The Mysterious Situation of Fernando Torres

torres-milan-2014-galliani

Right before the 2010 World Cup, ESPN said this about a certain striker, “clinical, deadly, classy, great pace, strong, great in the air, the perfection of a complete striker.” If I asked you to guess a striker pre World Cup 2010, one might guess David Villa or Robin van Persie and asked now in 2014, one might say Diego Costa or Zlatan Ibrahimovic. However, ESPN was talking about Fernando Torres. Fans following soccer in 2010 would agree, but many fans now would disagree. Fans ask, how can a player who is nominated for Ballon d’or fall to easy target of jokes. This article will shed light on possible causes. Yes, I have been an avid fan of his since his Atletico Madrid days and still support him.

HISTORY
Torres started his senior career at Atlético Madrid. Torres moved through the ranks and became the youngest captain in Atlético history. He established himself as one of Spain’s National Team strikers by the 2006 World Cup.

Torres transferred to Liverpool in 2007. At the time, he was Liverpool’s most expensive signing. At Liverpool, Torres made himself into a world class name. Torres left Atlético for greener pastures. Torres left a struggling Atlético, which is no longer the case, to a traditional powerhouse, Liverpool. He became a sensation and a world class striker. His first season he scored 33 goals, passing Ruud van Nistelrooy and setting the record for most prolific foreign goal scorer in England’s history. That summer Torres would score the winning goal for Spain against Germany in the Euro Finals, ending Spain’s 44 year drought of a major trophy. The next two season Torres had three major injuries, but he still produced amazing numbers, 17 goals in 38 caps and 22 goals in 32 caps (18 league goals in 22 appearances). Torres became the fastest Liverpool player to reach 50 goals, passing Michael Owen, Robbie Fowler and among other Liverpool legends.

Three seasons Torres had won more than his share of awards; Premier League Team of the Year (twice), Player of the Month (twice), Goal of the Month (twice), 08 UEFA Euro Tournament Team and Team of the Year, FIFPro World XI (twice), a third place finish of FIFA World Player and Ballon d’Or (finished behind Messi & Ronaldo) and more.

After 3.5 seasons, Torres would shock the soccer world by signing to Chelsea. Close to deadline of the transfer window Torres signed with chelsea. The signing, at the time, made him the most expensive English Premier League player in history. The cost would be 50 million pounds, about 90 million US dollars. Many people were comparing Torres to LeBron James. Fernando never left Liverpool for the money, he left to win trophies, which we will see later.

Torres spent 3.5 seasons at Chelsea, before going on loan to AC Milan for his final two years of his Chelsea contract. This is where we are now, Torres currently in his first year of AC Milan.

INJURIES
Torres had three surgeries during his Liverpool time, one in 2008-2009 season and two in the 2009-2010 season. Some fans say, he has lost some of his explosive speed from his injuries. A big blow was towards the end of 2010 season months before the World Cup. The season saw Torres off to a fast start and he did finish the season with strong stats. Torres was fighting Drogba for the gold boot right before the Christmas break.  Torres would be out twice after the Christmas break with major surgeries. Liverpool did not do any favors for Torres when they rushed him twice from surgery. Understandable why he was rushed, since Liverpool relied much on Torres and Gerrard.

Torres came back strong after his first surgery. After three months from the first surgery, Torres was injured again and had his second major surgery for his knee. his season for Liverpool was over. Del Bosque, Spain’s coach, was faced with a tough dilemma. Not taking Torres and taking Torres both had risk. Torres knew the system and selecting another player might not know the system as well as him, but taking a non fit player over a fit player would be a risk.

Torres would eventually make the 23 man squad but it was clear he was not fully fit. During the World Cup, fans could tell Torres was not fit, he looked sluggish, his movements were not natural and made have took a toll on his confidence. By the end of the World Cup Torres was heavily criticized. Torres picked up a hamstring injury during the final. This last injury, along with not being rested, definitely played into the start of the 10-11 Liverpool season.

SUMMER AFTER 2010 WORLD CUP
Torres had a slow start to the new campaign. One reason could have been the ghost of plagued injuries. Liverpool’s new coach, Roy Hodgson, was a defensive minded coach. Rafa Benitez, LFC old manager, was defensive minded also, but enjoyed the fast break game. Part of Torres’s game strived on the fast break, more on this later. Hodgson did not last long at Liverpool and was replaced by Kenny Dalglish. Dalglish understood Torres’s style and the old Torres was back. Torres’s form picked up from the Chelsea game in November where he bagged two goals and from November to January Torres form came alive.

