You can bet your bottom Euro that, had Liverpool striker Fernando Torres put in his now-customary idle mope against Chelsea yesterday, today’s tabloids would have been crammed to the hilt with sourceless stories of his impending desertion to whichever cash-rich suitors were plucked out of the hat first.
As it just so happens, Liverpool’s gilded show pony put in a match-winning shift, bagging himself a brace of characteristic goals thus doubling his season’s tally in the process, hence, Torres is ‘back to his best’ and all is well with the world once more.
After suffering a record-endangeringly calamitous start to the season, Liverpool’s three consecutive Premier League victories have seen them claw themselves from the relegation mire into a fairly respectable ninth place – just five points behind Manchester City – and manager Roy Hodgson has every faith that Torres can now finally recapture that majestic form that warmed even the most frigid cockles before petering out some twelve months ago:
“I am pleased Fernando will get all the plaudits. He has taken his fair share of criticism, some of which has been exaggerated and not deserved.
People will say he’s back to his best and certainly [against Chelsea] he was. He’s a vital player for Liverpool, as he would be for any club.
Hopefully he will end up looking back at this season, like the team, saying, ‘OK, so I didn’t have the brightest of starts, but it ended up as a great season’.
We speak all the time. He wants the club to do well, and he wants to see we’re moving in the right direction. We were all in a situation wondering what the future would be during the takeover but, like me, he can now see a positive future here with new owners.
He likes being at Liverpool and playing for Liverpool. I don’t have any fears for the future as far as he’s concerned, as long as we can get back close to the top of the table where Liverpool belong.”
Torres himself echoed his superior’s sentiments after scoring for the seventh time in eight games against Chelsea, insisting that the perpetual injury problems that have dogged him over the past year or so are now completely resolved, and that he finally feels ready to make a concerted effort to rejuvenate his dwindling form – although he’s making no promises:
“Every day I am feeling better and improving every day. It has been difficult. It was a tough end of [last] season for me, and so was the World Cup, with lots of injuries. I do not know if I can play my best soon, but I hope I will.”
Torres has been continually jibed for his dramatic loss of constitution, but the Spaniard also went on to admit that he accepts such criticism is merely a by-product of the modern game:
“Being criticised is part of life as a footballer. At a team like Liverpool, everyone watches every game and everything you do is around the world a minute later. I know the expectation and I want to fight hard to get my top form.”
In losing out to Liverpool yesterday, Chelsea surrendered the chance to re-establish their five-point lead over Manchester United in the Premier League standings – although manager Carlo Ancelotti was unperturbed in singling out Torres for specific praise, branding the chief architect of his side’s downfall a ‘fantastic striker’.
I’ve stated before, and I’m perfectly prepared to stand by my conviction that Liverpool’s over-reliance on Torres as their sole goal threat for the past three seasons has had a critical effect on his physiology and, as a direct consequence, I believe that we’ve already seen the ‘best of him’ i.e. that magical run of searing dynamism between August 2007 and October 2008.
I just don’t believe he will ever be physically able to surpass the astounding goal-scoring, defence-harrying exploits he made during that period.
That said, as he proved on Sunday afternoon, once you strip away the posturing and begin to replenish the confidence in his muscular capabilities, Torres is still a genuinely world-class striker – arguably the best of redefined ilk.
His only goal (so to speak) now should be to remind the footballing sphere of that considerable, though currently latent, prowess.