In the spring of 2009, a team, second in the table but chasing the league title plays a team fighting to stay in the league on a warm sunny afternoon. A one-club-man takes a touch, and then launches the ball upfield as he has done for the most of his career. A dashing young striker with blond highlights chests the ball and volleys it on the swivel. The goal keeper stands no chance. The striker runs off and is mobbed by his teammates. The crowd is spellbound but at the same time there’s an air of inevitability to it. There’s no denying the magic but magic is unexpected. Is it really magic if you expect it?
Almost 7 years to the day, a team, second in the table but chasing a league title plays a comfortably mid-table team on a warm sunny afternoon. A one-club-man takes a touch and then immediately launches it upfield, quite contrary to his character as a buildup player. An old warhorse of a striker with blond highlights chests the ball and half-volleys it on the swivel. The shot is powerful but the keeper could and should have saved it. The striker runs off and is mobbed by his teammates. The crowd is happy but not spellbound but at the same time there’s a sense of magic even though it really isn’t that special. But isn’t it magic if you don’t expect it?
Seven is considered a magical number in football. But for the striker in question, more than anything, the past seven years has been an impossibly long and sometimes tortuous period if the perception of time depends not just on duration also on the range of experiences and emotions. Over the course of seven years, Fernando Torres has gone through the stages that most players take an entire career to go through. From an ebullient young striker whose unreliable hamstrings buckled under the strain of a title challenge, to a unhappy World Cup winning star, to a grinning record-breaking transfer signing who debuted against his old club, to a brooding flop who tried (but a flop nonetheless), to a surprise Golden Boot winner at an underwhelming European tournament, to a fashionable Milano-who-coulda-been-a-model, to a grateful boyhood hero who came back home, to a marketable target for the Chinese Super League, Torres has been through it all. Over this period, Torres has arguably been the footballer who has received the most media coverage after the otherworldly duo of Messi and Ronaldo with his decline in form and class leading to even theories of solace in employment in the exciting field of accounting.
Along with the trend of personal misfortune, collective success has also followed him. Misery in the World Cup at South Africa and at Chelsea was to a degree offset by the pleasure of global gold and regional silverware although Torres and Milan was a match made in masochistic heaven. Time has taken its toll. Once sure of touch and unbelievably fleet of foot and thought, Torres now lumbers around the pitch like the ghost of Banquo, invisible to all but the despairing manager. A recent resurgence with a run of 4 goals in six games has strangely enough, come at the same time as rumours of a contract extension. Lacking the acceleration of old, a leaden footed still managed to score in 3 consecutive games since the fag days of 2012 when he wore blue for Chelsea. Much like his Chelsea days, he remains unable to maintain a consistently useful run in the starting eleven, scoring or otherwise, with a tendency of blemishing his scoring runs with bouts of red mist like the silly sending off against Barcelona last week, or the ones against Swansea and Spurs while at Chelsea.
A year into the twilight of his career, Torres still splits the jury. Was he a genuine world class talent who burned out far too early due to unfortunate injuries, a club’s selfish need to rush him back and his own desire to conquer the world? Or was he just a speedster who could finish well in a system built around his strengths with pinpoint delivery from one of the greatest English midfielders of all time? The answer, as always, is not black and white but lies somewhere in the grey. Torres has been in his cool phase for the better part of the last decade, more of a La Niña than the hot and bountiful El Niño Vicente Calderon and Anfield had come to worship. At the end of the day, does it really matter what let the golden goose be killed if it’s hamstrung and on its last legs and soon to be killed? Eggs from this particular goose, situational or inherent, like that against Espanyol or Blackburn, are going to be increasingly rare. Let’s enjoy them while we can.
GUEST AUTHOR: Achuth Vasudevan