With Hodgson gone Torres has no place to hide
Monday 10 January 2011
We know that Kenny Dalglish remembers those days – fast receding in the memory already – when Fernando Torres struck terror into defenders' hearts. We know because they were the days he chose to talk about in his last newspaper column before the call from Liverpool came and he swapped a cruise in the Persian Gulf, near Iran, for another nuclear location.
It was the sunny spring afternoon in March 2009 when Torres destroyed Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic which Dalglish chose specifically to discuss in that column. It is a measure of the depths to which Torres and Liverpool have sunk since that high-tide mark of the Rafael Benitez era – a 4-1 win at Old Trafford – that Jonny Evans – a defender utterly short of form – was fielded in Vidic's place yesterday and managed to emerge from this game with new-found confidence.
Dalglish plainly had some talking to do before Old Trafford beckoned yesterday morning – the Liverpool team coach arrived 40 minutes after United's – and the question on every mind surrounded the effect a 59-year-old member of Anfield lore would have on Torres when he sat the players down for the first time, at 10.30am.
On this evidence, any effect was not immediate but it was a sign of the greater confidence Dalglish will bring to the Anfield dugout that he removed Torres from the Old Trafford field 13 minutes from time yesterday. Roy Hodgson, always so aware of the diplomatic minefield associated with shifting the Liverpool hero, would probably have let him soldier on. But no one should conclude that this was Dalglish's way of sending a message. Torres's shoulders and head were down, as they had been throughout the six-month Hodgson tenure, and it was a statement of his obvious inefficacy, not of the manager's intent to be firm, when the dot matrix board flashed "9". There were no groans from the visiting ranks.
Dalglish insisted last night that Torres could have done no more. "He ran himself into the ground out there. It's a great sign that he's determined to get back and silence a few critics he has got," the manager said.
But that did not tally with the evidence. The flicker of intent in Torres immediately after Steven Gerrard's dismissal – he threw himself into one of the few challenges he actually won – suggested that it might be the catalyst. But it would always be an uphill challenge after Gerrard – one of the few players in the side on the same plane of football intelligence – departed and the climb was not one for him.
Torres was always a source of bafflement to Hodgson, who considered the causes of his anaemic season to be both physical and psychological. Dalglish hinted at the latter. "It doesn't matter how good you are, you need confidence and we've got to get that confidence back in," he said. But King Kenny's appointment removes, as well as adds, something where Torres is concerned: an excuse to hide behind. The Liverpool faithful which have played such a unique and fascinating part in the weekend's managerial succession have perhaps been more tolerant of Torres while Hodgson has been there to take the blame. But there is a new supreme sovereign at Anfield now. The expectation is that all players throw themselves to Dalglish's cause and the response if Torres fails will be absorbing.
One of the few players who seemed energised by Dalglish's arrival yesterday happened to be one of the least loved by supporters – Ryan Babel – which shows that anything might happen next at Anfield. But if the Dalglish alchemy does not take effect with Torres, Liverpool's almost entirely extinguished hopes of a top-four finish in the Premier League are gone, and with them the caretaker's hopes of keeping this job beyond the summer. No guessing what the new manager's top priority will be.
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