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Lessons from Fernando Torres

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An attempt to make sense of the disaster that was the Spanish striker's time at Chelsea

Shaun Botterill

I still really like Fernando Torres. I think he was an excellent player at Liverpool, a real menace of a striker. I was excited as any fan was when Chelsea signed him in the January 2010 transfer window. I can still remember exactly how I learnt the news: a friend, out of breath, racing up to me and yelling something incomprehensible about fifty million pounds.

This wasn't a concern to me: after all, what was money when you had Fernando Torres? It was very easy to forget the sum when you consider the sum of Fernando's parts: an obscenely talented striker and the menace of defenders everywhere.

But then that money become a big, dark, grey, unavoidable cloud, pouring down scorn and ridicule upon Torres who was in a time of extreme drought. No matter how well or how badly he played, that extraordinary sum of money hung over his head. We were offered a range of entirely valid excuses and a range of wildly nonsensical explanations for his underperformance, most of which ignored the fact he hadn't played well for a while, his form slowly but surely falling below the expectations of a world class striker.

But instead, we clung to this image of Torres the superstar, the unbeatable striker that put others to shame. We wanted Torres to always be like that, always be that figure of unbreakable calm as he broke through behind a back four and calmly slotted the ball past the keeper. I really liked that Fernando Torres.

I have never met Fernando Torres, and unless he spends his spare time reading A-League tactical analysis, he has never heard of me. But I felt like something had been ripped from my skin when he missed an open goal against Manchester United. I cursed him like an old friend when he was sent off against Swansea. I got angry at Andre Villas-Boas when he [justifiably] played Didier Drogba ahead of him.

It was around this time when people really started to not like Torres, when their criticisms became laced with outrage and their vitriol carried the weight of meaning. It was around this time that I first considered writing an article about Torres, writing something about how I really liked him. But I couldn't find the words, let alone the reason, why I did. I had no idea why I wanted him to do well so badly. I want every Chelsea player to do well,

I started writing this piece back in April 2012, the day after Torres scored against Barcelona. The general feeling about Torres was a non-issue compared to the seismic implications of Chelsea's date in Munich. But amidst my own happiness was a cathartic feeling for Torres, the hope that despite the relative [non-importance] of that goal, it would serve as some sort of vindication for his move to Chelsea. At the very least, it was a nice moment, a fond memory to look back on.

But I still couldn't write this piece. I still couldn't elucidate upon just why Torres mattered so much. I briefly considered some sort of philosophical reflection about how football, and the players, can come to represent life, but the idea seemed ludicrous. How could a game symbolise something as vast as life? It's a sport, for goodness sake. And Fernando Torres is an athlete. Not a god.

It feels like everything has been said about Fernando Torres, and everything has probably been said. Everything written above has been written before. But I still really like Fernando Torres. I'll miss having him around.

That, though, is completely illogical. By the end of his Chelsea career, Torres had become nothing more than a spare part - another striker to throw on if we were chasing a game, a forward to play if we had nothing to play for. What was his last game for Chelsea? An absolute non-affair against Cardiff. He scored the winner, but it was nothing more than a postscript.

What, then, is Torres if he was neither of the two things that might earn him such vaulted status in my mind? He was neither a great player for Chelsea, not someone I can automatically replay a highlights reel in my brain for, and nor was he transcendental to the game itself. As we already established, trying to make him a symbol of life might make me sound like a wanker.

But Torres has to stand for something bigger. In many ways, he was bigger than anything else - the biggest transfer in Chelsea history, the biggest flop in Chelsea history.

Torres signed at a time when I was still growing up, when I was leaving a younger place beforehand, but still learning about the clouds of the world I was walking into. If Torres taught me one thing - which he didn't; he taught me may things - it's that sports teach us the value of victory and defeat, and how the latter doesn't necessarily mean failure. The only time you really fail is when you don't learn something in the process.

That might be an odd way of viewing, for all intents and purposes, a very costly mistake. But Torres, that wild swing-curve of a career fall; Torres, the player who could make you believe he was back one day and gone the next; Torres, the striker that could make you feel like you can touch the sky one day, and fall through the ground the next, was so much more than that.

Torres taught me that we can be poor one day, and rich the next. Our lives would be so much more boring without those falls. They make the highs that much more worthwhile.

If that's a lesson that cost 50 million pounds, then oh well. I really liked Fernando Torres.