Jose Mourinho has drawn plenty of flack over his handling of Chelsea's strikers in 2014. First there were the offhand remarks in Istanbul, the fallout of which mostly -- and mistakenly -- centered on the quip about Samuel Eto'o's age. In truth, the parties with more reason to be offended were Fernando Torres and Demba Ba, for reasons which are fairly obvious if you pay any attention to what Mourinho actually said:
No, it is not possible [for Chelsea to win the Premier League]. We don't have a goalscorer. Samuel Eto'o. Yes, Eto'o, but he is 32, maybe even 35, I don't know.
The non-Eto'o strikers weren't even given the small dignity of being made fun of. Instead, they were placed, not unreasonably, into the 'not goalscorers' bucket. Torres' response was to score nine minutes into the subsequent match against Galatasaray, Ba's was to notch a brace against Tottenham Hotspur. Eto'o, meanwhile, did his old man celebration against Spurs before sustaining an old-man injury against Arsenal.
Which is to say that it doesn't look as though some stern and unguarded criticism has had any negative impact on the actual performances of the players in question. And so, I suspect, we might imagine that the more recent round of criticisms following last week's loss in France will have a similar (negligible) impact. Against Stoke City, Torres had a quintessentially Torres game, looking lively until a fairly big miss, at which point he became anonymous. Nothing we haven't seen before, in other words.
So what, exactly, is the big fuss over Mourinho's comments? Any outside observer knows that the Blues are in a tricky situation regarding strikers, but they should also be well aware that a) nothing Mourinho does in the next few weeks will make them any better at scoring goals and b) that the situation is set to be resolved in summer anyway. Mourinho's gaze has seemingly been strictly focused on next season since at least January.
So is there a point to the manager criticising his strikers? If we assume that there is, that Mourinho doesn't do things for no reason, and if we also assume that there's little benefit in the short term the answer is that any benefit must lie beyond this season. And if you were feeling particularly cynical you could easily make the point that making Chelsea an unhappy place for the strikers you're trying to get rid of is a good way of getting rid of them.
Ba is easily disposed of. Eto'o is out of contract. But the elephant in the room here is Fernando Torres' contract. By the close of the season we'll be three and a half years into his five and a half year deal. In Financial Fair Play accounting, Chelsea have paid off roughly £32 million of his £50 million transfer fee; they've also contributed something close to that amount in wages. Selling him would free up an enormous burden on the club's finances, something on the order of £18 million a year. Considering the calibre of player available for that amount of money, there is no universe in which it makes sense for the club not to want Torres out.
What's the catch? There's no reason for Torres to want to go. At Chelsea, he has a hefty paycheck and plenty of playing time. He has fans who support him through more or less every indignity. He's been something close to bulletproof, surviving a slew of managerial changes which can at least partially put down to the club's struggle to score goals. And so despite not having a good time of things once a week on the pitch, it's difficult to imagine Torres walking away for what would surely be significantly less money.
And if you're a manager looking to get rid of Torres, presented with that situation and knowing full well that he's unlikely to contribute much for the rest of the season, what's the best way to approach things? An unsettled Torres, a Torres agitating for the exit, a Torres willing to take less money to escape the club -- these are the types of Torreses most conducive to the long-term plan of upgrading at centre forward. And if he's not unsettled on his own... well, steps might plausibly be taken to help push him in that direction.
Keeping Torres happy hasn't helped Chelsea at all, but up until now no manager has had the strength to go after him directly. Mourinho does, and now the two are on a collision course. The fireworks should be amusing.
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