Flight com, I can’t hold her! She’s breaking up! She’s breaking—
Fernando Torres, striker. A man barely alive. We can rebuild him. We have the technology. We can make him more than he was.
Better... stronger... faster...different.
* * *
Do you remember Fernando Torres? No, not the Fernando Torres from earlier this week, or last month, or last year. Do you remember Fernando Torres, scourge of the Premier League? This Fernando Torres?
There's a school of thought that says that Torres came pre-broken when Chelsea committed £100 million to him on January 31st, 2011. And it's true, to an extent -- his raw goalscoring tally had certainly dropped thanks to injuries and overuse. But on the occasions that he did play, he was still the Torres we knew and hated.
A quick, incisive player, the Spanish centre forward was always pushing straight towards the goal. His finishing was instinctive and sublime. He could go past defenders or take advantage of their positioning to make the goalkeeper's life more difficult. He was never much for influencing the game beyond actually scoring goals, but he was always a threat when the ball was near the box, spinning goals from nothing with alarming regularity.
That's the player Roman Abramovich so desperately wanted to steal from Liverpool. It's not the player he received.
We've been treated to a litany of excuses regarding Torres' poor form in a Chelsea shirt. He's still injured. Didier Drogba eats competition. He's not getting enough playing time. His confidence is shattered. He's not geting enough service from his teammates. Some of those ring truer than others, but the simple fact of the matter is that since his move to Stamford Bridge, Torres has been nowhere near as sharp, nowhere near as direct.
Misfiring in his debut is perhaps understandable -- one can only imagine the kind of pressure a player's under facing his old team immediately after a contentious 50 million transfer. The next few matches were less so. The first warning sign came against Fulham, when fellow newcomer David Luiz released the striker with a flamboyant 70-yard through ball.
Those aren't the sort of chances Torres fluffed very often when he was with the Reds. This time, however, he didn't even manage to get a shot off before giving the ball away. Even the best strikers make mistakes, but the miss at Craven Cottage was just the start of a trend. The transfer, which had been little short of earth-shaking when it happened, turned into a joke. Weeks went by, then months, and Torres still hadn't scored. Or looked close to scoring.
Even when he finally broke his Chelsea duck against West Ham, it was hardly convincing, assisted as it was by a convenient puddle. And by that point the 'has Torres scored a goal yet?' saga had turned into a farce. His second strike for Chelsea came against Manchester United in a match better known for The Miss, and his third was quickly overshadowed by a red card in that same half.
To cut a long and fairly sad story short, Torres wasn't scoring goals, nor was he looking like a goalscorer. I was in attendance at Stamford Bridge* for the final home game of the 2010/11 season, and one of my fellow matchgoers commented to me that 'he looks like an actor playing a footballer'. I couldn't disagree.
*A rare treat for an expatriate.
And when Torres isn't scoring -- old Torres, at least -- he's pretty terrible. He was never good at any of the other things you expect from a footballer. His passing was only ok, his movement only useful insomuch as his very presence would terrify the opposition and force them to compromise their organisation to track him.
That meant that Chelsea Torres, the one not scoring goals, began his career as one of the Premier League's more useless players. He was bringing basically nothing to the team, and although the fans were still behind him it was abundantly clear that Chelsea were better off using, well, anyone else.
None of Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas and Roberto di Matteo have succeeded in reinstating Torres' abilities as a pure scorer. The early returns this year are promising (especially the finishes for his goals against Newcastle United and Arsenal), but nothing to put real stock in just yet.
There's no much use speculating just what's going on in a footballer's head, but an awful lot of the time it seems as though Torres is trying far too hard to be, well, Torres. When he doesn't have time to think, he does some astonishing things -- the long-range shot against Aston Villa, the overhead kick against Sunderland, that volley against the post for Juan Mata's goal against Wigan. But when he does... well, can get pretty ugly.
While Torres still doesn't look like the sort of player who can get you 25-30 goals a season, however, the rest of his game is vastly improved. Against Nordsjaelland on Tuesday, the striker lead the team in a hugely aggressive pressing game, winning the ball for the opening goal. He also was heavily involved for Chelsea's second and their fourth.
During his Liverpool days, Torres' highest assist count was five. He more than doubled that last year with the Blues, notching twelve as he started to wander flank to flank and actually get involved in the play. It's a markedly different style to the one he's used to, but he can no longer simply coast on a skill that he doesn't have. He wasn't pulling his weight -- still isn't pulling his weight, probably -- but he's slowly turning into a much more well-rounded player.
This experiment is still in its early days. Torres comes along in fits and starts, is prone to vanishing with alarming regularity and still isn't worth anything like what Chelsea paid for him. But it's progress, and if the club can squeeze some value from their record signing despite the fact that he forgot how to play football when he arrived here... well, we've got him anyway, so might as well try.
And if, on the off chance that this scoring renaissance is legitimate (I have my doubts, but your mileage may vary) -- Torres has scored four times in the past eight matches, after all -- then we suddenly have a striker who's a better all-around player than the one who arrived at Stamford Bridge 21 months ago.