As Chelsea fans, we seem to have an ongoing obsession with strikers. In recent years we have seen a number of high profile moves to the club that just didn't work. Chris Sutton, George Weah, Adrian Mutu, Hernán Crespo and Andriy Shevchenko are among the forwards that arrived at the Bridge in a blaze of glory and left far more quietly... In January, Fernando Torres was brought to in for a mere £50million. This made him the most expensive transfer in British football history, and his subsequent lack of goals made him, in some circles, one of the worst. It is widely assumed that the Spaniard was the purchase of Roman Abramovich and Torres' purpose was singular: help the owner's obsessive quest for European glory. The predicament Carlo Ancelotti had was whether to make Torres first choice and build the side around him, or keep a tried-and-tested formula and play from the bench. A dilema that proved tough to overcome, costing the Blues their Premier League title, European championship and, ultimately, Ancelotti his job. Does that make Fernando Torres a waste of money? Have his 'best striker in the world' days passed him by already?
The beautiful thing about football (and sport in general) is that you will get another chance. With Andre Villas-Boas at the helm, Torres will look to finally pay off his bill, and there is no reason he should not. Despite links (strong or otherwise) to possible acquisitions that include Radamel Falcao, Neymar and Sergio Agüero, it must not be forgotten that we do already have one of the best forwards on the planet. Roman Abramovich seems to be the type of guy who took the failure of Torres last season personally. The success and failure of the Chelsea club reflects on his own image, and he refuses to allow that image to be tainted by poor results of his biggest investments. With Villa-Boas being such a young coach, we shouldn't expect him to rock the boat too much when he first arrives. Results are not enough at Chelsea to keep a job. He must massage Abramovich's ego, and to do this, Torres will get more playing time. The more time the striker has on the field, the more opportunity he has to live up to his potential.
A new coach means new tactics, attitude and atmosphere. Villa-Boas thus far has preached about the importance of team unity. You can imagine the atmosphere around Stamford Bridge will be somewhat more relaxed than it has in the past. What a philosophy like this also implies is that they will win as a team and lose as a team. Earlier this year, by Torres' third or fourth goalless game, the fans were beginning to get restless and wanted some results. The longer it went on, the harder it got, especially as Chelsea continued to falter. No longer will Torres foot the blame, and if the media does begin to do that, Villa-Boas will step in and deny that. If the unity is really there, then the players will feel an obligation to do the same. With a new season the potential is endless. Torres doesn't need to get on the score sheet every game (though it would be nice), but if he can help Chelsea off to the start they had last year, he will become an instant fan favorite. Villa-Boas' philosophy should help that along nicely.
The side Villa-Boas coached at FC Porto was a high up attacking squad. They would usually play with three forwards on the field in an aggressive 4-3-3 formation. He encouraged movement and a free-flowing style to the play. The pace was high, and they usually won by outgunning their opponent by two or three goals. Torres will prefer the new tactics to last season's. Being such an aggressive forward, he really relies on the ball being high up on the pitch. If it is being knocked around midfield he is not really able to do what he does best, making well-timed, cutting runs.
Last season, Torres was thrown into a forward line that had essentially been together for two-and-a-half years. Didier Drogba, Nicolas Anelka, Florent Malouda and Salomon Kalou all had a very good relationship with one another, and it showed on the field. Through no fault of his own, Torres upset the balance of this by being the new guy in town. Also, the fact that we would come to learn that Drogba was recovering from malaria begged the question whether Torres' spot was permanent or was he just filling in for the sick Ivorian. Speculation about the future of some or all of these players could see Torres, with only half a season and one goal under his belt, become the most experienced forward at Chelsea. With Torres becoming the prime target and with no one on the bench that fans and critics can point at to replace him, he can finally relax and play his game. He won't need to walk into the club the morning of a game and wonder if he's part the starting eleven.
In 320 games for three club teams, Torres has scored 148 goals. Starting at age 15, he has played in 115 games for his country (including 85 at the senior level) and scored 49 goals (27 at the senior level). What does this all add up to? A very good striker. The recent slump that he has experienced is just that. This is not normal for him to be this dry in the goal category for this long. At one point, he had gone 903 minutes without scoring a goal. That kind of number is remarkable for most good midfielders. Fernando Torres has rarely (if ever) said anything controversial or brought negative attention to himself. He keeps quiet and plays hard. He doesn't like to let down the team, the fans or himself and should work hard this summer to get back to where he was. You could see in his eyes last year that he was more disappointed in his lack of form than anyone. The failure to convert chances will not happen again. He may not be the most prolific player at Chelsea next season, but he will find a way to turn his performance around.