The second coming of Fernando Torres

(Originally published on adifferentleague.co.uk)

The date is 29th of June 2008, the venue Ernst Happel stadium, Vienna. Clean through on goal Fernando Torres does what everyone in the stadium expects him to – dink the ball delicately past Jens Lehman and into the net. As the Spaniard celebrates scoring the winning goal for Spain in the Euro 2008 final against Germany, his elated expression tells the story.

At 24 Torres had seemingly fulfilled his early promise, in the eyes of many Spaniards the natural successor to Raul – then widely considered the best player Spain had ever produced.

Fast forward three years and three months, venue Old Trafford this time. Torres, once again clean through on goal rounds David De Gea only to slip and fumble his shot wide of an open net from six yards. Again his expression tells the story, though this time it’s a rather different one.

Despite scoring earlier in that match, the headlines that followed predictably announced the demise of the once prolific forward. “Fernando Torres's greatest days may be confined to memory” read the Guardian, “Torres is sinking into his own private hell…” screamed the Mail. This, to add to his 1000 minute goalless streak after signing from Liverpool in January 2011 signalled a decline that arguably began at the 2010 world cup, and from which there appeared to be no recovery.

Yet too often football is a sport with a short memory, in which immediacy is valued over patience and the old adage ‘you’re only as good as your last game’ reigns among the most oft-quoted clich├ęs.

True, Torres’s scoring form for Chelsea has been inadequate for a finisher of his quality and must be classed as somewhat graver than a blip. But the more discerning Chelsea fans have remained patient, suspecting that at 28 Torres is far too young and talented for his career to peter out at this stage, and noting that his touch and awareness on the ball have remained virtually intact. Crucially, it appears this patience has been shared by Roberto di Matteo.

Last night those who remained faithful were finally proven conclusively right. Ironically, Torres’s goal against Barcelona to seal Chelsea’s place in only the second Champions League final of their history was almost identical to the one he didn’t score against Man Utd. As he dribbled the ball past Victor Valdes to face an open goal once more, Chelsea fans held their breath. Not until the entire ball had crossed all of the line did they exhale. “I was sure he’d miss” tweeted one fan, “That’s what we paid £50 million for”, wrote another.

A footballer’s career is judged in moments and in spite of Torres’s diminished reputation in recent months this goal will rank as one of his proudest. Perhaps significantly, it was scored in his home country in front of a Spanish audience, and against a club which boasts a number of leading Spanish internationals. To remind them of his talents at this stage will have done his ambitions of playing a starring role at Euro 2012 this summer no harm.

Nevertheless, it is important to put things in perspective. One goal alone is insufficient to justify the amount of money spent on Torres and there remains work to be done before Roman Abramovich can be satisfied with his purchase. In Spain Torres has long ago been overtaken by David Villa as the country’s leading striker, and he was recently omitted from the national squad altogether in favour of Athletic Bilbao’s teenage prodigy Iker Muniain.

But nearly four years on from the pinnacle moment of his career it doesn’t feel excessive to say that this goal could well mark the second coming of a man once ranked the planet’s most feared striker.


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