How do you solve a problem like Fernando?

by Eliot Rothwell

Fernando Torres of Spain looks on during the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa Quarter Final match between Paraguay and Spain at Ellis Park Stadium on July 3, 2010 in Johannesburg, South Africa.As Fernando Torres trudged off the pitch at the Ellis Park stadium last night, many people ignored the fact that a clean-shaven Cesc Fabregas had taken his place. An inquest had begun after another lacklustre performance and another early withdrawal. A nation tore its hair out as pundits and commentators were lost for answers. From the Ellis Park stadium to the Vicente Calderon right through to Anfield people were asking: “what on earth has happened to Fernando Torres?”

The fact that Spain manager Vicente Del Bosque had to give the striker a vote of confidence before the match illustrates just how disappointing Torres has been at this World Cup. The once potent menace of the Liverpool front-line has seemingly been neutered. Seeing Torres struggle last night against the organised but unimposing Paraguayan defence made it hard to recall the player who struck fear into the heart of the fumbling Nemanja Vidic on more than one occasion.

Many fans and pundits alike put it down to fitness, but is the reason for Fernando Torres’ unfortunate plight the very nature of the Spanish “tika-taka?” Does the pacey and direct centre-forward fit the classic Spanish model of diminutive dynamism and has Fernando become so well adapted to the Premier League that his touch, like most of the England players, has deserted him in a league where pace and power are valued over technique?

If we look at a typical Spanish line-up at this World Cup and a typical Liverpool line-up from recent seasons, Torres appears to be playing the same position but it is questionable whether he plays the same role.

In the Liverpool line-up Torres occupies the role of the main goal getter. His direct threat is complemented by the trickery of Yossi Benayoun (until last season) and the efficiency of Dirk Kuyt and Steven Gerrard is primed with the objective of the marauding “captain fantastic” role that England fans are still so desperate to see. The Liverpool team is very much built around the talents of Gerrard and Torres, Gerrard providing the drive and Torres providing the finishing and, ultimately – the goals.

Torres’ role in the Spanish side is slightly different. Spain’s favoured “tiki-taka” differs from the Liverpool model of working the ball from deep midfield with Mascherano to the front allowing Torres to take advantage of the space behind the opposition defence  for a scoring opportunity or to assist his colleagues. Spain play the pretty passing game that may not favour Fernando Torres. His role of poaching in the Liverpool side is taken up by David Villa and Torres is left to worry defenders and cause gaps for the like of Andres Iniesta and Villa to occupy and take advantage of. When Sid Lowe, in his Guardian column, described Torres as the Spanish Emile Heskey many cast suspicious glances in the way of the article but there is some sense in the notion. Torres provides the pace and the brawn of the Spanish front line, much like Heskey, which is supposed to grant freedom to his national team colleagues whereas for Liverpool, Torres is granted the space by the passing of his midfield as the faster tempo of the Premier League attacking play suits his running.

Torres is the exception to the rule in the Spain attacking line-up featuring the pocket-sized talents of Villa, Iniesta and Xavi. He does not fit with the Spanish model of success and appears to be hopelessly out of form in a team dominated by Barcelona players trying to play the football preached by Pep Guardiola and Johann Cruyff. It is interesting to note that the two players who appear most out of form in the Spain side are Torres and his former Liverpool team-mate Xabi Alonso. Alonso is, inadvertently, breaking up the rhythm of the Spanish side as his more direct passing is out of tune with the intricate game of the Barcelona players. Two players tainted by the pace and the directness needed in the English league?

Torres’ game is complemented by the Premier League. In his Liverpool team he is not required to slow the play down or keep the ball; his brief is to attack and to score goals. The poor first touch and technique that Torres has shown so far this summer may not be something that has just appeared. His national team colleagues require a forward to be able to contribute to the free-flowing play that Torres is not accustomed to. Playing in the Spanish league Xavi, Iniesta and Villa each benefit from a slower pace than the Premier League, a pace which requires touch, poise and balance and a brain to anticipate the gaps in the opposition back-line. Torres, however, is accustomed to a much more explosive pace where a first touch may be to steady himself for a thunderous shot rather than to beat a man or find a penetrative through ball. The suspicious curse on a number of Premier League players unable to adjust to the demands of the World Cup and national teams that favour different tactics and footballing philosophies may have struck Torres.

Vicente Del Bosque will be desperately seeking a solution to the Torres question in the build up to the much vaunted semi-final clash with the Germans. Unfortunately for Spain and for my strained analysis it could just be down to the fact that Torres has been playing with injuries for the past fifteen months.

