I've never been shy in criticising the Fernando Torres deal, which saw Chelsea tie up £100 million in much-needed funds on a rapidly declining striker with injury problems. However, I've always held out some hope that he was, in fact, better than the player he looked when he arrived at Stamford Bridge. He was never going to be a world-class player again, but Fernando Torres, competent striker seemed entirely within the realm of possibility.
That hope has more or less evaporated. The number of performances in which Torres has looked like a capable centre forward while wearing a Blue shirt can be counted on one hand. And although he had a nice run of scoring earlier in the year (including two great, key goals against Newcastle and then Arsenal), his recent form has been so bad it's not even clear that he's actually playing football.
He's not making runs. He's losing the ball. He's not testing the goalkeeper. He's not even trying to test the goalkeeper. In one game against West Bromwich Albion, most of which was spent as a winger, Daniel Sturridge matched Torres' shot output from the last four Premier League matches combined. If Torres made any real gains in the first month or so of the season, they've evaporated so thoroughly that Chelsea have effectively been contesting matches with ten men in the starting lineup.
It's time for the nonsense to stop. We don't need to pretend that Torres is still a good player just because he plays for our club. Fandom need not be blind, and it's entirely possible to support the club without deluding yourself as to how good the players actually are. Here's the simple truth: Fernando Torres is toast.
Every single excuse has been an exercise in denialism. Torres came with an injury? Fine. Summer rest produced a clean bill of health, and no real change in Torres' form. He doesn't work well with Chelsea's muscular style? Two managers and one sea-change in style later, and Torres remains astonishingly poor. Not enough service*? Say hello to Juan Mata. That didn't help? How about Eden Hazard and Oscar? Too much competition? Turns out getting rid of Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka and Salomon Kalou didn't help, nor did pointedly not bringing in reinforcements over summer.
*As an aside, intelligent, incisive passing requires good vision and execution from both passer and receiver. It's impossible to play a through ball to a striker not running at the offside line.
Those excuses were never reasonable. But Torres was indulged -- Chelsea don't want to have made a £100 million mistake any more than the fans want him to fail -- and every single possible angle was tested. Here's the last thing to check: Maybe it's Torres, not the service, or the competition or the style. Maybe Fernando Torres is no longer a good enough football player to get regular minutes for this team.
It almost beggars belief that the defending Champions League winners have given so much time to a player so obviously problematic. That criticism might seem hypocritical given my continued support of the David Luiz experiment, but while David Luiz has a fatal flaw (and an incredibly annoying one at that) holding him back from being a world class player, Torres' faults are preventing him from being even a mediocre one.
We can't go on like this. Every single team in the Premier League has a striker on their books better than Fernando Torres. This isn't a matter of buying a Radamel Falcao or an Edinson Cavani in January and suddenly having a brilliant player lead the line -- Torres needs to be replaced because he's not actually leading the line at all.
Take the loss against West Bromwich Albion, and in particular the final half hour, where Chelsea were on the attack and the Baggies were holding out. Sturridge had been moved to centre forward, and suddenly there was a focal point to the attack, and the team could actually generate chances. Granted, Sturridge contrived to waste them all, but at least he had opportunities to score.
This can't go on. We're clearly very limited in terms of our options, but if we're going to play an out of form centre forward we should probably go with the one that actually gets the basics of centre forward play right. Torres does not deserve to be starting matches for this team. He probably never has deserved it. Give Sturridge a chance, buy an upgrade in January -- almost anyone will do, to be honest -- and let's move on from this stupid, sordid affair.