Fernando Torres was once the most coveted young striker in the world. These days, his every outing as Chelsea's underachieving £50 million investment sparks jeers of derision and guffaws of laughter amongst the football masses.
When Torres doesn't score, Twitter explodes with the playground taunts of thousands climbing over each other to publicly ridicule him. When he does, as happened twice for Chelsea against Rubin Kazan on Thursday, the same ravenous trolls use his success against him.
I'm not here to argue that Torres is a top forward again—he's not. His haul of 19 goals for Chelsea this season might be a fine riposte to the oft-made accusation he's a waste of space, but the caveat is that nearly all of them have come against weaker opponents.
Only four goals buck that trend—those he scored against Monterrey (Club World Cup), Manchester City, Arsenal and Shakhtar Donetsk. The other 15 came against mid-to-low-ranking Premier League teams, second-tier Europa League outfits and lower-league domestic cup fodder.
You've still got to put them away of course, but it's not really Torres' goal-scoring or his contribution to Chelsea's play generally that I want to focus on (read about that here). What gets overlooked with El Nino is the humility and focus he's shown in dealing with a fairly public humiliation.
Just because he's paid millions to play football doesn't mean it's easy being Fernando Torres.
Put lightly, things have not gone his way since he arrived at Stamford Bridge in January 2011 for a princely sum. Torres waited 14 games and 732 minutes (Daily Mail) for his first goal for the Blues, and in the process made himself a running joke. Cruelty is served quickly in today's multimedia world, and Torres was soon the punchline of websites and Facebook pages preying on his plight.
By September 2011, respected authorities at The Times were debating if Torres was the worst signing ever. Browse the myriad lists of ill-advised transfers, and the Spaniard is sure to be a common theme.
With the business of being a striker is so dependent on a player's confidence level, it can't have been easy for Torres to stay positive and keep striving for redemption. Lesser men would have displayed their frustration openly—be it on the field or in interviews off it. Lesser men might have gradually faded into the background and eventually slinked off to more hospitable climbs.
Roman Abramovich, having staked a good deal of faith in Torres, has clearly played a big part in the latter not happening. But that he still has a player willing to work feverishly to prove everybody wrong is owed to a strength of character in Torres that does not get anywhere near enough credit.
During his two-and-half years at Chelsea, the 29-year-old has worked under four managers and had his share of lows. Things got so bad under Andre Villas-Boas he admitted there were times he didn't care if Chelsea won or lost (Daily Mail), but Torres found a way back mentally when Roberto Di Matteo took over.
Said Torres, in a revealing interview last October:
I learned to look at myself and to realise that the only person that can change is you. The only person who can say, 'You’re making mistakes, you’ve got to do something' is you. I became more mature, I came to know myself better and became conscious of the fact that it depends on me.
The first step is admitting you have a problem. But equally admirable was the emphasis Torres placed on maintaining his dignity and being a valuable member of the Chelsea setup whether he was scoring goals of not. You might assume a £50 million striker would be living in a world of one, but Torres does not play to the stereotype.
"When I retire the only thing that concerns me is that no one can say that I was a bad team-mate or disrespectful or self-important," he said.
Judging by the reaction of Chelsea players to Torres' goals on Thursday, it's clearly evident they have his back. They know what he's been through and they want Torres to come out on the other side with the result that his work ethic deserves.
Torres' manager, Rafa Benitez, having worked with him during the good years at Liverpool, is ideally qualified to help the process. Benitez might have been a controversial and unpopular choice among Chelsea fans, but you can be sure his appointment was well received by Torres.
The big question now is how Torres gels with the man who replaces him this summer. Whoever gets the nod—be it Jose Mourinho or somebody else—might have doubts over his credentials to lead the line, but will quickly be convinced that Torres is in the right place mentally to fight his corner.
You might not think he's worth £50 million, but you can't help but admire the stubborn persistence of Chelsea's masked man.
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