He’s done it again, hasn’t he?
Jose Mourinho, who else?
The enduring mystery of what ails a certain Fernando Torres is one that has stumped the footballing world for years now. How is it that an athlete of such prodigious abilities has been reduced to a bumbling wreck by simply switching the red of Liverpool for the blue of Chelsea?
A number of theories have been put forward – none of them satisfactorily explaining what really went wrong. It is not that other players have not faded away after switching allegiances before.
But this was Fernando Torres, people! His pace, control and drive on the pitch aside, the Torres of old was a creature who looked possessed when in and around the penalty box.
He had a presence that was unshakable – the bullish ferocity with which he held onto the ball, complemented by that silky sure touch, would inevitably lead to a razor-sharp finish into the bottom corner of the net, unfailingly finding that zone where the keeper had no chance of making a save.
The kind of talent that would’ve had media reports salivating at the prospect of calling football’s next big thing “the new Fernando Torres”. Today that statement would effectively end any youngster’s chance of making his way to the top.
Oh, how the mighty fall.
The question of “how?” still remains. The Spaniard made a switch to another team in the same league – playing against the same defenders who trembled at the sight of a focused Torres tucking in those golden locks, before setting off on another one of those explosive runs.
Tactically, it was a big switch – his almost telepathic understanding with Stevie G is the stuff of legend. His preference for having the ball played in front of him is well documented – a tactic that lets him drift out to the wings and use his pace to cut back into the danger area.
But regardless of whichever system he was placed in, a striker of his caliber will always have his most primal instinct to turn to – his deadly finishing. Compatriot David Villa, for all the changes he has had to endure in his time at Barcelona, has always knocked them in with astounding regularity. Quite simply, technically he was good enough to slot into any system – he has too many aces up his sleeve to offer that up as an excuse.
Injuries have played their part, yes, and have maybe had an effect on the pace that is such a crucial feature of his game. But then, the Torres we saw against Manchester City seemed to be one who traveled forward in time to remind his older self just what he was capable of.
God forbid if the real modern-day Torres was in the stands that day, more worried about his place in the side than the potential implications of his actions on the space-time continuum.
That leaves the mental side to his game up for examination. And this, I believe, is where our protagonist has sadly fallen short. His mega-money move was always going to be on the back of his mind, and the circumstances of his departure from the Kop would only have made matters weigh that little bit extra in his mind.
But by far the most influential factor was the overpowering shadow that the irrepressible Didier Drogba cast on our hero. Remember that this is a man whose contributions to Chelsea – even before that fairy-tale Champions League final – were meteoric.
A man who displayed the audacity to often push the club’s favorite son, Frankie Boy Lampard, out of the way in certain dead ball situations. And even as his mate stood by fuming, dispatch the ball past a despairing keeper, all to the roar of the Blue Army.
How do you compete against that?
A succession of managers have come and gone at Chelsea – even the man who gave Torres his first big stage, Rafael Benitez – all failing in their attempts to coax Torres out of his slumber.
All the while, Mourinho watched from afar, as his Real Madrid side flirted with greatness before succumbing to the Portuguese’s infallible ego. In need of the love and loyalty that stokes at the embers of something deep inside the Special One, he arrived at Stamford Bridge in a whirlwind of promise.
And while the jury is still out on his callous treatment of Juan Mata – their best player by a mile – his game plan for Torres has been spot on; and one that is only beginning to pay dividends.
A plethora of Chelsea managers have treated Torres with the proverbial velvet glove, except that the treatment proved to be grossly ineffective.
The shadow of Abramovich’s £50 million investment always lurking in the shadows, they were all too meek in shaping a protective bubble around an under-fire Torres. His attempts to outdo an inspired Drogba were hindered by just how brittle his mentality had become, as susceptible to breakage as his managers made him out to be.
I am not saying that it was all their fault – these managers only did what they thought was right, backing their fragile treasure.
All Mourinho has done is have the courage to try a radically different approach. His tough love has galvanized a Torres from the listlessness that he had indulged in for years on end.
Blunt and forthright in his words, Mourinho’s statements in the press made his position on Torres clear – perform or perish. What does the Happy One (yes, he does have a few of those nicknames) care if he was worth an astronomical amount of money?
He was back in the loving arms of his Chelsea, and any man who wouldn’t contribute to the applause that he so craves would not find himself worthy of a place on the stage. In so slyly taking the focus off Torres, while bringing the player himself right back down to earth, Mourinho has possibly awakened something deep and primal in Torres.
Even if he was impressed by the fitness the Spaniard showed in training, Mourinho made it clear that Romelu Lukaku’s emergence was only good for the team. The Belgian’s consequent departure to Everton is more an attempt to be in the reckoning for the national team at next year’s World Cup, and not anything that Mourinho envisaged.
Samuel Eto’o may have found a semblance of the predatory instincts that made him a feared customer not so long ago, but Torres’s live-wire performances – even if there have only been a couple – have meant that he is now in pole position to take his rightful place at the head of Chelsea’s attack.
There will be an air of great expectancy when Torres steps out onto the pitch again, only because people know just what he is truly capable of, and not purely on the basis of his shows over the past month or so.
The Spaniard himself will be feeling much the same way. Curiously, it is his reputation that is driving Torres forward now, when that self-same reputation has held him down for so long now.
The Special One? The Only One? The Chosen One? The Happy One?
Yes. Yes. Yes. And, oh yes.
- Sports & Recreation
- Fernando Torres
- Jose Mourinho