Chelsea: Why Fernando Torres Is on Track for a Landmark Season
"Halfway through last season, I distanced myself from the values I had grown up with.
I had team-mates who didn’t care if the team won or lost because they were not playing. I never wanted to be like that. But one day I discovered that I was like them; that it didn’t matter if we won or lost if I was not playing.
I wasn’t part of the group. I discovered that I was not happy because I had stopped being what I had always wanted to be.
I learned to look at myself and to realise that the only person that can change is you. I became more mature, I came to know myself better and became conscious of the fact that it depends on me.
I learned that if we won it didn’t matter that I hadn’t played. I had to keep working. You can settle into a comfort zone or you can accept your role. I became a different player because I was serving the team.
I can now do things that I was not able to before. You can be the player that your coach wants but you’re not the player that people expect you to be."
Fernando Torres' revealing comments in an interview with Spanish newspaper El Pais (h/t Daily Mail) this week may draw criticism from many quarters in the game, but in truth, they should be greeted with nothing but praise.
It's not often that a professional footballer runs the risk of incurring the wrath of his club's supporters for the sake of honesty, but Torres' willingness to open up about a difficult chapter in his career is remarkable.
When one thinks about the past failings of the Spaniard—the tale of how one of the most feared strikers in world football became a laughing stock—he perfectly represents the dangers that a loss of confidence can imbue in a footballer.
The way his form dissipated in his final season at Liverpool can in part be blamed for the club's transition from the Rafa Benitez era to the brief, unsuccessful tenure of Roy Hodgson.
He may have scored nine in 23 Premier League games during the first half-and-a-bit of the 2010/11 campaign, but make no mistake, his descent into mediocrity started at Anfield. His transfer to Chelsea only exacerbated matters.
Anytime a £50 million price tag is placed on a player's head, ludicrous pressure and expectations are sure to follow.
As game by game went by without Torres finding the net, the following public and tabloid ridicule obviously took its toll on him.
It was clear that, at some point in 2011, he started to separate the importance of individual success from that of his club's.
His game-sealing goal against Barcelona in the Champions League semis the following year would not have felt as satisfying to him as it should have—even this legendary moment in Chelsea history was seen by most as a fortuitous strike from a player with little chance of making the starting team in the subsequent final.
Which is why Didier Drogba's summer exit was so necessary for the fortunes of Torres.
He had to feel like he was top dog at Stamford Bridge to have such heavy expectations lifted off his shoulders—an irony that I'm sure many Blues fans are aware of.
But in the lone striker formation that Chelsea have employed for years now, Torres was unable to thrive with the behemoth Drogba breathing down his neck in the pecking order.
The two could never have played effectively together in the 4-2-3-1, or in any adaptation of the formation. Never in a million years.
The arrival of the effervescent Eden Hazard on the scene this summer has also benefited Torres immensely. Chelsea's newest double act have combined magnificently at times this season, the Belgian adding to Juan Mata's reliable creativity to give the Blues' attack a new lease on life.
But again, that word: confidence.
Hazard's play has given Torres the confidence to play an electric kind of football not even seen during Liverpool's halcyon days.
His swivelling finish at the Emirates was due reward for a man of the match display that was proof, if it was even needed, that Torres' energy was back to peak.
He challenged for every 50/50 in the air, threw himself into countless tackles and seemed to possess a genuine passion for his team's interests across the breadth of the pitch.
Which makes his words to El Pais all the more believable. Though they may sound like soundbites from a self-help book, it clearly took self-criticism to justify his truth.
Tough fixtures lie ahead for Chelsea—namely a London derby at White Hart Lane and two visits from Manchester United—but the road back to relevance for Torres has been too long and seen too many opportunities wasted to let the slightest setback damage his confidence once again.
That is why the club's January transfer window moves will be cautious, if it is decided to bring another forward to the club.
You can be sure that Roberto Di Matteo and Roman Abramovich are well aware that a Fernando Torres firing on all cylinders is an absolute key to the Blues finding their way back to the domestic promised land this season.
What do you think of Fernando Torres' recent return to form? Is it a permanent development, or a fleeting folly?
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