wolfswinkel (Sporting Lisbon), Ola John (FC Twente), Luuk De Jong (FC Twente), Cristian Eriksen (Ajax) Gregory Van Der Wiel (Ajax), Leighton Baines (Everton), Stephane Sessegnon (Sunderland), Didier Drogba (Chelsea), Edinson Cavani (Napoli), Clint Dempsey (Fulham), Ezequiel Lavezzi (Napoli)

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A tale of two diminutive Spaniards

As we all know too well, English football is deprived of creative attacking midfielders with superb craft and much sought after ‘end product’. One particular area of the world though is thriving in this department and you may not be surprised to hear that this is Spain.

Silva and Mata

Silva and Mata are amongst a wealth of creative talent at Spain's disposal

Think Xavi, Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, David Silva, Juan Mata, Thiago Alcantara, Sergio Canales and Javi Martinez and on the basis of the weekend’s performance Mikel Arteta and you arguably have a list of 8 or 9 experienced and/or enormously talented individuals capable of unlocking defensive doors, playing the killer pass and even getting themselves in the mix for plenty of goalscoring opportunities themselves.

In England on the other hand we are really limited in this crucial area. Gerrard and Lampard still have their moments but it would be hard to deny that they are past their best, Paul Scholes is re-emerging since his brief retirement period as arguably England’s best ball-playing midfielder but he too his way beyond the wrong the side of 30 and beyond this I’m struggling to think of any match-winning playmakers that we have at our disposal.

Jack Wilshere is probably England’s up and coming force in this role but he has already been on the receiving end of a string of injury concerns and may miss out on the Euros this summer and even putting such issues aside is he really better than the likes of Thiago, Canales, Mata and Martinez the emergent midfield forces in and around the Spanish squad? I personally don’t think so.

The other hope for England in this sort of role is Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but it is very unclear just where he will end up being best utilised in the future for club and country as he is very much in the developmental and fledgling stage of his career at present.

The lack of current and emerging options in this pivotal attacking role is alarming and perhaps why the major English forces in the Premier League have turned to Spain to find their diminutive playmakers.

Manchester City have David Silva operating ‘in the hole’ behind the forwards as their most trusted playmaker, Chelsea have Juan Mata fulfilling much the same role in their line-up and Vicente Del Bosque must be licking his lips when thinking about how two of his dead-certs for the Euros have plied their trade in the Premier League this season.

Juan Mata Chelsea

Silva and Mata have been two of the most impressive playmakers in the Premier League this season

At times, both Spanish attacking central midfield players have been the driving forces behind their team’s runs of form and when they have been at their best they have been almost impossible to handle.

Silva may have looked a little ‘burnt out’ in the latter stages of this season, which of course will be of concern to the Spanish management as well as Manchester City’s but perhaps this is just a knock-on effect of his fellow team-mates’ slumps in form? Even if it is just a personal form issue, one good thing for Spain to come out of Silva’s stuggles to light up the Premier League in the second half of the season is that City have been lost without him, which suggests that he is a hugely influential and instrumental player when he is at his best.

This theory might be for those of a sunnier, glass-half-full disposition but it is a theory that I’m sticking too. I think that as soon as Silva is re-united with his international team-mates before the Euros that he will feel refreshed and will have a new lease of life not often seen in City’s recent struggles.

While City have struggled in the absence of Silva’s best form, Chelsea have begun to flourish as a result of Mata’s rise to prominence.

Perhaps it is the way that Mata was being deployed by Andre Vilas-Boas that was slightly inhibiting the Spaniard’s form in his first few months at the Bridge or perhaps it is just a case of him taking a while to settle in but one thing is for sure and that is that Mata has now begun to express himself as we know he can and that Chelsea are reaping huge benefits as a result.

Mata has far outdone David Silva’s efforts of late and it is little coincidence that their two sides have had coinciding contrasting fortunes, so much so that Chelsea could yet be contesting a Champions League and an FA Cup final whereas Manchester City now look like ending the season trophy-less and dejected.

One might even go as far as to argue that Mata’s recent efforts mean that he deserves to jump Silva in the queue to be part of Spain’s starting play-making unit at the Euros. Whether this will be the case or not though, it is clear that Spain’s finest ball-players are a step ahead of England’s at present and that they have an embarrassment of riches in this role which could well drive them to a third consecutive major tournament win this summer.

One interesting point which I will make though is that England have no one closer to such talents and such attacking influence than Paul Scholes and that his contributions since returning to United this season mean that whoever takes the England to the Euros this summer simply must try again to persuade him out of retirement. If Scholes isn’t a part of the England squad then do we really have anybody who can compete with Xavi, Alonso, Iniesta, Fabregas, Silva and Mata not to mention a couple of other huge talents?

 

 

The Vicente-Factor provides the spark for Brighton’s Play-Off charge

Last night’s virtuoso performance from Vicente may not have seen him get his own name on the score-sheet but the constant threat he provided in the role of playmaker was something rarely seen at Championship level.

