What a start to the week in the English Premier League!
It was soccer’s version of the “trade deadline” that we all love so much in the hockey world, as the January transfer window came to a close with a flurry of player movement – none bigger than the transaction between Chelsea and Liverpool.
It cost them dearly but The Blues managed to secure the services of Spanish striker Fernando Torres from Anfield, where he spent the last three and a half seasons. Chelsea paid £50-million to bring the player over, smashing the British record by almost £20-million and making it the fourth most expensive transfer in the history of world football!
Who saw that one coming? By all accounts, Torres was happy at Liverpool and wasn’t really interested in a move. Or was he? James Sharman, who hosts The Score’s “The Footy Show,” says it’s coming out now that, in fact, the 26-year-old may have wanted out as early as last year!
“If you just watch his body language for the last few months on the field, he's not happy, he's not playing well and there was some mindset that perhaps he might be on the move,” says Sharman. “Am I surprised it happened in January? Absolutely. [With] Liverpool bringing in Kenny Dalglish recently after firing Roy Hodgson, it's all on the up, everyone is feeling good about the club finally for the first time in about two years. So the thought was that he would stick it out for the season. This happening so quickly at the weekend was a big surprise.”
In Torres, Chelsea gets a player who has scored 65 domestic goals over the past three seasons and a player who “if he’s healthy and happy” is arguably the best centre forward in the entire world. Sharman, who also writes for “The Footy Blog,” says Torres is capable of great things when he’s on his game.
“He has it all really; he'll score from inside the box, he's got that strikers instinct of being in the right place at the right time, he's also extremely strong, he's good in the air and he can burn you from 25 or 30 yards out too. We've seen in the last two years, through injuries or through fatigue or just general unhappiness, he hasn't been the same player but he's 26, he's still young enough and I think he's going to be an absolute stud for Chelsea.”
“You put him beside Didier Drogba and it's just a frightening thought."
The move didn’t come without a few dashes of controversy though, as you’d expect when talking about the EPL. First up, there were the comments made by Torres the day after he signed his new deal about getting to join a “top level” club.
Sharman says it’s tough to say what was “lost in translation” here, but the stats back up the fact that Liverpool just isn’t a top club at the moment. They aren’t a Champions League team right now, they’re not close enough to the top of the EPL to be considered “elite” and a player like Torres expects to be in all of the top competitions.
“It's a bit disappointing [though] because two or three years ago he's saying how much he reveres Liverpool, that he loves the club, he considers it one of the biggest clubs in the world and he's a loyal player - well, turns out he's just a typical footballer, not so much a football fan."
"I think we realize nowadays, unfortunately in all sports but in particular in soccer, these footballers are mercenaries - they're out there for the money and you can't really blame them for that. Fair enough, I think we'd all move to a different company if we could have our wages tripled or quadrupled. We deify these people, we put them on these pedestals and that's probably unfair to them and unfair to us.”
The next bit of controversy has to do with an upcoming match between – you guessed it – Liverpool and Chelsea on Sunday. The Guardian reports that the Spaniard’s former club tried to block him from playing this weekend’s game by way of a “gentleman’s agreement,” an illegal tactic in transfer negotiations. If he plays, which he more than likely will, Torres says he will do his best and hopes to bulge the twine in his Chelsea debut.
The final hint of drama comes to us from the head offices of UEFA, where the people in charge of the Financial Fair Play rules are a little bit worried about what they’re seeing. The European governing body wants clubs to reign in their spending and limit losses to under £39-million with the eventual goal of breaking even in the coming years.
With that in mind, what do you think went through Michel Platini’s head when he heard that The Blues spent £72-million on the same day that they announced annual losses of almost £71-million?
The Score’s Sharman says this represents an interesting about-face for Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, who was all about buying championships when he first arrived on the scene in 2003.
“The last couple of years there has been a new philosophy where they've really thought that the kids from the academy are prepared and ready to step it up to that next level, which will prevent them from having to sign big name players. Well, that's failed! They've had a really average season by their standards, they've played very poorly of late and the kids weren't good enough. So it seems like Roman's reverted back to the tried and tested: spend to win.”
“It's a changing of philosophy, recent philosophy, but really lets face it - this is what made Chelsea what they are today, this kind of bravado in the transfer market.”
For fans hoping that the team has turned the corner with the signing of Torres (and Brazilian defender David Luiz), here is a good sign: Chelsea avenged the 3-0 home defeat to Sunderland in November that really kicked off their mid-season fall from grace with a 4-2 win on Tuesday…without Torres or Luiz.
Wouldn’t it be something if they beat Liverpool this weekend and ended up giving Manchester United a run for their money in the title race? It’s a ten point differential right now but they play each other twice before the end of the season, which could set up a photo finish!
What do you think: Will Fernando Torres be the missing piece of the puzzle for Chelsea? Will he punish his old club this coming weekend?
Let me know!