Everyone in the country seems to have their own say on it, but no one has ever fully worked out the mystery. I’d like to offer my own evaluation as to why Fernando Torres has been such a flop at Chelsea.
For a start, I write this article after a decent run of form from the Spaniard. He scored in the Europa League final, he scored the winner on the last day of the season against Everton to secure third place for Chelsea, and has generally been looking like more of a goal threat. But still, it’s the sentence which has been uttered over a million times, he’s still a shadow of his former self.
The reasons behind the striker’s demise run far deeper than simply stating that he ‘lost confidence’, or that he couldn’t thrive whilst Didier Drogba was at the club. After all, Mateja Kežman, Hernán Crespo, Eiður Guðjohnsen and Andriy Shevchenko were all sidelined (or in Gudjohnsen’s case, moved into midfield) because of the big Ivorian’s dominance up front for the Blues. Is it coincidence? Or has Drogba’s presence really been the reason behind strikers failing at Chelsea?
It’s no coincidence that, with Didier Drogba at the club there was little chance of any other striker, even ones as good as Andriy Shevchenko and Fernando Torres succeeding at Chelsea. But it’s not simply because of Drogba’s presence. It’s because Didier Drogba suited Chelsea down to the ground. Much in the same way that Fernando Torres suited Liverpool down to the ground.
While it may strictly be true that a top striker, which Torres certainly is (or was at least), should have enough quality to adapt to any side’s way of playing, it’s not as easy as it sounds. The reality of the situation was this:
Chelsea realised that Drogba’s time was coming to an end, and they needed to replace him. But while Drogba seemed to be on his way out, Chelsea’s style of play certainly wasn’t. As we’ve seen since 2004, Chelsea have used their strikers in a very direct playing system. Chelsea’s front man is a lone striker with his back to goal. This mean he needs to possess the ability to hold the ball up, to head the ball, to overpower his defenders and to be able to turn and go on the attack at a moment’s notice. This was Drogba in a nutshell, but it isn’t Fernando Torres.
Torres’ game at Liverpool and Atlético Madrid was all about his explosiveness. He would run between the last line of defenders and look for through balls. He and Steven Gerrard formed a fantastic partnership doing just that. And that is the kind of striker Torres is, or was. He did not hold the ball up and he certainly didn’t play with his back to goal. Yet now Chelsea were demanding that he started doing so. They were not going to change their entire system to suit one player. So, Torres had to change, and change he did.
He bulked up, and in the process lost a bit of pace, but in his mind, it was worth sacrificing as, if he was to succeed at Chelsea, his power game had to be worked on and his explosive game was to be a thing of the past.
The changes Fernando has made to his game are slowly becoming evident, but it’s taken far too long. He’s now starting to win headers from goal kicks, he’s holding the ball up better too, but after two and a half years of bad press and low confidence, it’s fair to say that the damage was done. We mustn’t forget however that the Spaniard had a torrid 6 months prior to joining Chelsea.
Injury problems had already begun to initialise Torres’ change in style. He relied so heavily on his explosiveness that it was plaguing him with injuries.
Torres had to change or risk a career similar to that of Michael Owen, who also relied heavily of explosiveness and speed off the block. Owen’s career quickly went down the drain after he failed to stay fit and Torres potential faced a similar fate. He attempted to change his game but it didn’t work. He may have begun scoring again but it’s two years too late for Nando.
At the end of the day, it’s Chelsea who are the fools. They bought a striker who was not going to suit their style of play, and upon realising this, they spent fortunes changing the style in order to suit the failing striker. Chelsea have changed to a style which seemingly is supposed to suit Torres, but again it doesn’t really. The striker in Chelsea’s system now must almost operate as a midfielder. He must be able to drop off and link up the play, he must have the ability to go past defenders in tight spaces, and to get a shot away in the blink of an eye. This is not Fernando Torres either. While he may be seeing slightly more success in front of goal than before, Fernando still looks like something of a spare part in Chelsea’s team. Due to his quality as a footballer, Torres can get by in this new-look Chelsea, this fast paced, short-passing Chelsea, but no better than any other decent striker.
Chelsea will undoubtedly be bringing in a new striker in the summer, and the type of striker who would suit their system perfectly is Robert Lewandowski, and so too Radamel Falcao. These are strikers who have immense close control, who have the ability to beat a man, who can drop off and link up the play, who can score from almost anywhere, who have both pace and strength but do not heavily rely on one or the other. There is, therefore, a huge question mark over the future of Romelu Lukaku, who’s been on fire for West Brom. He seems to suit Chelsea’s old style of play. Will there be a place for him in this new-look Chelsea? We’ll have to wait and see.
As for Torres, his career remains one of biggest mysteries in football history.
Torres went from exciting youngster at Atlético, to world class phenomenon at Liverpool, to washed up failure at Chelsea. But, considering the risks he faced of his career ending up being riddled by injury, perhaps Torres will still be pleased with how his career has gone.
While his time at Atlético and Liverpool might be fondly remembered as the time when he was one of the world’s top strikers, Torres won nothing. Of course, Torres has won much with Spain, but this is merely focusing on his club career. Maybe he’s quite happy to have sacrificed much of his footballing quality in order to get his hands on the FA Cup, the Europa League and of course, the Champions League.
He may have declined considerably, but he’s probably happier being the world class striker who declined in his late-20’s with a few medals to his name, than the world class striker whose career fizzled out in his late 20’s due to injury, without so much as a winners’ medal at club level, and would be left thinking ‘what if’. Of course, I don’t know what Fernando Torres makes of his career choice, but I’m sure he’ll one day look back at his days at Chelsea with fondness. He may not be the fearsome striker defenders would have nightmares about, but the memories of Chelsea’s European victories and so too their FA Cup triumph will live long in the memory of El Nino.