It certainly hasn’t been easy being Fernando Torres these last two years, trophies or not.
First, Torres had to deal with the wrath of Liverpool fans for leaving Anfield. Then he had to deal with all of the critics second-guessing the massive £50m fee Chelsea coughed up to secure the coveted Spanish striker.
Once at Stamford Bridge, El Niño soon found he was playing in the shadow of Blues legend Didier Drogba and wouldn’t be starting every match as he had imagined. The sulking soon started.
Torres then went on a six-month goal drought before notching a couple against Leicester City in the FA Cup semi-final in March. He scored a memorable match-clincher against Barcelona at Camp Nou in the Champions league semi-final.
But that was apparently too little, too late for then-interim manager Roberto Di Matteo who sat Torres against his old club Liverpool in the FA Cup final and put him in only as a late sub in the historic Champions League final against Bayern Munich.
Somewhat surprisingly, he then sulked even more.
Despite the Blues' success and silverware, Torres found himself incredibly unsatisfied as he revealed in an article in The Sun this week.
“The season was not for me, it was for others,” he said. “Chelsea wins the FA Cup but I don’t play the semi-final nor the final. I didn’t taste anything.
“I feel I participated a bit more in the Champions League but even so it was not the Champions League I wanted to win, not like that. I want to win another Champions League and in a different way.”
After a year-and-a-half of personal misery—despite the FA Cup crown and Champions League crown—Torres helped Spain to a win in Euro 2012 and won the tournament’s Golden Boot despite seeing sparse playing time.
Now with Drogba in China, the 28-year-old Torres is the main man upfront for Chelsea. He will be counted on heavily as the club’s preeminent scorer on an evolving squad that was incredibly active in the summer transfer window.
And with the Blues being admittedly light up front at the striker position (with Drogba and Salomon Kalou now gone and Romelu Lukaku out on loan to West Brom), the pressure on Torres to excel is even greater now.
With the healthy chip on his shoulder and some new-found confidence this summer from the top brass at Chelsea assuring him his future lies with the European champions (after considering a move away from Stamford Bridge), expect Torres to rise to the challenge and to emerge as that offensive leader the club so desperately needs in Drogba’s wake.
Psychologically, Torres seems to be in a good place. Form-wise he seems to be relatively back to normal. The thing I like the most about him now is he seems driven and a bit mad about his performance to date at Stamford Bridge.
That healthy rage could end up serving us fans—as well as his teammates and Torres himself—quite well in the coming year.
Another quality I have recently come to really admire in Torres is his respect and acknowledgement of the Chelsea fans who helped him through this tough stretch, as was revealed in The Sun story earlier this week.
“The fans helped me a lot—and you don’t understand why,” he said. “You come from outside and you have played well in this league and, with the Spanish mentality, the first who should have turned against you are the fans. You are not living up to expectations but they still support you. These people are special.
“At times I was thinking, ‘I will sit here on the bench, I won’t make any noise, I don’t even want to play.’ But they are demanding that you jump on the pitch and play. They lifted my spirits so many times. Not even my teammates succeeded in doing that in this way. Whatever I do from now on will be for the fans.”
So it sounds like Torres really wants to show the fans what he can do and get back to that old Fernando who is still the English Premier League’s third-leading scorer since 2007/08 with 72 goals, trailing only Manchester United’s Wayne Rooney (88) and Robin van Persie (75).
With a clean slate and some very talented passing midfielders (like Juan Mata, Ramires, Marko Marin, Eden Hazard and Oscar) all now in the fold, expect Torres to seize the moment and have a 20-plus goal EPL season for Chelsea. Expect him to lead the Blues to a top-four finish in the league and qualification for next year’s Champions League.
And before you go and tag me as some kind of Torres apologist or a blue-sky Blues backer that always sees the Chelsea glass as half-full, know that my my first story ever for Bleacher Report five months ago was ‘Chelsea Should Show Torres The Door.’
Also know that as a huge Drogba fan, I am still fairly bitter that Torres’s pricey acquisition and gamble may have helped lead to Drogba's departure to Shanghai Shenhua this summer.
So with Drogba and Kalou and Nicolas Anelka now all gone, an aging Frank Lampard and guys like Daniel Sturridge, Mata, Ramires, Hazard and Oscar really can’t be counted on as huge scoring threats. Not like Torres. Much rides on the shoulders of El Niño in these next nine months.
With no Hulk or Edinson Cavani or Victor Moses seemingly on the horizon, Chelsea’s success—along with RDM’s possible future and the happiness of us Blues fans—rests squarely on the right foot of No. 9.
And you’d really be hard-pressed to find another player in professional sports today whose performance in the next year is so critical to the prosperity of his team.
In Fernando we trust.
>Follow me on Twitter: @KevinStott11