TORRES LEAVES ANFEILD
Torres told Liverpool that he wanted more world class players. This was after LFC (Liverpool Football Club), lost two world class players, Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano. Torres wanted Liverpool to continue to be competitive. This is the reason why Torres left Madrid. Liverpool did not finish in the top four in 09/10 season, which meant no Champions League. The summer of 2010 had rumors about other clubs being interested in Torres.

Torres wanted to win trophies, that is why he came to Liverpool. Fernando left Madrid because they were not winning trophies. Torres was leaving Liverpool because at the time, they were failing to win trophies. Torres was leaving for a better job, where he could win more silverware. Who has not ever left their job for a better job? Chelsea was certainly winning more trophies and continue during the upcoming years. Torres becoming the most expensive player in leagues history would leave a heavy burden on his shoulder. Torres first game for the blues would come against Liverpool.

COMPARING CHELSEA & LIVERPOOL STYLE
Let’s start off comparing the two teams playing style. Since Torres arrival to Anfield, Liverpool had built their team around Torres and his strengths. Steven Gerrard had an amazing partnership with Torres. Torres strength was to play off the defenders shoulders and having through balls feed to him. He would use to his advantage with his pace and deadly finishing. Torres usually played as lone wolf, which allowed him to create space to open space for other players. Torres was excellent at finding space and running towards defenders. Chelsea system at the time of Torres arrival, relied less on strikers. Chelsea did not do through balls, their strikers were meant to hold the ball and wait for help. Chelsea’s midfield scored just as much as their strikers, where as at Liverpool, they heavily relied on Torres. Forwards at Chelsea scored heavy percentage of their goals by poaching.

TORRES PUTS ON BLUE
Torres’s first game was not bad. He had a nice shot which Jamie Carragher blocked. If Carragher did not block it, maybe Torres would have had a good start and would have taken the burden off his shoulders. Torres was subbed off and Liverpool ended up winning the match, a harsh ironic twist.

The next few games we see Torres fluff chances (Fulham) that he would have finished few weeks ago when he was wearing red. He had bad luck, hitting woodwork after woodwork (Manchester United, Champions League). Torres was splitting time between Drogba and Anelka. Splitting time had its pros and cons. Torres played about 90-95 percent of the time at Liverpool. He did not have much rest at Anfield, which could had be the reason for his number of injuries, no break and no rotation. At Chelsea, Torres could rest. However, this might have made Torres second guess himself. Torres was seeing less playing time and it the long run might started to affect his confidence.

People said Torres was out of form, but I disagree. People said Torres confidence was dipping, which at the time I disagree, Torres had confidence at the time and was running at defenders (watch the Copenhagen UCL highlights). Torres was not getting the service, the minutes and getting very unlucky. With each game passing and no goal, the pressure gets heavier. When a player cost 50 million pounds, he is excepted to produce. Chelsea never played towards Torres’s strengths and coming in mid-season to a new club never helps. Starting with a new club, not understanding the players chemistry and playing style is never good.

Torres finally broke the seal and scored against West Ham and picked up an assist. His first season (half season) comes to an end, with only one goal. At the same time, he played for Spain in a few friendly matches, scored and looked lively. However, Spain’s system is one Torres understands and the midfield understood Torres.

The following season fans had mix feelings. Chelsea had a new coach, as always, but would end up not finishing the season. This is the season Torres lost confidence. Torres movement and pace were there but CFC not playing much to his strength. Sturridge, who should play center forward, but played wide, was not helping anyone. Sturridge is a very selfish player and does not stay wide. Chelsea’s big problem that season were their wingers. The wingers did not stay wide and would come into center. The center of the pitch would be crowded leaving no room. Torres moves out wide and many people did not understand why. This is one reason, Sturridge for example, is not a natural winger and is selfish (center forward mindset). When the Blues played Manchester United, Torres had a lovely run and chipped it over de Gea. The goal was a through ball from Ankela. Torres thrives on this and I thought Anelka understood this, along with David Luiz and of course fellow Spaniard Juan Mata. Torres was very impressive in the game, until he had a brilliant run and round the keeper and missed an open net. This had to be soul crushing. The following game Torres had a brilliant goal but was given a straight red card which made he miss three games. Once again, Torres luck was not on his side and after hitting post after post. Torres put on an impressive game against Valencia in the Champions League but strong goalkeeping kept him out of the net. It was like the Liverpool Gods were punishing him. Torres had a few droughts and saw his minutes get cut down and add his bad luck with hitting woodwork (amazing bicycle kick, only to have it hit the post, great Liverpool run only to hit the the post), this lead to his confidence falling. He finished the season on a high note with a hat trick and an important goal against Barcelona in the Champions League that would put them through into the Champions League Final. That summer Torres would win the Golden Boot for Spain in the Euros. At the Euros, Torres looked strong and confident. Spain always played to Torres strengths, especially in this tournament because David Villa was injured. Torres and Villa made a great duo, one of the most prolific goal partnership in the world. People did not understand how important Torres is for Villa (example, Euro 08 against Russia). Torres is bigger and quicker than Villa. Torres would drag defenders away, leaving Villa to pick up the open space. Torres did this wonderfully in Euro 08, Xavi would give him a through ball into open space and allow Torres to run it down and look for Villa or an open winger like Silva.

