James Lawton: Stop shooting your mouth off and start hitting the target


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The Independent Online

Isn't it funny – or maybe just sad – how often we touch up the more implacable realities of life with a dab or two from the palette of special pleading?

But then if we all do it, not many are on the record quite as outrageously as Fernando Torres this last weekend after playing a brief, albeit absolutely honourable, role in Chelsea's Champions' League triumph.

This was El Niño 16 months ago, when he left a still essentially adoring Anfield with barely a backward glance. "Loyalty in football has changed – players kiss the badge but the reality is that you do as well as can and then you move on. You cannot get too attached to any club."

Who can say that view didn't take us to the heart of modern football?

The trouble is that Torres is calling it somewhat differently now after his struggle to justify a £50m transfer fee. Now he wants rather more than a business-like arrangement determined by what happens in the only place relevant to the standing of a particularly well-rewarded player, which is, of course, out on the field.

He wants urgent talks with Chelsea to determine precisely what they expect in return for his £175,000 a week wages, saying: "This season I have felt things I have never felt before. I felt they have treated me in a way I was not expecting, not the manner for which the club brought me here. This is not the role for which I came and I'm not happy. I have had the worst moments of my career during this season."

However, it is manifestly true that Chelsea didn't impose Torres on their former manager Carlo Ancelotti for some unspecified role in the chorus line. Plainly, he was bought to score goals, a great fusillade of them, and when they didn't come life was bound to be somewhat less serene.

Bewilderingly, he goes on: "I want to know what role I will have in the team and what function is expected of me, which would give me the chance to evaluate if it is worth it. If it wasn't for the fans many times this season I would have thrown in the towel."

So much for the new, hard professionalism that has supplanted those old, fleeting loyalties.

The function of a goalscorer, Fernando, is to score goals, ideally with enough frequency to justify a record transfer fee. When Wyatt Earp was hired as sheriff of Tombstone he didn't demand a set of job specifications from the town council. He just made sure his Colt .45 was in working order and shot down anyone who challenged his professional standing.

That was pretty much the requirement when Torres moved from Liverpool and he did more or less confirm that he was aware of this when he made his extremely abrupt farewell to those Liverpool fans and supplied everyone with his definition of the modus operandi of the up-to-date pro.

It is perhaps something the now embattled ownership of Liverpool should bear in mind when they are told that the favourite to take over from Kenny Dalglish, Andre Villas-Boas, right, is considering, with no great haste, quite what might represent his next most promising project.

Torres wants to know what Chelsea expect of him while Liverpool, if they are indeed considering hiring a man who made such a spectacular mess of his last job, wait to hear what "AVB" expects of them.

In a football world that hadn't gone totally mad Liverpool would be advising the former Chelsea manager precisely what they had in mind for him. It would be the widest possible detour. That may still happen if contact between Liverpool and Fabio Capello gathers pace.

Certainly, there is surely a weird juxtaposition in these demands of the striker who didn't score and the manager who didn't manage – and one only heightened by the fact that one leading bookmaker yesterday had AVB 11-10 favourite for Anfield with Roberto Martinez 7-2 and Brendan Rodgers 9-1.

One theory on Merseyside is that neither Martinez nor Rodgers have acquired the gravitas to walk in the footsteps of Bill Shankly and his successors, which at the very least is touched with a certain amount of black comedy when you remember that the founder of one of football's greatest traditions arrived at Anfield at the age of 46 from Huddersfield Town, where he had guided the Second Division club to 14th place after previous stints at Carlisle, Grimsby and Workington.

No doubt Torres would be the first to remind us that times change; however, at one point do we conclude that they have done so to the point of absolute insanity.

The instinct here is that a whole flock of something or other is flying over the cuckoo's nest when Torres tells us that he wants a little bit of job definition and Villas-Boas, he of the demand that players rush over to the touchline and include him in their goal celebrations, needs to know if running Liverpool is a project quite up to his idea of snuff.

Liverpool need a good hard pro with a proven record who understands the quality of different players and has the nerve to have them play according to their particular talents. Torres, rather than advising us on the new realities, should remember some of the old ones – most valuably that a goalscorer who doesn't score is a bit like a sheriff who can't shoot.