Let’s in a moment get slightly past the obvious; Torres is a formerly brilliant central striker – at one fairly recent stage arguably the best in the world – but he was not worth £50 million when purchased by our Russian friend. Aside from any legitimate argument about whether that fee may be obscene – let’s pretend there is a ‘real’ market price for his value as a player only – there could be no justification for a fee of such magnitude for a player so apparently physically and psychologically damaged.
That may in fact be a rather melodramatic description of where the player is at but surely it’s fairly representative of the feeling around him, following maybe 2 years of admittedly injury-linked frustration, poor goal returns and occasional (out-of-character) petulance at Liverpool. Torres the magnificent and the fluent had become a tetchy, visibly unhappy individual and a player fortunate to be getting regular football at the top level. It was and is questionable whether the toll repeated injuries and surgery had taken on his movement and consequently his form would and will preclude re-capture of the original precious gift for electrifying impact.
Ask Nemanja Vidic – in a few years time perhaps – to honestly assess where Torres ranked, how brilliantly he shone. Ask the average Liverpool fan to describe the relationship that fizzed between the Koppites and the player in his unassailable pomp and the scale of The Fall would be revealed. He was hugely loved, both for his scampering expression of the team ethic and for his exuberant talent. But that was, in football terms, a long time ago. When the fleet-footedness and the confidence petered away Fernando was rather depressingly different. He was not worth a place in the team.
Extraordinary then, that at this time of near-poignancy for the Spanish superstar, Abramovitch stepped in. I myself hope that he put an arm round Torres, told him he believed in him and would guarantee him a chance to gather and then express his deadly genius once more. (I suspect that the money was less an issue for Abramovitch than it would be for most minor nations but let’s assume the best and applaud the Russian for his faith – generosity even. Doubly so if we imagine the purchase as a reflection that he really does want to excite the Chelsea support on the way to the next level of glory). Torres may have seen the move more prosaically, as a step closer to silverware, rather than an opportunity to nestle under the warm wing of the owners’ casual jacket. Whatever, the blonde former bombshell moved south.
To further difficulties. A spiky or likely surly dressing-room, a club perennially now in flux. Ego’s the size of the Ivory Coast/France maybe. A new, sharp and pressing need to show that the Price Tag was irrelevant and the gift alive. Impossible? Could any manager build a side around this particular striker – let alone, after a series of underwhelming early performances, justifiably pick him?
A new season brought certain signs that key instincts may be returning… but not, sadly, the essential goals. And then there is today, and an absurdly wonderful, open game at Manchester United. Some of the movements – the commitments – are back. In a game brimming with opportunities and space, Torres scores a fabulous goal with an expressive flick of the right foot; it’s a trademark, top of the range finish; it’s beyond encouraging. But tomorrow’s papers I fear will be more likely to concentrate on the stomach-churning miss achieved shortly afterwards; the Sunday League miss, the one executed surely by an interloping donkey from park football, who, having rounded the keeper with contempt, stabs it laughably wide. To world-wide disbelief.
Cruelly, this one is right up there with the very best open goal misses. Massively saleable and destined to be forever referenced by fan and pundit alike. How did he miss? Because suddenly, he wanted the moment to be over. Over for better or worse. As a consequence, if Fernando is the sensitive boy many believe, he is going to have to disconnect his capacity to feel for some time. I wish him luck and the mental and physical wellbeing to recover.