Fernando Torres Signing Could Sabotage Chelsea's Season

Sports WriterCorrespondent IFebruary 21, 2011

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 14:  Fernando Torres of Chelsea looks on during the Barclays Premier League match between Fulham and Chelsea at Craven Cottage on February 14, 2011 in London, England.  (Photo by Scott Heavey/Getty Images)
Scott Heavey/Getty Images

Chelsea have taken an enormous gamble by splashing out a British record £50 million on Fernando Torres, and the early indications are that it could backfire badly.

After allowing the likes of Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Ballack, Joe Cole, Juliano Beletti and Deco to depart before the start of the season and bringing in only two players in Ramires and Yossi Benayoun, Chelsea's squad was starting to look a little threadbare by the time the January transfer window came along.

Unlike Liverpool and Manchester United, the Stamford Bridge side do not have a huge global fanbase, and unlike London rivals Arsenal, there is no prospect at present of them being able to move to a bigger and therefore more lucrative stadium.

Opportunities for increasing commercial revenue are limited meaning that with the Financial Fair Play Regulations just around the corner, failure to qualify for the Champions League would be disastrous.

The rules are structured in such a way that once a team is out of the most prestigious competition in club football it is very difficult to get back in. Effectively the FFP regulations dictate that any club which loses too much money will be barred from the Champions League.

For a team like Chelsea who are dependent upon the revenue they receive from this competition this could be a vicious cycle. If the club fails to qualify for the Champions League now, with the new regulations just about to come into effect, they might not be able to make enough money to be allowed back in again in the future regardless of where they finish in the table. 

Cost cutting is not an exercise compatible with building a more competitive playing squad, and it is absolutely essential for the future of Chelsea Football Club that they at very least finish fourth in the Premier League this season.

With Tottenham resurgent and Manchester City a force to be reckoned with once again, Roman Abramovich must realize he can no longer afford to be complacent about his side's status as a top four team.

The purchase of Torres was presumably supposed to give Chelsea the sort of edge which they will need if they are to pick up more points than Tottenham between now and the end of the season as well as potentially fulfilling their owner's lofty ambition of winning the Champions League, the only significant compeition to still elude him.

The problem is that any advantage which Torres might give his new team on the field is offset by the burden he is placing on the bank balance. The Spanish striker will cost the club approximately £18 million a season over the course of his contract taking into consideration his wages and amortized transfer fee. The former Liverpool striker will need to at least make the difference between his new team finishing fourth and fifth or even better, fire them to the final of the Champions League if this is to look like money well spent.

The early indications are that Torres might struggle to live up to these expectations. It often takes a player a few months to settle into a new side, but the record signing was named in the team at the expense of Drogba for the recent game with Fulham. It was a match that would finish goalless and Chelsea fans must have been wondering whether the scoreline would have been more favourable had Drogba been involved from the start.

Ancelotti has been known to experiment with a diamond formation, but ever since Jose Mourinho first took charge, Chelsea have played their best football in a 4-3-3 formation. Drogba is the perfect spearhead for such an attack and scored 37 goals last season. He has not been nearly as effective this time around, but after recovering from an unfortunate bout of Malaria, there were signs he was starting to recapture some of his old form.

Nicolas Anelka has played his entire career as a striker but has adapted to the wide role well, even if his strike rate has diminished slightly. Chelsea then have a couple of options such as Salomon Kalou and Florent Malouda to form the third prong of their attack.

Drogba is perfect for the central role because he is a natural target man who is big and strong and can hold the ball up, but it is difficult to see Torres playing out wide. He does not offer nearly as many options as Drogba does as the lone striker.

The arrival of centre back David Luiz was understandable, Chelsea were clearly short of defenders although they could probably have picked one up for less than £22 million. Splashing out such a substantial slice of the club's wealth on Torres ranks as far more of a surprise.

The team didn't need another striker. Even 32-year-old Drogba is still good enough to justify his selection, and when he has been injured, Anelka has moved inside to devastating effect. In the unlikely event that both sufferred injuries Daniel Sturridge, who has been in good goalscoring form since a loan move to Bolton Wanderers, was waiting in the wings.

A much more obvious area in need of reinforcement was the midfield and in particular the wide areas. A long term injury to Yossi Benayoun as well as the absence of Yuri Zhirkov has hurt Chelsea, and although the Russian is returning to full fitness, there is still room in the squad for a player versatile enough to play either out on the wing or in the middle of midfield. The arrival of a signing who fullfilled all this criteria would have made perfect sense.

Torres is one of the top strikers in the world, a natural born goalscorer who is good enough to find the back of the net at absolutely any level of football. He may well prove to be the long term replacement for Drogba who already has six and a half seasons at Stamford Bridge under his belt.

If Torres can hit the ground running at his new club, the rewards will be instant, but the financial risk is huge. Abramovich has effectively taken a £50 million gamble with the future of Chelsea Football Club. The next few months will show whether the signing of Torres was a safe bet or a wild punt.