Fernando Torres has undoubtedly hit the nadir of his career. This week, he was dropped all together from Spain’s 18-man squad and was subsequently demoted to the bench for Chelsea’s Premier League match against Sunderland. He also appeared to lose his cool for the first time in an interview when he criticized Chelsea’s play as “very slow,” contributing to his lackluster performances. For Chelsea fans, it’s really a very worrying enigma. On one hand, it’s hard to imagine that a player of Fernando Torres’s ability would permanently lose all his potency in just a few months. Yet, has his confidence been dealt an unrecoverable blow?
I don’t have the answer. For me, this is the least confident I’ve ever been about Torres succeeding at Chelsea. I’m definitely worried. Still, I haven’t given up hope. For one, Torres has age on his side. At 27, we can expect that he, like most footballers, still has between 4-6 years of top quality football. In the grand scheme of things, this period could later just be viewed as a minor blip in a successful career – meaning his legs can still make up for lost time.
More importantly though, I think Fernando Torres has garnered a disproportionate amount of blame for a Chelsea team that has been notably anemic in attack for the longest period in the Roman Abramovich era. While I believe it is undoubtedly true that Torres has lacked adequate service, I also believe that assessment to be too narrow. Rather, I would say that Chelsea’s central strikers (Anelka, Torres and Drogba) have lacked adequate service. With three golden boots between them, Anelka, Torres and Anelka have each only scored one goal since February. For me, this is irrefutable evidence that something is broken at Chelsea. Whereas it was expected that Torres’s arrival would fix the team’s problems, it has actually highlighted them. This obviously begs the question of Chelsea: Why would they invest in a striker who is dependent on service when the team cannot currently manufacture any service? That’s a slight digression, however.
I was particularly struck by Sergio Aguero’s debut for Manchester City. Within six minutes of being on the pitch, his team constructs for him an opportunity to score with an easy tap-in goal. After spending six months in Chelsea blue, Torres has failed to be given a single opportunity like the one Aguero had. Don’t get me wrong, it would be foolish to assume that Torres should depend on tap-ins to score, because he’s partly to blame for being so dependent, but wouldn’t you expect something to fall his away eventually? And that’s the same story with all of Chelsea’s strikers recently: easy, confidence-boosting chances have not fallen to them. Just being near the box for so many minutes should provide strikers with some easy opportunities. Alas, those have been non-existent.
It’s almost a good sign that Torres’s scoring record for Chelsea has been so dismal because it’s completely abnormal for a striker on a top club to be so ineffective. I don’t want this to sound like I’m happy that Torres has scored so few, but that record seems to signify more than just a player performing poorly. To me, it suggests that the team is also playing very poorly. Even when Chelsea were forced to depend on players like Claudio Pizarro and Shevchenko, they were much more prolific than Torres, Drogba and Anelka have been.
The bottom line is that I want to see how Torres will perform when Chelsea are actually playing well. Although they’ve won some matches in 2011, I haven’t seen them hit top form. Chelsea cannot score with ease. They cannot win games comfortably (with or without Torres). I mean, even when Shevchenko was struggling, the team was still playing very well. If you remember that season, Didier Drogba scored 33 goals. As for this season, it doesn’t look like any of Chelsea’s strikers will hit 5 goals. Drogba’s performances during Shevchenko’s tenure assures me that the problem goes deeper than just one player. It’s easy to overanalyze Torres because of the price tag, but lest we forget that none of Chelsea’s strikers are performing any better.
Still, I’m worried that Torres’s confidence has taken such a shot that he will never feel comfortable playing for this club. His body language when he came on against Sunderland was the worst I’ve ever seen it. He barely tried and his overall performance was nonchalant. I expected more from a player who had just been dropped by club and country alike.
So, my final verdict is that Fernando Torres still has a chance to revive his career at Chelsea. The most important thing is that Torres realizes in his mind that he can be a success at Chelsea. That can come with a couple of simple goals and a good run of games. Whether that will come is another story.