There is a tipping point in the relationship between every famous player and his club at which the latter have to stop wasting their energy in new ways to appease him and instead get him out the door for the best possible price. Liverpool have reached that point with Fernando Torres.
No shame in that. Manchester United found themselves in the same position with Cristiano Ronaldo; Arsenal eventually agreed to part with Thierry Henry and there came a point when Tottenham Hotspur accepted an offer for Dimitar Berbatov. In all three cases the clubs cajoled and negotiated with their star names, but only up to a point.
It is understandable that Liverpool struggle to envisage their future beyond Torres, whose significance to them goes beyond his ability to score goals. He is the last major world star who picked Anfield. He has a certain star quality about him. But if it is him encouraging Chelsea's £35m pursuit then the battle has already been lost.
Torres has demonstrated this season that he has little appetite for helping Liverpool extricate themselves from the mess that they find themselves in. The appointment of Kenny Dalglish as manager has embarrassed him into a slightly improved level of effort but that is relative to his woefully lacklustre performances under Roy Hodgson.
The memory that will stand out for me of Torres' last season at Liverpool – if this is what it turns out to be – will be the moment against Everton in October when Jamie Carragher roared at Torres for a pass that fell short. Torres put his finger to his lips to shush Carragher.
There can be little doubt that it was Torres' preference to join Chelsea in the summer and when that was denied to him he was never the same. Hodgson generously pondered in public what was wrong with his centre-forward when it seemed obvious that Torres was sulking. Little surprise that his best performance this season was against Chelsea.
Whether it is in the next three days or next summer, parting with Torres will be painful for Liverpool. The fans have built a mythology around him that implies he is as wedded to the place as they are. But even before the departure of Rafael Benitez – the prime mover in bringing Torres to Anfield – that view looked unrealistic.
Torres joined a club in 2007 that had contested two of the previous three Champions League finals. Now he finds himself at a club that considers seventh place at the end of January to be a sanctuary relative to where they were one month ago. This was not the mission he signed up for.
Should Torres leave in the summer, then it gives Liverpool the freedom and resources to rebuild. Every major sale is fraught with risk but some of the boldest moves in football have begun with a big departure. Liverpool's owners might feel that vanquishing the uncertainty around Torres is liberating.
The days when a club struggling for Champions League football could hold on to one or two elite names are gone – especially when those players come from overseas and do not feel the same loyalty. The modern approach to success at the very elite level in Europe practised by Real Madrid – and to a lesser extent by Manchester City and Chelsea – is to buy everyone else's best players, which means that the clubs who are preyed upon have to be smarter.
Spurs are the best example of how a club can lose their supposed best players and, through intelligent reinvestment, emerge stronger. It was perceived as a weakness when they sold Michael Carrick to United in 2006. Carrick probably would not make the Spurs first XI now. They sold Berbatov two years later but they are scarcely worse off for it.
Losing Torres to Chelsea would be a blow to Liverpool's esteem and should it happen before Monday, the prospect of him playing for Chelsea next Sunday would give one of the club's favourite sons the sourest of departures. But it would not be the disaster so many have predicted.
In the short-term Liverpool have already signed Luis Suarez as a replacement and, if Daniel Sturridge is part of the deal, he at least gives Dalglish another option in attack. There are still major doubts about Sturridge but he is young enough to learn and, at the very worst, he has re-sale value if he does not work out.
Torres' time was nice while it lasted. But £35m for a 26-year-old who has had barely a handful of decent games all season and was overshadowed at the World Cup finals last year is a good deal – however painful it might feel to Liverpool today.
As a public relations exercise, selling your marquee name to a rival is always difficult to pull off. It requires decisive leadership and the unwavering belief that you have the right transfer strategy. Of course, Liverpool have done it once before. In 1977 they sold Kevin Keegan, then arguably Europe's best striker, to Hamburg. The young man who came from Celtic to replace him, as most fans can tell you, did not do too badly.Reuse content