Is it too late for Rafael Benitez to revive Chelsea striker Fernando Torres?

If anyone can get the best out of the ailing Spain forward again, his former coach at Anfield can– if he is given enough time

Even in the darkest moments of the two years in which they have been apart, Rafael Benitez has seen a faint light flickering in the football of Fernando Torres.

There was the September day last year, for example, when Torres left Old Trafford with the memory of one of the most excruciating misses of his career - the shanked shot with the goal yawning open before him. When I met Benitez less than a week after that event he had the salt and pepper pots out on a Liverpool hotel tablecloth to demonstrate how the chance, which Torres would have scored with a blindfold on at the Anfield Road end, was a minor irrelevance compared with the moment when his former player made a short pass and raced 30 metres to receive the ball back, later in that game. "Sometimes when you are not mentally ready you say, 'Oh, I passed the ball, that's it.' But you could see he wanted to be involved and take the responsibility," Benitez told me. A meticulous observer of Torres always, he saw this as a fleeting hint of a nascent recovery.

History has suggested otherwise.

There was something mildly tragic at Stamford Bridge late on Wednesday night about the way Benitez defended the player who cannot score, declaring "it's not easy when you're playing against lots of defenders" - as if Torres ever really gave a damn about any of them when he was a prince among men on Merseyside.

It is tempting to think we will never again see the same player who took a ball out of an azure blue sky at Old Trafford in March 2009 and destroyed Nemanja Vidic in way that we hadn't seen before and haven't since.

Torres scored 81 times in 142 matches for Liverpool and has found the net 19 times in 89 appearances for Chelsea. Statistics, body language, the look on his face: whichever way you cut it, it feels like our appreciation of Torres will always be a retrospective one.

The picture is more complex than that, however, because somewhere in the analysis we need to assess how grossly unsuitable Chelsea and their football have been to bring out the best in Torres. When crushing centre halves with his pace at Anfield, he was working off the sure-fire certainty that somewhere, not far behind him, was Steven Gerrard, whose default thought when he received the ball was to look out for Nando. Gerrard has had his critics for always seeking to make the Hollywood pass, but Torres will tell you he dined out on them. Chelsea's stroller style - backwards, sideways, frontways, any-which-way - just hasn't suited a striker who has not lost those intuitive movements, as Benitez pointed out over the lunch table. It's just that by the time the ball reaches him it's too late. He's on his heels, flat-footed. The element of surprise has gone.

Benitez will look to rectify this, but it will take time. For now his more cautious approach - with two lines of four when Chelsea are out of possession, judging by what he have seen in 180 minutes of football - mean that Torres is even further removed from the players who might supply him. But the Benitez philosophy has always been to destroy opponents, rapier-like, when breaking out of structures like that. If the abuse and drought carry on like this, you feel that Benitez may genuinely last no more than two months in the job. But if he gets the chance to build on that defensive foundation, then there will be rapid passes for Torres to feed on at last. In Juan Mata and Oscar there are finally players capable of making them.

The biggest challenge for Benitez is to restore Torres to a psychological state which will enable him to take them. Confidence is the key component of most players' game and while there will be some, like Cristiano Ronaldo or Mario Balotelli, who can view disaster with disdain, in Torres we are witnessing the public disintegration of a deeply introspective soul. He's always been a thinker - he spent six months at university studying business and management before his career took off at his beloved Atletico Madrid - and has never been the kind of individual capable of brushing away expectations. Consider the 2001-02 season when, despite Atletico's promotion back to La Liga, he added only six goals to the giddy heights of his debut campaign, the previous year. He was devastated. "I'd had a very bad year after all the expectation everybody had about me," he reflected several years later. And though he was elevated to the captaincy of Atleti at the age of 20, the responsibility did not sit well again. "An intelligent, cerebral man who is neither corrupted by success nor destroyed by failure," is how Antonio Sanz, Torres agent, described him to the Financial Times earlier this year.

The torture is written across his face. He knows only too well that he is a £50m buy. He knows that he is not to Chelsea's fans what he was to Liverpool's. The opprobrium for his old mentor, Benitez, and his acute awareness that the two are linked inextricably at the Bridge won't help. But don't discount what effect Benitez might have on him. This is the player whom Benitez persuaded to hole up for two days in a Liverpool apartment, watching Liverpool FC DVDs, in 2006, so that the club could keep his signing a secret. Benitez's Champions League Dreams book charts an extraordinary closeness.

Restore the Torres belief and Benitez will restore the Torres pace. "They always say the first two yards are in your head," says James Scowcroft, the former Ipswich Town and England under-21 striker, now a football analyst and Independent contributor. "He's 28 - not 35. A player who is confident will be able to find that speed. Pace is in your head."

Amid our narrow obsessions about the Premier League, it has been rather overlooked that Torres won the Golden Boot at this summer's European Championships, when his superior number of assists took him ahead of five others who scored three goals. As a Champions League winner, is he not also a Balon d'Or candidate? someone wondered aloud on Twitter earlier this week. Not really, but salvation can be his, if anyone in west London will allow Benitez the time and patience to help him to it.

Voices
There will be a chance to bid for a rare example of the SAS Diary, collated by a former member of the regiment in the aftermath of World War II but only published – in a limited run of just 5,000 – in 2011
charity appealTime is running out to secure your favourite lot as our auction closes at 2pm tomorrow
Arts and Entertainment
Mark Wright and Bianca Miller in the final of The Apprentice
tvMark Wright and Bianca Miller fight for Lord Sugar's investment
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor winner Ben Haenow has scored his first Christmas number one
music
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special
tv
News
File: James Woods attends the 52nd New York Film Festival at Walter Reade Theater on September 27, 2014
peopleActor was tweeting in wake of NYPD police shooting
News
Claudia Winkleman and co-host Tess Daly at the Strictly Come Dancing final
people
News
i100
Extras
indybest
News
peopleLiam Williams posted photo of himself dressed as Wilfried Bony
Sport
Martin Skrtel heads in the dramatic equaliser
SPORTLiverpool vs Arsenal match report: Bandaged Martin Skrtel heads home in the 97th-minute
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice finalists Mark Wright and Bianca Miller
tvBut who should win The Apprentice?
News
The monkey made several attempts to revive his friend before he regained consciousness
video
Extras
indybest
News
Elton John and David Furnish will marry on 21 December 2014
peopleSinger posts pictures of nuptials throughout the day
Life and Style
A still from the 1939 film version of Margaret Mitchell's 'Gone with the Wind'
life
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

The 12 ways of Christmas

We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

The male exhibits strange behaviour

A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'
Marian Keyes: The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment

Marian Keyes

The author on her pre-approved Christmas, true love's parking implications and living in the moment
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef creates an Italian-inspired fish feast for Christmas Eve

Bill Granger's Christmas Eve fish feast

Bill's Italian friends introduced him to the Roman Catholic custom of a lavish fish supper on Christmas Eve. Here, he gives the tradition his own spin…
Liverpool vs Arsenal: Brendan Rodgers is fighting for his reputation

Rodgers fights for his reputation

Liverpool manager tries to stay on his feet despite waves of criticism
Amir Khan: 'The Taliban can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'

Amir Khan attacks the Taliban

'They can threaten me but I must speak out... innocent kids, killed over nothing. It’s sick in the mind'
Michael Calvin: Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Sepp Blatter is my man of the year in sport. Bring on 2015, quick