He may be a World Cup winner, raking in £200,000 a week, but I cannot help feeling sorry for Fernando Torres. You have to wonder whatever next for a player who cost £50 million – and, yes, I’m already talking about his Stamford Bridge career in the past tense. This is what happens when a billionaire foreign owner decides to sign a player on a whim, without consulting his manager.
Carlo Ancelotti was sacked as Chelsea chief less than four months after Torres joined the club on transfer deadline day. If the Italian had been able to sign the forward he wanted, the Blues may well have won the title – and the boss might still be in a job. We used to extract the urine out of club directors when I was at Tottenham but at least they were local businessmen with a genuine feeling for their club, a basic understanding of the game, and they would certainly never have tried to tell manager Bill Nicholson who to sign.
As it is, Torres is left in limbo under a new manager who doesn’t fancy him and appears to be doing well enough without him. It no longer even seems much of an issue if the most expensive player in British football history doesn’t start a match – it’s simply expected. Torres was never worth all that money even at his peak and, although only 26, he was past his best when he signed for Chelsea. But he still has plenty of attributes and could do a decent job for a decent team. He just doesn’t have that extra yard of pace or the special sharpness that separates the greats from the merely very good players.
I don’t believe footballers are ever really weighed down by their price tags – it certainly never bothered me when I made a couple of British transfer-record moves. But when a club has paid well over the odds for you, they are hardly likely to sell you at a massive loss, and that means Torres could have to see out a substantial part of the remaining four years of his contract before he is let go. Perhaps there will be a loan move in a year or so, then maybe a cut-price switch to Spain a little further down the line.
Torres seems destined to be remembered alongside the likes of Justin Fashanu at Nottingham Forest, Garry Birtles at Manchester United and Steve Daley at Manchester City, three of the first £1 million footballers – all of whom flopped badly. If Torres was vastly over-priced, then what about the fella Liverpool drafted in on the same day, Andy Carroll?
Liverpool would never have spent £35m on the big target man if they had not just received £50m for Torres, so to do so was the economics of idiocy. It was as if the money had simply burnt a hole in their pockets. Carroll is a good old-fashioned centre-forward, without the good old-fashioned goals tally, and he doesn’t seem to fit in to Liverpool’s style of play. I can remember another big centre-forward, Tony Hateley, having a similarly frustrating move to Anfield in the ’60s. He scored a few goals but simply didn’t fit in there.
He had also been to Chelsea where the manager, Tommy Docherty, claimed his passes should have been addressed “to whom it may concern”. But Hateley was able to move around and get a fair few goals before his son Mark became one of only three England players to score at Rio’s Maracana Stadium. John Barnes was another and modesty forbids me from mentioning the third!
Whether Torres gets to play at the Maracana in the 2014 World Cup, or whether he even makes the Spain squad for the Euro finals, looks highly unlikely right now. And we should never forget that, however much money you are earning, any footballer worth his salt is only ever really concerned about playing football.