Torres Emerges From Wilderness

Torres Emerges From Wilderness

He's been well-hidden for the past two years, but Fernando Torres is back.

After the months of stumbling, pouting, hapless performances, when through-balls were trodden on and open goals missed more often than goals scored, the evidence of this season is that Chelsea have at last rediscovered the player for whom they paid 50 million pounds (79.1 million dollars) in January last year.

He scored in the Community Shield against Manchester City, an instinctive stabbed dink as Costel Pantilimon went down too early; he rounded off a superb move (even if he was offside) to give Chelsea a late lead in the Premier League win over Reading; and he poked in a brilliant finish with the outside of his boot in Saturday's victory over Newcastle United.

This was a player playing with confidence, taking chances again and, perhaps most significantly, looking as if he was having fun playing football.

The rot set in at Liverpool in 2009-10. Torres had two operations in his knee and seemed to struggle to regain fitness or form.

Yet he was a mystery: medics at the club reported he was recording the same stats as before the surgery, yet the evidence on the pitch showed a very different player, the zest and sprightliness replaced by lumbering petulance.

He had a poor World Cup and seemed to struggle to adjust to the Roy Hodgson regime at Liverpool. Too often the ball was played long and high, when he needs slipped through-balls to run onto.

At Chelsea he struggled to fit alongside Didier Drogba and ended up as a reserve, coming on late in games or starting when the Ivorian was injured or needed a rest.

There too the approach play was often too direct for him. He scored a famous goal away at Barcelona to confirm Chelsea's passage to the Champions League final, but then was left out in Munich.

Chelsea won, but Torres reportedly felt upset not to have played his part. "I spoke to Fernando on the plane coming back from Munich," the Chelsea manager, Roberto Di Matteo, said, "and told him I thought he was part of the future of this club.

"Understandably there's frustration when you don't start such a big game but ultimately we had a big success.

"Everybody was involved in that success, not just the ones who started the final. I was always very happy with Fernando.

"Towards the back end of last season he was fantastic. Maybe not scoring but being a provider and even when that doesn't happen he works very hard. He's a great team player."

That goal in Barcelona now stands as the beginning of the return. He had to run almost from halfway, and then round Victor Valdes, the Barca keeper. There was plenty of time for doubts to assail him, but he remained calm. Perhaps in that run his belief returned.

And now, as Chelsea prepare to face Atletico Madrid, his former club, in the Super Cup final, there is doubt Torres will start.

Their style of play has changed, a phalanx of deft creators, Juan Mata, Eden Hazard and Ramires operating at the front of midfield to provide him with just the sort of through-ball on which he thrives.

Torres began playing for Atletico when he was 17. There were fears that at 26 he burnt out. Now, at 28, it seems he still has more to give.


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