Andre Villas-Boas yesterday admitted that the best days of Fernando Torres's career thus far were those he spent at Liverpool, but the Chelsea manager is so confident the most expensive player in British history can return to his best that he maintains he would pay £50m to sign him now if necessary.
Since his acrimonious move to Stamford Bridge on transfer deadline day last January, the 27-year-old Spanish international has looked a shadow of the player who set Anfield alight for three-and-a-half-years, scoring 65 goals in 102 appearances. In London, Torres, seemingly shorn of confidence and struggling to reach peak fitness, has managed just five in 30.
Though his manager is dismissive of those statistics – insisting his return of four goals in 12 games this season is "not too bad" – even the most ardent optimist would struggle to deny that Chelsea have not yet experienced Torres at his devastating best. Despite that, Villas-Boas is adamant his striker remains a valuable part of his team, worth every penny of that outlandish fee.
"Of course [he is worth £50m]," said the Portuguese. "Of course I would pay that for him again. He is one of the best assist-makers at the club, with four or five. He is assisting people and the team are getting wins out of it. Sometimes we do not get all the wins we want, but we get the goal-scoring opportunities to win games.
"You are isolating a year to form your opinion. The last four months, with the goals he has scored, it is not bad. A striker is not just there to put the ball in the net. He is there to perform and create. It is not just a question of numbers and goalscoring. It is about how you make your team perform around you.
"We create enough opportunities, whether we win or lose games. At the moment, our best goal-scorers are our two midfielders, so for them to finish, someone is creating. The team is scoring, so I am happy."
Torres, it seems, is not: in an interview with the Spanish newspaper Marca this week, the forward suggested he feels as though he "owes" the Chelsea fans after such an underwhelming start to his career at the club.
Villas-Boas is aware, as his striker is, that the 27-year-old has not yet been able to have the same effect on Chelsea's team as he did on Liverpool's, lending a prolific edge to Rafael Benitez's side after his £20.2m move from Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2007.
Torres's 24 goals in his debut campaign on Merseyside was a record for a foreign player's first season in the Premier League, and it was his goals which took Liverpool to the brink of the title in 2009.
"At the moment, Fernando's best days were his Liverpool days, in terms of goalscoring," said Villas-Boas. "But that is not to say those days will not come back. When a certain year goes better for you, you look for the good things you did. Those good things inspire you in a certain way, in your life or as a player. You have better moments or worse moments. It has to do with confidence and how you feel and relate to the team. Strikers live on moments of confidence.
"I am sure, with ours being as good as they are, they will eventually get it [back]. Fernando has picked up from last season, with his form, physically, his availability and movement for the team. He is back to his old sharpness."
Torres is expected to start against Kenny Dalglish's team at Stamford Bridge tomorrow – a match the striker feels Chelsea must not drop points in if they are to remain in contention to challenge both Manchester sides for the Premier League title. He may yet be joined by Didier Drogba, after the Ivorian returned to training following an operation on his elbow.
Villas-Boas, meanwhile, revealed yesterday that Chelsea's hierarchy had informed him there was "no place" in the club's structure for Guus Hiddink to be given a formal role. The Dutchman, who lifted the FA Cup during a brief spell with the club, was dismissed as Turkey manager after their failure to reach next summer's European Championship, leading to speculation he may return to Stamford Bridge as a director of football. "At the moment, there is no vacancy here," Villas-Boas said. "It is not my understanding from the club [that he might come in]. There is no place for him structurally."Reuse content