The Torres problem – why do some players decline?
Posted on November 27, 2012 by Joe Plewes
It’s too early to judge the ‘Benitez effect’ on Fernando Torres, but the Spaniard’s performance against Manchester City on Sunday did little to convince onlookers that a return to form is imminent. The 28-year-old was leaden footed, regularly beaten to the punch by Vincent Kompany and Matija Nastasic and had frighteningly little influence on a game in which the spotlight was there for the taking.
Of course, the game was a non-event in front of goal and his new boss rightly pointed to the lack of service received when pressed upon Torres’ performance. Yet the malaise can hardly be put down to a lack of support – Torres has Mata, Hazard and Oscar supplementing him – and the problems have gone on rather longer than one game.
The most common charge levelled against Torres is that his pace has gone. But check out the video of his Goals from 08/09. How many are the result of searing pace? How many are runs off the shoulder of the last defender? If you watch the header just after the two minute mark – incidentally against Chelsea – look how he jinks ahead of the defender at the near post.
Can you remember the stunning chest down and volley against Blackburn, or the great take and turn in the 4-4 against Arsenal? Hardly all about speed are they, despite the claims of pundits that the loss of this one dimension has devastated his game?
The most worrying aspect for Torres is perhaps instead the lack of intelligent movement and a disappearance of the old, goalscoring instinct. On Sunday he occasionally drifted away from the ball when a Chelsea player was preparing to put a cross in, rather than dart to the near post. He seemed to bump into Kompany or Nastasic whenever he attempted a little jink into space. The awareness and subtlety in movement are frighteningly lacking, the instinctive nature of his game that had marked his first two years in England gone.
Some rather debatable and source-lacking comments this week have been citing Torres’ issues as solely boiling down to the knee problem, but it doesn’t fully account for that lack of sharpness, the clumsy touch or even Chelsea’s medical assessment (which took place after the controversial, short medical) that their new number nine was short of fitness and nothing else.
It’s not as if he has been out every other week with a new problem, Michael Owen style, is it? This surely raises doubts over the veracity of claims his issue is fully physical. It’s also interesting to note that similar cartilage issues often account for more than 10% of injuries in a season, which would suggest we ought to be left with an awful lot more players suddenly losing their midas touch.
If we are going to really understand the reasons for Torres’ lack of form then maybe we should look at why others have endured similar declines. If we take the rather different case of Andrey Arshavin for example, we are presented with an equally confusing fall from grace. Few would have imagined that the player who terrorised Holland at Euro 2008 and then smashed home four goals at Anfield would have seen such an abrupt slide into obscurity, especially in his late twenties/ early thirties.
The decision to bring Arshavin on for the lively Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain against Manchester United last season was heavily booed, while the St. Petersburg born forward has been portrayed as lazy, stubborn and moody. Certainly that is how Torres looked at the back end of his Liverpool career, although few would be able to question his work rate and endeavour now, just the quality.
Likewise few would have levelled ‘sulking’ accusations at the Russian captain in Poland, as for two games he looked like the terrific wing wizard he was in 2008. Yet comments about Russia’s fans in the wake of their disappointing exit as well as poor performances have seen the captaincy shifted to Igor Densiov for the foreseeable future. The latter is perhaps indicative of Arshavin – not entirely together off the pitch and prone to arrogance and laziness on it.
For Russia at the Euros he had the right balance of flair and bluster and was effective. On a rainy day in North London neither were particularly apparent and Arshavin was something of a non-entity. Whereas Arshavin appears angry at the world (and apparently UK tax laws), Torres seems to be rather angrier at himself.
Which is where the crux of the matter is. People seem to have whitewashed out Torres’ form at the back end of his Liverpool career, in which he seemed on autopilot. They cite the big money move and resulting pressure as the core part of the problem. Yet at the end of his Liverpool career, he seemed to have reconciled himself to the fact that the Anfield outfit were no longer in the picture for major trophies, no longer providing him with the same amount of chances and were no longer the club for him.
The poor form after injury was coupled with some fairly agricultural treatment from centre halves, and with Torres keen to get out of Merseyside whenever another side came knocking he decided Chelsea could bring the magic back. Rather than blaming injuries, Chelsea’s failure to integrate the Spaniard correctly or an abrupt loss of speed, the sad decline of Torres boils down to that period at Liverpool.
Mentally he wasn’t right, and he hasn’t been since. It’s not the spectacular implosion of an Adriano or Ronaldinho that tend to explain declines, but rather a change in footballing mindset. He was never completely about speed, and certainly not always about a superior technique – one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reasons for not signing Torres was that he seemed ungainly on the ball – but at the end of his Liverpool career he stopped making clever little runs across the near post.
He stopped darting off centre halves – it’s interesting how many of those 08/09 goals he actually ends up standing still for despite the fact we’re led to believe he was all about speed. Perhaps Torres’ anger on the pitch is related to confusion – the tools are there but the previously regular end result isn’t.
Which begs the question – when a player loses those instincts, is that it?