Fernando Torres has put together one of the strangest career arcs in recent soccer history, or at least the one most resembling a professional wrestling heel turn.
Here was Torres at Liverpool — a fresh faced kid, El Niño, in fact. Dammit if Torres wasn’t borderline great when he wore the all-red uniform from 2007-2011. His 81 goals in 142 games hardly tell the story. Torres was dynamic, a game-changer. He was — strong emphasis on the past tense — the type of guy who was regularly unplayable and on the fringes of the discussion for first goal-scorers in the world. Above all it was a joy to watch him play at Anfield.
It’s easy to forgot that now, after his $80 million move to Chelsea in January 2011. Gone were the blonde locks, quickly replaced by the black, close-cropped look. If we want to get all purple prose-y we could say that hair choice was a window into the darkness of his soul. Let’s not go that overboard.
After the move Torres, whether he liked it or not, was a full on heel. The unbridled joy soccer fans had mocking Torres across the board on the Internet was something to marvel at. From fake websites tracking whether or not he’d scored for Chelsea or the simple FernandLOL after every miscue, Torres got it from all directions. Soccer fans can’t agree on much, but we all seemed to jointly decide Torres at Chelsea was worthy of scorn even if the reasons were all together very clear.
That’s why stuff like this, his face rake of Jan Vertoghen are prime fodder for mockery.
In a big picture sense, Torres always gets the last laugh. Since the move to Chelsea he’s won the Champions League and the Europa League to go along with a World Cup and a European Championship while playing for Spain. Torres makes a lot of money, even if his production dipped to only 39 goals in 142 games in Blues — less than half his Liverpool output.
Monday Torres is a big talking point after his all-around terrific display for Chelsea in the Blues’ 2-1 win over Manchester City Sunday at Stamford Bridge. Although he missed a couple open chances, he set up the first goal by blowing by Gael Clichy to cross it to André Schürrle for a tap-in. Later he provided the 90th minute winner, aided by a colossal defensive error by Matija Nastasic and Joe Hart.
The Torres of old — with a wide open goal in front of him — would have tapped the winner into the side netting, but this time the Spaniard buried it and pushed Chelsea up to second in the table.
Is Torres back? (A required question today.) Sunday’s goal was only his second in Premier League play in all of 2013 and first in seven games this current season. Bear in mind he abused City fill-in Martin Demichelis, who seems well past his best and a step way too slow for the Prem. Still, Torres was active, making incisive runs and creating overall menace in-and-around the penalty box. It was a fine performance, one rarely seen since his switch to Stamford Bridge.
One game does not a season make. Chelsea will certainly need a frisky, functional Torres going forward. The club already made the strange decision to loan out Romelu Lukaku, leaving the striking duties to Torres, Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba — who can’t crack the lineup.
We won’t know if Torres is back, if that’s even possible. We do know it will take more than 90 minutes to silence the haters when the dislike runs so deep.
Man on Fire:
Luis Suarez’s unsavory reputation — which includes incidents of racially slurring and biting an opponent — will always be cloud hovering not to far from him unless somewhere down the road he wins an unlikely Nobel Peace Prize. With each performances like Saturday’s hat-trick vs. West Brom, fans will realize what Liverpool supporters already know: he might be a bastard, but Suarez is a magnificent bastard.
A power header from outside the 18-yard box and into the hallowed ground of the upper 90? That’s remarkable.
Whatever your allegiances, let’s applaud the hard-line stance by Liverpool (and Boston Red Sox) owner John Henry for having the crazy notion the Uruguayan should, you know, honor the contract he signed in August 2012. Suarez, like so many other talented soccer players, believe its their unalienable right to play for a club in the Champions League and tried to force a move to Arsenal (and possibly Real Madrid) in the summer. The Liverpool brass held firm against the posturing from Suarez and his management.
The smart decision will pay a dividend. If Suarez and Daniel Sturridge — nine League goals combined — keep up their form Liverpool might be back in Europe’s elite club competition by the time next August rolls around. There are still 29 games to go, but with Manchester United in its current state fourth place hasn’t been this wide-open for years. Saturday Liverpool — in third place, two points off the top — plays league-leading Arsenal at the Emirates in the most important game of the season. (Until the next one the following week.)
Set aside his personal behavior, there isn’t a more enjoyable player to watch in the Premier League than Suarez.
All-in-all, quite the eventful weekend for Tim Howard. The U.S. No. 1 stopped a Christian Benteke penalty in the first half of Everton’s 2-0 win over Aston Villa. A day later he was alongside Arlo White in the commentary position on the NBCSN call of Chelsea/Manchester City.
Nothing exactly stood out from Howard’s commentary debut and that’s a positive. Although it might have taken him a few extra words to get his point across, Howard was thoughtful and didn’t feel the need to talk every five seconds, allowing the game to breath. His best moments were describing the Kun Aguero shot that beat Chelsea keeper Petr Cech at the near post and his praise of referee Howard Webb.
It was a smart move by NBC to not only bring in an American as analyst, but to use a current player who knew the 22 players on the field very well and didn’t spend the two hours waxing poetic about all things English while painting sepia-toned pictures of the halcyon days of the 1970s which we often get on so many Premier League broadcasts.