Saturday, 12 February 2011

From Alonso to Adam: the reason Torres had to leave Liverpool

10 days on the dust has just about settled on the ashes of those, once treasured, Fernando Torres jerseys on Merseyside.

The hurt the fans felt was justified. The Spaniard admitted as much himself:

“I am a fan of Atlético and couldn’t understand when some of the top players left. Football is like this: from one day to another, people love you and then hate you.”

He was undoubtedly the most adored adopted son of the Liverpool faithful. Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher are their own, Liverpool born and bred, but in Torres they had a foreigner with a similar upbringing.

The comparison between the five time European Champions and Torres’s first love, Atlético de Madrid, aren’t as clear-cut as El Niño often tried to make us believe. After all Liverpool are still, just, England’s most decorated club.

However, in the past 20 years they have taken on the shadow of their Rojiblancos brothers. That shadow being the one they have lived in, dominated by their fiercest rivals. For Atlético it is cast from across the city. For Liverpool, it comes from 33 miles down the M62.

It is the shadow that Torres thought he was stepping out of when he left his homeland for England four years ago.

As a fresh-faced, highly rated 23 year-old, Torres was coveted but not yet proven on the biggest stage. He hadn’t played in the Champions League and his achievements with the national team consisted of defeat in the last-16 of the 2006 World Cup and elimination in the group stages of Euro 2004.

I, for one, questioned whether Liverpool had bought the wrong Spanish striker. In the end I was very wrong but very right – the man I had called for Rafa Benítez to make a move for was David Villa.

Yet, in his first season it seemed as if nothing could go wrong for El Niño – he had finally developed into a man for both club and country.

He scored 33 goals as his new side got to the semi-finals of the Champions League, eventually losing out to his new employers.

He then went on to score the winning goal in the Euro 2008 final. Spain had finally won a major championship and Torres finally had a trophy.

At the beginning of the 2008/09 season he started as he had finished in Vienna. Liverpool started like a train, winning nine of its first 10 matches. A first league title in 20 years looked like a realistic possibility. Most importantly they had a spine capable of challenging for years to come. In Reina, Carragher, Mascherano, Alonso, Gerrard and Torres, they had a sextuple capable of beating anyone.

And they did. They beat Manchester United twice, Chelsea twice, most importantly for Torres, they beat Real Madrid twice – a feat he had never managed with Atleti.

Yet, it wasn’t enough. Chelsea had their number again in the Champions League and United had just enough to see them off in the league.

This, as it has turned out, was the crucial moment in Liverpool’s modern history. Instead of building on the so near, they fell back into the so far. The consequences of incompetent ownership, which had been glossed over in the early years of George Gillett and Tom Hicks’ reign, began to unravel.

Unable to strengthen, Liverpool only got weaker. In August 2009 the heartbeat of the side was ripped out. Xabi Alonso was sold to Real Madrid and that impressive spine began to crumble.

Their fall was as sudden as it was dramatic. Last season without Alonso and other key players, notably Gerrard and Torres through long spells with injury, they crashed out of the Champions League at the group stages and finished seventh in the league.

The manager who had guided them to two Champions League finals, another semi-final and to the closest they had come to the title in over a decade had taken them as far as he could.

The final insult for Torres delivered when the club he left to step out of the shadows came back to finish off Liverpool’s season. The man Atelti signed to replace him, Diego Forlan, scoring the two crucial goal to send Atelti past Liverpool and on to their first European trophy in 48 years.

A second member of that spine, Javier Mascherano, moved on to Barcelona. If Torres knew what it was like to lose your best players as an Atleti fan, he was beginning to get a similar feeling as a Liverpool player.

His own departure seemed an almost certainty. Yet, more success on the international stage in the form of World Cup victory, if not personal glory, pacified him slightly and the potential of a takeover at Liverpool blocked any chance of a deal in the summer.

When the opportunity did arrive it was one he felt he had to take. Chelsea, with their team of ageing stars and retched form over the past three months may not seem like an appealing option to many. But, on the fact of it, even after the defeat to Torres’s former employers last weekend, Chelsea are still six points ahead of Liverpool with a game in hand. They are still in the Champions League (and Torres is eligible to play having only played in the Europa League this season) with the closest thing to a bye you will get in the Champions League last-16 and have a squad full of players with one burning ambition – to win the European crown.

Some will rightly argue that Torres's planning has been incredibly short-termist. That is fair enough. But as short-termist as blowing £35m on Andy Carroll? As short-termist as spending £20m on a well-known crock, Alberto Aquilani, to replace Alonso? As short-termist as bidding £14m for a midfielder in Charlie Adam who cost £500,000 18 months ago?

Clearly Liverpool fans won’t like it, but, for once, this wasn’t a move motivated by money. The Liverpool Torres left was not the same one he joined. Two years ago they had Alonso. Last week they couldn’t even get Adam.

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