Vicente Rodriguez Brighton

Vicente's return to fitness has lit up the AMEX

His footwork and vision was the cause of much indecision and worry for the Derby County defence on the night and this performance was just the latest Man-Of-The-Match performance from the Spaniard, which helped to extend the impressive run that the Seagulls are currently on.

With just one defeat in their last fourteen league games Brighton have pulled themselves back from a mid-season slump and right into play-off contention. They currently reside in fourth place which, of course, would see them contest the end of season play-offs but with a queue of teams lining up just a point or two behind them and with a game in hand a-piece ‘Good Old Sussex By The Sea’ know that they are just a couple of slip-ups away from mid-table mediocrity again.

This is why Vicente’s timely first run of fitness and regular action for the Albion is proving so crucial. Manager Gus Poyet has been keen to emphasise the impact of ‘Vice’s’ return to fitness and has gone on record several times in the past few weeks to highlight how he and his squad know that they have a “special player” on their hands.

Sadly though for Vicente, Brighton, and in-fact the football community as a whole, his career has been plagued with injury. His previous club Valencia enjoyed several high profile successes in his time at the club but eventually they were left with little option other than to let him go.

Though he had contributed strongly in every stint of his Valencia career where fitness and injury problems were briefly put to one side, in his last couple of years in Spain he was left so short of match fitness that he barely managed a run of games.

Had his fitness held during the most crucial time in his career it is entirely possible that he could have had several more domestic Spanish titles to his name and that he may even have become a World Cup and European Championship winner with Spain. As it is though, injury has robbed him of his prime  and all the opportunities that would most likely have accompanied it and now he finds himself as the poster boy for a Championship club.

Vicente Rodriguez

Vicente has a decent amount of international caps, but could have had many more

This isn’t to belittle Brighton as a football club or the fantastic recent progress that they’ve made, but Vicente’s fleeting return to form and fitness on the South Coast has highlighted just how special a talent he once was and just how sad it is that his still very present technical abilities have been constantly undermined by the fragility of his body over the past decade.

Poyet has said this week that he thinks Brighton would be ten to fifteen points better off this campaign if Vicente had been fit for the majority of it to date and these additional points, as it stands, would have seen the Albion challenging for the title.

It is rare to witness such a quality player plying his trade outside of Europe’s top divisions but all Albion fans will be hoping that these current circumstances are soon to change.

If Vicente maintains his fitness for Brighton’s remaining games then Poyet believes they have “a great chance” of making the top six and this sentiment is being echoed from the stands at the Amex.

If only Brighton can keep their prized asset out of the Physio’s room and instead have him out on the pitch on a regular basis for the next two to three months then the South-Coast fairytale may continue to grow. Not only could the delight of promotion back to the Championship last year be coupled with the relief of finally moving into and enjoying their first season at their new home in Falmer, but they could also soon be a Premier League side.

If they do reach the play-offs then it will surely be, in no small part, down to the inspiration provided by the return of ‘Vice’ to their side just as they’ve started to hit the home straight and perhaps their star player could once again get the chance to exercise his on-field powers in one of Europe’s most prestigious leagues if Brighton were to go up.

A couple of years ago the thought of Brighton becoming a Premier League side by 2012 seemed beyond ridiculous, as would the thought of Vicente strutting his stuff in the blue and white of the Albion. Now though, Vicente is lighting up the Championship and the play-offs are within touching distance.

What a difference a couple of seasons can make.

 

Euro Draw: My Thoughts and Predictions

What an intriguing draw…

Group A:

For what this group looks set to lack in world-class talent it will almost certainly make up for in ferocious atmospherics. Each of the teams drawn into the first group are notorious for their passionate and at times raucous national fans and it all looks set to kick off. The stadiums that host the Group A ties will undoubtedly be erupting with noise and energy,  and the thought of these sides coming head-to-head in one of the biggest tournaments in world football is mouthwatering even if we aren’t to anticipate consistently brilliant football.

My Prediction: Russia and Greece qualify

Group B:

Without a shadow of a doubt this group must go down as the famed “group of death”. There simply isn’t a weak link amongst the sides (though Denmark are probably the underdogs on paper), and the amount of young and experienced attacking talent on show in this group is very exciting indeed. To think that the likes of Wesley Sneijder, Robin Van Persie, Cristiano Ronaldo, Nani, Mesut Ozil, Mario Gotze and Cristian Erikson will be taking to the field in the same group of the Euro’s is utterly tantalising, bring it on!

My Prediction: Germany top the group and Holland pip Portugal to second place.

Group C:

Poor old Ireland. Finally they deservedly qualify for another major tournament and they get the rotten luck of drawing Spain and Italy in their group. Not to mention  also drawing Croatia who have been known to perform well on the big stages. This is another exciting group with plenty of exciting young attacking talent as well as the all-round brilliance of the reigning champions Spain who will be hopeful of making it an incredible three straight victories in major international tournaments.

My Prediction: Maybe I’m just a romantic but I think Spain will top the group and Ireland will squeeze through to the last eight as well. I think that aside from Spain that this could be the tightest group of the lot which could play into Ireland’s hands.