Author Info

Eliot Rothwell

Eliot Rothwell is a 17-year-old writer from Bury near Manchester and mainly covers football in the north, La Liga and Eastern Europe. Eliot writes for his own blog www.notbadonpaper.wordpress.com as well as the Bury Independent, Goal.com UK, footballtalentspotter.com, worldfootballcolumns.com and backpagefootball.com. Follow @EliotRothwell and @NotBadOnPaper

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15 Responses

  1. Michael Wicks says:

    People are acting as if Torres’ struggle for Spain is a new phenomenon. If I’m not mistaken, he managed one goal at Euro 2008 (albeit the winner in the final) and exactly zero goals in qualifying for South Africa. Having said that, I think it’s fair to say that Torres has missed chances that he ordinarily would have taken (or at least put on target) in the Premier League, against Switzerland and Honduras.

  2. Cliff says:

    Hi,
    I think what you are trying to say is very true and the most possible explanation to torres’ bad form..

    I dun know if any other player could be fit for this forward position to replace torres. What do u think?

    1. Hi Cliff, there are a number of possible replacements for Torres but obviously they each lack the same quality. There is Fernando Llorente who replaced Torres against Portugal and there’s Dani Guiza who featured in the European Championships of 2008. Cheers and keep reading!

      1. Michael Wicks says:

        Guiza’s not in the squad, right?

  3. Matt says:

    I think it is a little unfair to judge Torres on the 5(?) games he’s played at this world cup, especially after two lots of surgery towards the end of the season. He’s clearly not fully match fit – even Alan Shearer pointed out his total lack of movement in recent games.

    However, I do agree with most of what you’re saying. Spain and Liverpool do play *very* differently, which he might not be used to. When Spain attack, everything seems to get very tight and narrow, whereas the goals Torres scores at Liverpool usually come about when there’s a lot of space in the opposition defence, or they are counter-attacking.

    1. Yeah, I wasn’t for one minute suggesting Torres should be judged a bad player. I think 5 games is a little harsh to judge the brightest talents when we are used to being given 40+ games to make our minds up.

      I just don’t think Torres has got the creative spark and to play for a narrow, tightly woven unit like Spain a forward needs to have that presence and finishing ability as well as intricacy.

      Cheers for reading.

  4. Varun says:

    I have always believed he was overrated by the English because he played in premier league,
    Villa is a way better finisher.
    Can pass better, head better, left foot|right foot, solo runs.

    But coming straight from surgery into the very top of football (aka WC) its not easy as well.

  5. Alan Gillespie says:

    Torres is clearly struggling for match fitness. He looks half a yard off the pace and his touch has deserted him.

    But he is a player of such quality that he is capable of scoring even when not 100% fit. I know he hasn’t scored yet, but defenders must be wary of his prowess, which leads to more room being left for Villa and Iniesta.

    So yeah, his role is a bit like Heskey’s. Except Heskey scares defenders with his bulk, while Torres scares them with his potential to score at any moment.

    1. Varun says:

      Heskey doesn’t scare anybody by anything he has AT all.

  6. Callum says:

    I think this has come about because the deluded Rafa Benitez has been playing him when he’s only about 50% for the last couple of years. And he only looks that good when he’s in the Premier League because he’s the most technically gifted in that Liverpool line-up. He’ll come across differently when he’s surrounded by Kuyt, Babel and Benayoun than when he’s flanked by Iniesta, Xavi and Villa.

    I think he must play a different role at Spain. At Anfield (I could be hopelessly wrong as tactics aren’t my strong point) he looks more like a target man that the rest of the team try to get the ball to whereas with Spain he’s not the only prolific finisher and is expected to help others score rather than just himself.

    But tbh when he’s on £110,000 a week you’d maybe expect a little more versatility?

    1. Varun says:

      I like to believe that Premier League has hurt him more than it has helped him (from national team point of view).
      His touch play and vision to interplay has gone absolutely and thats what Spain do, they don’t smack goals, they tap ‘em in.

  7. ... says:

    I wonder if a move to Barcelona would help his national team form? Think about it when he was playing for Atletico he scored 3 goals at the last world cup and they were quality goals. Playing and training day in and day out with the Barcelona squad would only increase his versatility. Unfortunately his agent quashed that rumour.

    1. Kevin Coleman Kevin Coleman says:

      I think a move to Barcelona would put him in a similar situation to Spain – Villa to his left, Messi to his right in similar fashion to Iniesta. Although a prolonged run in a side like Barca may gel him even more into the way Spain play their football.

  8. Ed Diggins says:

    as already pointed out, Torres after a great first season at anfield, was awful in 2008. he scored the winning goal in the final, but had a poor tournament. same could very well happen here. i think its down to having to play in different styles and different teams. thats what playing for liverpool does for you ;)

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