Price of failure: Who wasted the most money?
There's an unwelcome subplot to today's encounter between Chelsea and Liverpool as two sets of fans try to drown out the other's mockery of Torres and Carroll
History of a sort is expected to be made at Stamford Bridge today when Fernando Torres, at £50 million, and Andy Carroll, who cost a mere £35m, are involved in Chelsea's home game with Liverpool. Never can such expensive players have been in opposition for a British club game. Yet they may not even be on the pitch together, and if they are the respective sets of supporters will be attempting to drown out each other's chants of "what a waste of money". All of which tells the sad tale of two transfers of the highest profile that have so far had nothing like the desired effect.
The two moves were, of course, directly related in that on transfer deadline day last January, Liverpool only granted Torres his wish to move once they had secured Carroll from Newcastle as a replacement. The difference in the fees meant that Kenny Dalglish was able to claim this week: "At minus £15m, it's not a bad buy." But that ignores the fact that the same day Liverpool had also shelled out £23m for Luis Suarez, who has proved largely incompatible with Carroll.
In the last Premier League fixture, Dalglish tried playing them together in a goalless draw at home to Swansea but had to remove an ineffective Carroll after 75 minutes, his goals tally having remained unchanged at five from what is now 20 games for the club. Meanwhile Torres was left out of Chelsea's game at Blackburn until the second half, missing a late chance from a couple of yards out to improve on a record of five goals in 30 matches.
Naturally both managers are inclined to defend their man. Dalglish said on Thursday: "We're delighted with Andy Carroll. Andy will settle in, there's no problem whatsoever. Two of the last three games he's played have been the best he's played for the club so we know he's moving forward."
A day later, Andre Villas-Boas claimed that Torres had improved Chelsea in the second half of last season, said he was worth £50m and denied that a heavy price tag should prove a burden: "You can get good bargains and good prices and you can pay crazy amounts and for different kinds of reasons the player's not responding to what you have paid.
"I have the most expensive price tag as manager and I feel indifferent towards it. I know my responsibilities towards the club and what we want to achieve and it doesn't make me nervous of carrying it."
More detached observers are less generous towards the two players. Fabio Capello could not find a place in the latest England squad for Carroll, even with Wayne Rooney missing. "If he is in good condition and good form he will be selected," the England manager said, clearly implying that neither was the case. "Andy Carroll is a good player, a good talent, but probably in this moment he needs to wait. He needs to score goals. For forwards it is like a drug, the goal." Carroll, it might be said, needs to score in every sense.
Few have loyalties as firmly divided between the two clubs as Nigel Spackman, the midfielder who played more than 200 games in two spells with Chelsea, moving to Liverpool for two seasons in between times. He is at least prepared to acknowledge the problems, which in Torres's case he believes range from lack of regulargames to Chelsea's different style and even the size of their pitch.
"He took a long time to get going and he's still trying to get the goals and find the form we know he's capable of," Spackman said. "He had two fantastic seasons at Liverpool and that's why Chelsea paid that money for him.
"His movement is absolutely fantastic and even if he's not scoring he's creating space for others. But most stikers are judged on their goals and the price tag has weighed him down. If you ask any top striker, they want to play, that's how they get their form. Because there are so many quality strikers at Chelsea, you never know if he's going to.
"The build-up is slower at Chelsea than at Liverpool. And at Stamford Bridge it's a small pitch, so if teams come and play defensively there's less room to run in behind. Fernando likes to come short, then peel away down the side of people and the pitch isn't that big, which I think is a factor."
Spackman's greatest reason for optimism over Carroll is that he is playing for a manager who will straighten him out on and off the pitch. "I know Kenny extremely well and he couldn't have a better manager. When you're in the spotlight as a Premier League player you have to conduct yourself in the right way because everyone nowadays has got a camera. That's when you need to rely on your mates to look after you, know where it's safe to go.
"Liverpool are striving to find a formation that suits people. When Steven Gerrard is fit he and Suarez, as the main striker, are the main players in the team and you try to build around that. Suarez looks happier playing up on his own with two wide playing more of a 4-3-3 like Chelsea. Carroll played that role away at Arsenal; and I'm sure there's a lot more to come from him but he needs to learn that role.
"He's got a big price tag and having had only one real season in the Premier League and then gone for that sort of money is a big ask for him. I hope he gets his confidence back because as with Torres, it's all about confidence for a striker."
A quality, alas, that money cannot buy.
Chelsea v Liverpool is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm
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