Group D:

It will be tough but it could’ve been a lot worse from England’s perspective. All four teams in the group will fancy their chances of going through  and with good reason. Ukraine the joint hosts obviously have home advantage, France tend to go win or bust in recent major tournaments, Sweden performed well in qualification and England on paper are the best of the four teams. This is set to be another very close group and I just hope that this group stage isn’t as bereft of excitement and quality football as England’s group stage in South Africa.

My Prediction:

France and England both qualify as they probably should, but I can’t pick a group winner.

 

Beyond the groups:

It is very hard indeed to look beyond Spain winning yet another major trophy, but there are teams out there that could shock them. Germany’s youth will once again be on display and could inspire them to go deep into the tournament and we all know that Holland have a fantastic side, so perhaps these two are the most likely to upset the Spanish. Other major contenders include the likes of England and France but I think that Group D’s two strongest outfit’s are in the middle of tricky transitional periods and that they will both have a greater chance next time around.

I know it’s boring, but I think Spain will win the Euro’s again. How can I argue against them given the recent history?

Super-Scott setting the standard for England’s young guns

Amidst all the hype and excitement about England’s emerging talents there was one man that has stood head and shoulders above the rest against Spain on Saturday; Scott Parker. This week was meant to be all about the absence of big name players such as John Terry, Steven Gerrard and Wayne Rooney and how their much younger and less experienced International team mates would cope when asked to fill the void. However, Saturday’s game was well and truly taken by the scruff of the neck by Scott Parker who does indeed lack International experience, but he certainly isn’t a young prospect like Phil Jones, Danny Wellbeck or Jack Rodwell who all contributed to Saturday’s morale boosting win.

It is so rare in the modern era for someone to get their first major opportunity at International level when they are in their thirties but that is sadly the case for Parker. For years now I have been a great admirer of Parker as a player and have been at a loss when trying to explain why England manager after England manager have overlooked him as a viable option to play in the holding midfield role for the national side. For me he has been one of the most consistent performers in the Premier League over the past six or seven years and minus the early career blip that he suffered upon moving to Chelsea, he has managed to impress for every club that he’s played for. His success at several clubs is demonstrated by the fact that he has been named ‘permanent’ Captain for two different sides, Newcastle and West Ham, both of which are notoriously difficult to lead. In spite of the hard challenge posed by the Captaincy role at these two famous English clubs he has shone in the role. Parker excels as a leader and it is strange to think that such understanding of responsibility hasn’t earned him greater International opportunities earlier in his career.

His successful graduation through the “old-school” English route to the height of International football makes his long-standing lack of caps all the more odd. In classic fashion Parker ‘graduated’ from the now defunct Lilleshall School of Footballing Excellence and went on to represent his country at all levels of youth football, including several caps for the Under 21 side. This now retired procession through Lilleshall and then onto the youth ranks of the national side was once your sure-fire path to a starring role in England squads from a fairly young age, but Parker having made his full international debut in 2003 had only picked up another two caps going into the start of 2011.

In the wake of England’s horrific World Cup campaign in 2010 and his magnificent start to the 2010-11 season with West Ham, Parker was wisely gifted the opportunity to become an exception to the modern era’s unwritten rules regarding international selection. It seems that nowadays if you are in your late twenties or early thirties and you have yet to establish yourself as an English international then you are almost certain to miss out on the chance of ever impressing yourself on this stage. Parker though was called in by Fabio Cappello and has since gone from strength to strength.

For all too long a period it seemed that the England selectors had deemed Parker a solid and reliable Premier League performer but nothing exceeding this. Many managers and coaches must have been guilty of this assumption so it is unfair to direct blame at any clear targets but perhaps good old Sven was the first to play the ignorance card, which if you think about it is rather strange. We all know hom much Sven loved a solid performer don’t we? Think Emile Heskey, think Nicky Butt, think a young Owen Hargreaves. These players did all the simple things well and allowed those around them to provide the spark. For me, Parker offers everything these players did in their time as International regulars, and with the exception of Hargreaves who developed into an outstanding International performer, I believe Parker offers much more.

Thankfully, Fabio was eventually drawn to the lure of Parker as an International footballer and since making him a regular starter he has been richly rewarded with a string of typically determined and resilient performances from Spurs’ summer recruit. The latest in this string of fine performances was his almost sacrificial performance against Spain at the weekend where he firmly set the standard for the rest of his team mates in an understated but ruthlessly effective performance.

It was clear in Saturday’s win that the likes of Rooney and Gerrard were missed in terms of their attacking spark and their ability to surge forward turning defence into clinical counter-attacking football, but under Capello’s apparent guidance to swamp the Spanish playmakers and prioritise defensive responsibilities Parker stood out as the figure-head of England’s defiance. If England are looking for a new Captain in the wake of John Terry’s latest flirtation with controversy, and I accept that that they probably aren’t, then they should look no further than ‘Super Scott’ whose handling of over-the-top fans expectations at Newcastle and West Ham was always respectful and dedicated.

Is Torres on the road to ruin or recovery?

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.

In his pomp at Liverpool

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.

Warming the bench in the World Cup final

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.

Torres will look forward to trying to terrify United's defence once again

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.