Five managers at Chelsea and a 10 game loan spell at AC Milan have failed to reignite Fernando Torres, but could a return to his first club Atletico Madrid do the trick?
Torres’ decline since leaving Liverpool for Chelsea four seasons ago has been well documented. The reasons for that decline have caused much head scratching.
A range of factors would appear to have been at play. Firstly, he left a club where the playing system was designed by Rafael Benitez to service his strengths to go to one where Didier Drogba was still the focus of the team.
Chelsea played to the Ivorian – who excelled at leading the line on his own, physically dominating defenders. Drogba was as happy taking high balls out of the air as he was running into space.
Torres much preferred the latter – a point proven in Liverpool’s unhappy spell with Roy Hodgson in charge where the Spaniard found himself involved in a lot more aerial battles.
Neither Drogba nor Torres appeared to work well with a partner. But having cost the Blues €65 million of the owner’s money, first Carlo Ancelotti, and then AVB and Roberto Di Matteo had to try and find ways to get both strikers into the team. By and large, it was Torres who suffered.
The Spaniard’s transfer also came off the back of a period at Liverpool where a series of injuries – from serious to niggling – and a very heavy domestic and international workload appeared to be blunting his abilities.
Torres seemed to lose some his prodigious pace and explosiveness – and came to look like a player afraid to really open up for fear of yet another debilitating muscle injury.
Confidence ebbed away, and ever since, Torres has looked like a player ill at ease with his own body and uncomfortable in his own skin.
There have been flashes of the old assuredness – memorably scoring at the Nou Camp to seal a famous Chelsea Champions League victory and notching confidently in the 2013 Europa League final against Benfica. But they were really only fleeting moments – never enough to convince under pressure management that he could truly refind his form.
And hence his move to AC Milan as Chelsea finally cut their losses. Initially a two-year loan deal, the Rossoneri made the deal permanent in December before rather bizarrely loaning him to Atletico in exchange for Italian winger Alessio Cerci.
One goal in ten for Milan suggested that his problems persist. And the speed with which they shipped him out suggests that they had quickly come to see the Spaniard as little more than bait for a preferred target.
So now Torres is home. And perhaps for the first time since he signed for Liverpool in 2007, he has come to a club where the manager was actively seeking his services.
According to Atletico president Enrique Cerezo, it was Diego Simeone’s direct intervention that led to the deal. “Simeone almost never asks us for anything, but he asked for Torres,” Cerezo told Radio Cope.
Torres’s return to the Vicente Calderon must surely be his last chance. And maybe, just maybe there’s some cause for hope. First, Torres is returning to friendly, comfortable surroundings. Second, the pressure to succeed has eased as few expect him to recapture past glories now. Third, he’s not coming as some kind of saviour or as a big money deal.
Atletico are well in contention in La Liga and have done very well with Mandzukic and Griezmann since the departure of Diego Costa, meaning Torres can play and perhaps regain his confidence in the rather less pressured role of understudy.
And finally and perhaps most importantly, as mentioned, Torres was the target of the manager. And not just any manager – one of the most respected in the game at present and one whose tactical approach should suit the striker.
Atletico play deep and compact, with their front men routinely dropping close to their midfield when out of possession. The aim, indeed the effect, is to draw opponents on and create space in behind which they attack ruthlessly on the break.
That space used to be Torres’s playground at Liverpool – space he rarely saw at Chelsea and that rarely opens up in Italian football. That space and Simeone’s belief in the player might just prove critical in firing a revival even Lazarus would be envious of.