He ran forward, he cut past a black-and-white jersey, he found the ball free, he bolted his leg up, he shot through a dime. Goal. As he ran by his teammates, grinning sheepishly and sliding down to roar at a mass of blue in the stands, he said nothing. He didn’t scream at his opponents or taunt or put his index finger to his lips. He merely continued to smile and allowed his mates to hug him. There was no need for words. He and everyone else knew: Fernando Torres had made it back, and his mates around him were the entire reason for it.
It’s been a long return for El Niño. Ever since Torres kicked open Britain’s banks late-January 2011, he has mostly stared at others knee-sliding on the grass with a howl. After averaging nearly a goal every two matches for Liverpool F.C. the Spanish national crashed to earth, carrying his heavy £13 million salary in tow. He scored only one goal in his 11 starts with Chelsea F.C. in the 2010-2011 season, making Blues fans push back their hair in frustration to try and place themselves in El Niño’s shoes. It didn’t work. The heckling still came. The dropped jaws were piling up. The nets had no footballs in them.
Why, though? The pundits stared at the stat lines and video, making their eyes teary while they tried to analyze the mystery that was the goalless and lost Torres. Was it his manager? Nope; he went through one and another with little improvement. Was it injuries? Nope; El Niño was still running onto the pitch. Was it neglect? Nope; Didier Drogba didn’t score that much for Chelsea, so the spotlight was on Torres.
Thus, we all scratched our noggins and assumed there was something wrong with Torres mentally. He lacked confidence, conviction, and couldn’t deal with the pressure. Yes, that had to be it! That had to explain why Torres was being an enigma!
Not at all. Torres may have had some confidence issues (missing an empty net certainly suggests an internal issue with a player), but his overriding complication was passing.
Torres is not Cristiano Ronaldo. He can’t score no matter who is around him. He benefited from collective passing while in Liverpool, not unlike many other touted strikers on a football club. Few strikers can put on the jets, run 50 yards, and then score in front of five defenders. Most who try that end up tasting grass. No, a striker needs at least one quarterback. Yep, you heard me: a quarterback. Without sublime passing, even Lionel Messi would just look like a tiny Eric Bana from “Hulk” – dazed, angry, and without any goals. The QB scans the field for gaps in opponents’ defenses, takes pressure onto himself, and then silently slips the football to a scorer. Sounds familiar? This was what Torres lacked the last year and a half with Chelsea. There was no midfielder darting and cutting to send a gift towards the man in blond – or at least not enough. When Torres got to Stamford Bridge, they had Frank Lampard, Mikel, Michael Essien, Ramires, and Raul Meireles to try and stutter passes to El Niño. That was fun.
But the Eden Hazard and Juan Mata combo that colors Chelsea’s midfield today, this is far better than what André Villas-Boas nudged onto the pitch. Two of the best passers on the planet to support Torres up front? That’s actually fun. With such an incredible midfield, Torres will shine. He’ll get incredible support, support that for whatever reason is unseen by big wallet European clubs when they dish out a £20 million transfer fee on a Torres-like striker. Regardless, the kid from Fuenlabrada should score at least 25 goals this season for Chelsea. His two goals in the early Premiership campaign are no fluke (well, his goal against Reading this season was, but his other one wasn’t).
Torres’s praise is inflated, we all know that. If he wasn’t the only true striker for Chelsea, the only one up front, then he wouldn’t receive a supermarket of available passes. He’s up alone with a merry-go-round behind him, sublimely feeding him the football.
But does this truth matter to anyone? The fans see the goals coming off El Niño’s foot; the commentators…well, they see pretty much the same thing. Those of keener eye who see the living dream of passing opportunities behind Torres, we know the truth. It’s not terribly different from many other star strikers, hardly dissimilar from Falcao or even Messi. We see the fairy tale cloaked. We see that the stars of Chelsea number more than five. But there’s no magic in sharing the fame, is there?
But for Chelsea fans, it doesn’t matter. For Hazard, Mata, and Lampard, it doesn’t matter. For El Niño, it doesn’t matter. The weight of £50 million pounds no longer rests solely on his shoulders; it’s on the shoulders of the men behind him, too. With that mind, Torres can smile again. With that in mind, Torres has made it back.