2012-2013 was much more promising for Torres. Torres started off the season hot. His first ten games he bagged 7 goals, but after that Torres had a drought. Here is was the problem, Chelsea wanted to build the team around Torres, finally. However, Chelsea’s midfield still did not have true wingers, beside Moses. Chelsea’s midfield still had the mindset of shoot and not pass, that of the Chelsea when Torres joined the Blues. Torres, besides Mata, Moses and rare times when Yossi came on the pitch, never received his through balls. Yossi played alongside with Torres at Liverpool. Yossi backed Torres with the media, understanding how CFC does not play his style. David Luiz understood Torres style, but he played center back, and only occasionally played a deep midfield role. Eden Hazard, Oscar, etc. are players who like to dribble and not feed Torres through balls. CFC sacked their coach and brought in Benitez in the January window. Torres again looked alive and getting out of his drought, only to get back in it. Torres finished the season strong again (final goal tally was 22), especially in European competition. The reason why Torres was strong in the European competition was because Moses was on the wing, Yossi played more and Mata was playing behind him. Players that understood how to bring the best out of Torres. Torres did miss some sitters and some shots he would have buried in his Liverpool days, but this goes back to confidence. The season before killed his confidence and I believe he lost a piece of that killer finishing. Everyone has always said Torres has a sensitive side to him.

CONFIDENCE, MINDSET
I am not a psychologist or a professional. This is just my opinion. I believe Torres is more of a fixed mindset. Fixed mindset assumes that our character, intelligence, and creative ability are static givens which we cannot change in any meaningful way. Where as a growth mindset creates motivation and productivity. Of course people can have a mixture of both. I suggest reading “Mindset” by Carol Dweck. Of course any confidence issue has more than one underlying issue.

He over thought too much his second season at Chelsea and followed into his third season. When we look at Torres from LFC days, he liked chip over keepers, most the time during his CFC, he ran around the keeper to beat them. This was a sign that maybe he did not trust his finishing, hence confidence. That summer Torres once again would win the Golden Boot for Spain in the Confederation Cup. 

2013-2014 season, Torres has started off the season strong, but once again, has seen bad luck (aka hitting the post against Manchester City). The season saw Torres playing more aggressive and running at defenders. His luck had not been the best. He picked up little injuries, making him miss two-three weeks and a red card. Mata was gone by January and Chelsea still wanted a striker to hold the ball. Torres changed his game suited for Chelsea but his LFC days were long behind him. CFC once again signed a new coach, Jose Mourinho, who has limited Juan Mata’s playing time, which only hurts Torres. When Mata is on the pitch, instead of playing behind Torres, he is on the wing. Mata was key when he played behind Torres.

COMPARING
When looking at his Madrid day stats, the stats are about the same as Chelsea’s. Yes he was younger but he was also playing with two other forwards, they played 4-3-3, and Madrid, at the time, did not have a strong midfield.

Drogba’s Chelsea career was been overplayed by the Chelsea supporter. Look at his stats, only two seasons over 20 goals. Two seasons out of eight. Torres had three full seasons, and one has over 20 goals. This is not to take anything away from Drogba, he is a fantastic player. This is proves the point that the Chelsea system was not built for a striker. This season, 2014-2015, has changed with the introduction of Fabregas.

TORRES NOW
Torres developed more as an overall player at Chelsea. As stated earlier, the wide part of the pitch was usually open, which Torres learned how to play the channels. Torres has provided much more assist during his CFC days than LFC or Madrid. Torres provided much more and shows his intelligence of the game. Torres has learned to poach more, he worked and played back on defensive.

Do I think Torres should have stayed at Liverpool, yes. I believe as an individual he would have been banging more goals in those three years. Torres was a God at Liverpool and the team was built around him. However, Torres is a driven player who wanted to win trophies. Torres has won the Champions League, Europa and FA Cup, so in that light it was better for Torres to leave. The question is, was it better for him as a individual? I still believe Torres was world class for much of his time at Chelsea. He has had bad luck, he joined a team during the wrong period, a club that was not suited for him, he lost his confidence and had to adopt and change his game. I think it was good for both Chelsea and Torres to depart each other. As a fan, it is heart breaking to see this happen to a player and for what I think, a genuine good guy.

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