Two years ago, Fernando Torres would have expected to start a Champions League semi-final. He was a frequent international goal-scorer, a fan-favorite, and Liverpool’s run-away star. Now he’s just a chronically lethargic, over- priced flop.
Torres signed for Chelsea because he thought he might win something. Little did he know that his arrival would coincide with the decline that has been obvious all season. Di Matteo’s team is, essentially, a poor-man’s version of the Chelsea of old. The club have abandoned Villas-Boas’ lofty attacking principles and reverted to the defensive style preached by Jose Mourinho, largely because the marquee players whose signings was intended to elevate Chelsea to Barcelona’s stratosphere have disappointed. David Luiz is a liability at the back, and Torres is a hollow, lifeless version of his former self.
Andre Villas-Boas was hired to facilitate a transition at Stamford Bridge. He was a youthful innovative coach; change was his MO. But his revolution has been half-baked. Villas-Boas signed young stars like Mata and Lukaku, but he couldn’t dislodge the core of Mourinho’s team: Cech, Terry, Lampard and Drogba. Josh McEachran, instead of easing into the Chelsea first team, was loaned to Swansea where he has struggled for playing time. Chelsea’s midfield is dominated by functional, dogged defensive types, players like Essien, Ramires, Romeu and Mikel.
Critics who claim that Villas-Boas was undone by his failure to placate the Chelsea dressing room miss the point. Dressing room harmony always marches hand in hand with on-field success – Chelsea’s poor form was the real reason for Villas-Boas’ sacking. The club’s footballing frustration stems from much more than a couple of inflated egos. It is rooted in the culture of short-termisim that has plagued the post-Mourinho years; though it’s debatable whether that culture grew out of the unrealistic demands of a pampered Russian billionaire or was simply a reaction to Mourinho’s unique ability to produce quick results. Either way, constant change has bred disorganization and complacency. None of Chelsea’s rotating cast of midfielders – a group comprised of several warlike hustlers and Frank Lampard – has impressed consistently (though, to be fair, Ramires is beginning to show signs of life). At the back, Ashley Cole has regressed, John Terry remains a PR nightmare, and Cech, once virtually infallible, is sloppy and unreliable.
Chelsea’s dysfunction has crippled Fernando Torres. Neither a veteran of the Mourinho years nor an up- and-coming prospect, he is caught in the flux. Torres hasn’t found a niche at Chelsea because he has never experienced a period of stability there. And now that Chelsea are finally coming into form, their tactics alienate him. Drogba’s brutal performance on Wednesday night exemplified the Blues’ pragmatism. Chelsea can no longer go toe-to-toe with Europe’s best, so they step on their opponents’ toes instead.
Chelsea needed to beat Arsenal to have a realistic chance of claiming fourth spot. Yet, in the second half of the game, they hardly pushed forward at all. This new, cautious Chelsea isn’t a patch on the Mourinho version, but it shares that team’s values. Torres, whose success built on the buccaneering play of forward -thinking midfielders like Steven Gerrard, looks lost in the stodgy Chelsea system.
Now time is running out for Torres. He is unlikely to be included in Vicente Del Bosque’s Spain squad for the European Championships, and it’s unclear whether Chelsea will keep him after what is certain to be an off-season reshuffle. Against Arsenal, Torres looked tired, even bored. He has lost the electricity of his Anfield days, the excitement that made him such a fantastic striker. Even Nemanja Vidic isn’t scared of him anymore.
It’s becoming harder and harder to imagine Torres turning his Chelsea career around. This season, he has failed to capitalize on a series of opportunities. He netted against West Brom, and then was sent off in the same game. And when he won an extended run in the first team during Drogba’s absence at the Africa Cup of Nations, he didn’t score a single goal.
Fans don’t bother to mock Torres anymore. He is a professional who seems to have lost his way, a figure deserving sympathy, not derision. His misses are taken for granted. It looks crass to insult Torres these days, so onlookers have started to ignore him. Torres has no future, and, sadly, nobody seems to care.