At a time when Fernando Torres should be reaching the apex of his career, he is trying to bring it back to life. Anthony Lopopolo writes.
On June 26, 2011
Fernando Torres suffered a midcareer crisis, he really did. He was becoming a Liverpool legend. He was thought to be the future of Spain. But his play was hamstrung by injuries — an injured knee here, a hurt groin there, a bruised sense of confidence everywhere. His appearances in Spain’s World Cup win in 2010 were short-lived, ineffective and flat as day-old soda.
Just two years ago, he scored the Euro 2008-winning goal for Spain over Germany. This season, he wanted away from the Reds, a team that flirted with relegation at one point in 2010. Restless in his new home in London, Torres’ time with Chelsea started goalless in the very first game, then in his second and third. Then it became a disgusting trend.
Three months, 14 games, 732 minutes: a trifecta of stats measuring the length of Fernando’s goal drought. That is like an average of six feature films. It took US$67-million man, the fourth most expensive player in the history of the game, longer than the running time of the Lord of the Rings trilogy to kick a ball into a net. “There was,” Chelsea midfielder Salomon Kalou told the Guardian about that historic moment, “a lot of happiness.”
But the stats sounded like sirens, alerting everyone to the vulnerability of his game. At 27, the task of reviving his career, not furthering it, will begin next season. Last season could be remembered as a blip in his career, a forgettable footnote. Or it could stand as the beginning of one of the biggest busts in football, joining Andrei Shevchenko as Chelsea players who rode out their careers on the bench. It is entirely up to Fernando, really. He will not apologize for signing with Chelsea and blamed his poor performances on injuries. But injuries and Torres are inextricably synonymous with each, like ketchup and hotdogs. It is hard to imagine when he’s been healthy for a long period of time.
He will have to convince his new fans and dispirit his old ones. When he left, Liverpool fans ignited Torres jerseys, which produced the same rank stench as Lebron jerseys burning in Cleveland: the smell of betrayal and unfaithfulness. Liverpool fans said they thought Torres would be a flag bearer for the club, that he understood the team and that, considering he stood by it through years of ownership turmoil and on-field futility, no situation, however dire, could faze his devotion to the club. One fan said in the Mirror that “it felt like my wife had an affair with the milkman and then sent me a DVD telling me that he was better in bed than me.”
Well-wishers of Torres turned into naysayers, the same who defended him during his many spells on stretchers and sidelines turned against him. They were the ones pleased to see Torres struggle in a blue uniform. Then, there are the Chelsea fans, the ones waiting for him to justify his price tag, confused whether to blame him or owner Roman Abramovich for spending the GDP of a developing country on him.
Torres said last season was his worst and most difficult season. It really is not. This next year will be. The effects of poisonous and embarrassing stats, those stats that infected a sickening year for Torres, will be felt in 2011 and 2012, when there is an imperative on his behalf to return to form. Torres has won a European Championship, World Cup and tons of individual internationally acclaimed and Premier League awards. At 27, he should be pushing his career to its apex. Instead, he is performing reconstructive surgery on it. ♦
Anthony Lopopolo is an Italian-Canadian freelance sportswriter and an unabashed apologist for all things Serie A. He has written for such publications as The National newspaper, The Hockey News magazine and the National Post. You can follow him on Twitter or send him an email.