01 February 2011

Fernando Torres is History

For most of today, Soccernet, this footy web site which I frequently visit to stay in touch with the world of football, ran a picture of some Merseyside youths holding a burning black Torres Liverpool shirt in their hands. For those who are not into English football, that would be Fernando Torres, a.k.a. El Niño, erstwhile top striker of Liverpool Football Club and World Cup winner with the Spanish international team.

As I type this, the former Liverpool favorite is very much a Chelsea player, having moved over to the Blue side of London for a mind-boggling £50 million. The Liverpool youths’ anger is understandable; but I have been monitoring the Liverpool boards and blogs and – not really surprisingly, in spite of Torres’ stature in world football – many of the fans’ opinions were quite levelheaded.

No individual player can be bigger than the club – this was the overwhelming opinion. I totally agree. Of course, many of the opinions that I was reading belonged to fellow life-long Liverpool fans, all old enough to remember the halcyon days of harvesting silverware almost as a club prerogative.

The loss of a single-player has been – in the club’s illustrious history – merely a springboard for further successes. In 1977 Liverpool superstar Kevin Keegan felt he had no more mountains to climb in England – after winning European Cup, Division I and FA Cup medals – and decided to move abroad to broaden his horizons. He went to the German Bundesliga club SV Hamburg for a transfer fee of £600,000.

With the money, Liverpool went on a northern sortie and raided Scottish club Glasgow Celtic for their international striker – a certain Kenneth Mathieson Dalglish. The fee was a mere £440,000; and simple arithmetic shows that Liverpool, in fact, was £160,000 to the good from the Keegan deal. As things happened, King Kenny – incidentally now the Liverpool manager – turned out to be a significantly better and more successful player for the club than Keegan.

In 1987, another iconic Liverpool striker – a Welshman by the name of Ian Rush – felt exactly as Keegan did a decade earlier. He had won everything with Liverpool and wanted to prove himself in the intimidating atmosphere of the Italian Serie A with Juventus. With the money earned from his transfer fee, Dalglish – who was by then the Liverpool’s player-manager – bought four players who would be the fulcrum of a footballing side that still has me salivating whenever I think of its flowing football: John Barnes, Peter Beardsley, John Aldridge and Ray Houghton.

The football that that side played was of the utmost flair; and unlike Arsene Wenger’s current Arsenal side, it had steel to go along with the artistry. That team was, in fact, described by one of England’s legendary players – a certain Tom Finney – as the best British club side he had ever had the pleasure of watching since the last World War.

When Chelsea tabled its first bid earlier this month, I thought the Blues were just being cheeky. This was no more than a mind game, I thought to myself. The team had slipped from its lofty perch at the top of the Premiership earlier this season and had started to look over its shoulders at the other clubs rapidly climbing up the table. Why not ruffle some feathers, particularly as Liverpool – under Kenny Dalglish’s inspirational management – has managed to climb menacingly up the table.

In a few days, though, the footy web sites started reporting that Torres first asked Liverpool to at least consider Chelsea’s offer and then – when his former club refused to budge – formally handed in a transfer request. When the Liverpool officials obligatorily denied that Torres was not for sale – and that he was under a long-term contract that he was expected to honor – I thought that was the surest sign that he was, in fact, leaving. I have been following this game long enough to have learned to read the smokescreens club officials hurl which fool nobody, anyway.

Personally – and younger Liverpool fans will consider me sacrilegious – I have never warmed up to Torres. I first saw him play when he was still leading the line for Spain’s Atletico Madrid. That was one player I would love to see in the all-red of Liverpool, I thought to myself. Then again, this was in La Liga, a more technical and slower league compared to the Premiership.

I know his goalscoring rate is the best-ever for the club. That said, having seen the efforts Keegan, Rush, Dalglish and Aldridge all gave into each and every Liverpool game, I resented it when Torres sometimes looked languid; lazy and disinterested, even. He could also be remarkably petulant, with a propensity for hitting the carpet at the slightest nudge and allowing defenders and questionable officiating to get under his skin.

I abhor Chelsea’s Didier Drogba for exactly these traits. In fact, I had to suffer the ignominy of a Chelsea fan pointing out to me that Torres was exactly the same. I was damned if I was going to give him any satisfaction by agreeing with him; but in private – because I am an honest person – I had to admit to myself that he had a point.

The more Kenny Dalglish denied that Torres was going to Chelsea, the more I was certain that he was, in fact, leaving. My feelings mirrored those of the Liverpool blogs I frequent. Let him go! The last thing any team needs is a sulking player; and he was that, particularly in Roy Hodgson’s last painful days at the helm.

A lot has been said about Hodgson’s defensive and long-ball tactics as not suiting Torres. Tactically, that makes sense. He belongs to a tactically superior generation of Spaniards who flourish when they have the ball at their feet and when they attack as a unit. Having said that, Torres also was paid sums you and I only dream about to not sulk and play as the manager wished. That is what he is a professional for!

For the record, it has become obvious to even those who have no love lost for Liverpool that Kenny Dalglish has gone to great pains to restore the pass-and-move way of the old Liverpool teams. The long-ball argument not being suitable to Torres, therefore, no longer held true.

Luis Garcia, a former Liverpool player, went public by saying that Torres wanted the Chelsea move because his old club was not winning enough to keep him. Of course, it was convenient for Garcia to say that because he was among those who did not do enough to win honors for the club. Is it just me; or have players of the modern day not realized that clubs are made up of players? If Liverpool has not been winning enough, what was Torres’ part in it, then?

I am, if I am being honest, relieved that Torres will no longer be wearing the all-red of Liverpool. I am determined to celebrate the fact that Andy Carroll has arrived from Newcastle United and the Uruguayan Luis Suarez from Ajax Amsterdam. I rather suspect Kenny Dalglish is trying to form an all-action tall-striker-small-striker tandem of the sort that brought Liverpool so many successes in the seventies and eighties.

Success in football is cyclical; and yes, the likes of Manchester United, Chelsea and Arsenal have all been in the same predicament as Liverpool has been for the last two decades. That is the predicament of having nowhere to go but up. If I was Torres, the thing I would worry most is if the pendulum would swing back Liverpool’s way just when he has jumped ship for Chelsea’s gold.

Keegan was missed only fleetingly. Rush even less so when he left for Juventus; and he was actually back after a mere season. A certain Michael Owen, it may be added, left to warm the bench at the Bernabeu. The move can turn out well for El Niño, who knows? But then again, maybe it will not. All I know is that I am looking forward to how Carroll and Suarez team up with each other for the remainder of the season. Fernando Torres? Ancient history!

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