In the split-second between the ball leaving Torres' foot and assailing the crossbar, Torres must have been imagining tomorrow's newspapers. The backpages would be dedicated to him and him only. A return of the Torres of old, a scissor-kick to match Rooney's exocet against City last season, a glimpse of why Abromavich shelled out £50m for him a year ago this month. But no. For this incident is almost a metaphor of Torres' Chelsea career so far. Plenty of effort. Moments of class. But no conviction and ,more pertinently, no luck. It's easy to chastise Torres and point out his failings in a blue shirt while acknowledging the astronomical wages he has received in his 12 months of relative failure at the club but can you really tell me that when you look into those deep, brown, mourning eyes that you don't feel a morsel of pity. Maybe churlishly, I do.
When examining why Torres has become such an abject failure, one must investigate the psychological reasons as well as the physical ones. Many have commented on how after all his hamstring problems, Torres has lost that 'extra yard', that extra gear that used to propel him past feeble defenders. Many say it's a matter of confidence, that once Torres gets on a run, there'll be no stopping him. Others say, rather ambiguously, that Torres simply has lost his 'swagger'. I think that it's a mental thing. And I feel of all the reasons I have listed, that Torres 'losing his swagger' is possibly the most accurate. Even if it is quite a vague way of putting it.
It's impossible not to make parallels between Torres' body language on the pitch now and the way it was two years ago. Back then, this blonde-haired, freckle-peppered Spaniard controlled defenders with such finesse and ease that you would forgive him for displaying an arrogant demeanour. He didn't but what he did display was a confident one. He walked with his head up, shoulders level and chest out. He sent a message to the defenders before matches had even begun, 'No fucking about here lads, I'm on a job'. His hair was tribal. Long blonde locks, clasped together with a thin head band. Some say it might him look like a girl, it didn't, it made him look like a raging barbarian (In a good way Fernando lad ). His movement in those days was phenomenal. He worked the channels, played on the cuff of the last defender and was always willing to receive the ball. His link-up play was supreme and his confidence was such that if one of his flicks or backheels didn't come off at first this would not deter him for he knew next time they would.
Watching him play for Chelsea these days it is striking how things have changed. Torres walks with his shoulders hunched, head down and eyes firmly fixed on the ground like a child who has just been told off by his principal. Last season his hair was different too. It was short and brown. Boring and common, never going to strike fear into an opponent. He's revived his trademark died blonde look this season, perhaps in an attempt to revive past fortunes. You can see when he does look up that a certain fire still burns in eyes, that he knows how omnipotent he was and that he owes it to himself to show the world that he can still do. But you don't really believe that he believes he can do it. His movement now is slow and lethargic and perhaps this is Chelsea's system that with two wingers with little to no defensive duties required of them that the running is done for them but you get the feeling that he doesn't have the temerity to make the same dashing runs that he once did for fear that it might expose his diminished speed or for fear of offside. Offside never bothered Torres of old. He timed his runs better than Usain Bolt. Perhaps what is most telling is the ease at which defenders seem to be able to push Torres off the ball. He has certainly not grown physically weaker and Premier League defenders haven't all of a sudden grown in strength or stature, it seems to me to be a more mental thing. Torres doesn't believe he'll beat the defender to the ball and defenders, when they pick up on Torres' aforementioned poor body language realise that they have the ability to boss Torres around. The only was defenders could stop Torres of old with strength as simply by fouling him. Just ask Nemanja Vidic.
Torres has lost his composure and assuredness in front of goal also. I don't mean to sound nostalgic and like I'm wearing rose-tinted spectacles looking at the 'good 'ol days' (I'm really not, I'm a United fan for fuck's sake!) but Torres in his Anfield heyday need not even look at the goal before he finished, he knew where it was without looking. He knew where to put it, where the keeper wouldn't reach it. This is yet another feature sadly lacking from Torres' current play. Of course, the incident which best illustrates this was Torres' anti-glorious, goal-gaping, humdinger of a miss against United in September. In that particular sequence of play, Torres did the proverbial 'everything right but the finish'. Fantastically timed run. Brilliant shimmy away from de Gea. It was a simple finish but he stabbed at the ball and the ball flew into the hoardings. Torres had more time and had he the right composure, the right thinking he'd have surely thought before prodding at the ball in such a rash way. He fell to the ground, half in despair and half in absolute disgust with himself.
Opposing fans may laugh and jeer and you wouldn't really blame them seeing as a man as insidious as Abromavich and a club as soulless as Chelsea have seemingly wasted £50m on an apparent has-been. But I won't. I may say this with a dent in my credibility as a United fan but I miss the Torres of old. Football is a beautiful sport when it is played properly and Fernando Torres played it flawlessly. I feel it is a shame that such a prodigious talent has apparently all but evaporated it. I look into those deep, longing, brown eyes and I wish for the player of old to return. Just if you do return to your ethereal best Fernando, fuck off from United! That 4-1 drubbing still hurts.