The trauma of tragic Torres

The Chelsea striker who thinks too much and scores too few may need an analyst's help – and a return to Atletico Madrid where it all began – to find the net

A moment which laid bare the tragedy of Fernando Torres almost went undetected amid the chaos of this week, which has shattered Chelsea and once again left the club to start over. In the tight, whitewashed back corridors of St Andrew's on Tuesday night, Juan Mata struggled for the most delicate way of explaining that Torres, his friend, had been offered a penalty kick to end the 24-game penury in which he had failed to score a goal and yet had, in anyone's language, bottled it. "I asked him if he wanted to take it because he provoked the penalty," Mata explained. "He said: 'I'm not first on the list...' "

If this testimony were not proof enough of how far Torres – now too traumatised to take aim from 12 yards – has fallen, then consider where he stood on the corresponding week of the football season three years ago. Liverpool fans certainly haven't forgotten because it was as good as it has got in recent years: the week in which Torres destroyed Real Madrid's Fabio Cannavaro and Manchester United's Nemanja Vidic in the space of 100 hours, as Rafael Benitez's side threatened to conquer England and Europe.

If he gets any kind of an opportunity against Stoke City this afternoon – probably from the bench – Torres will find himself nine minutes away from going 24 hours of football without a goal. He is not entirely alien to the notion of a waste of money. His parents, José and Flori, once told him of his habit, as a toddler, of throwing the little toy lorry in which he kept his pocket money out of the window of the family home in the Parque Granada barrio in Fuenlabrada, near Madrid. But a catastrophic crash like this after Roman Abramovich lavished £50m on his services? The sight of him shanking a left-foot shot three yards wide of a Birmingham City post on Tuesday raised the genuine notion that he may never find a Premier League net again.

Michael Robinson, the one-time Liverpool striker, felt his own world was about to explode when Liverpool bought him from Brighton for £250,000 in 1983 and he journeyed through eight games without a goal. "You've been bought by a big club for a big fee. Your job is to score goals. One game passes, two, three, four and you haven't scored," Robinson related recently. "Five, six: still nothing. The goalposts seem to get narrower every game. You're at an away stadium and the rivals fans sing 'What a waste of money'."

Robinson and Torres became well acquainted as the former developed his broadcasting career in Spain, and if one factor unites them it is a tendency to analyse their surroundings on the football field. At Liverpool, Torres would squat down on the turf before a game, hermetically sealed from all the sound and fury around, and survey the scene.

"I like to see the other players with the keeper and I like to see the other end and the people in the stand behind the goal," he explained. "I try to see the goal and try to think where the ball is going." But his introspection runs deeper than for most players – which tells us something about where he finds himself today. He has always been a deep 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. The first signs of the tortured soul we now see came in 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.

"I'd had a very bad year after all the expectation everybody had about me," he said. And though he was elevated to the captaincy of Atleti at the age of 20, the responsibility did not sit well again. The club's position in the shadow of Real Madrid bred a victim mentality at that time. The world owed them a favour and Torres was not able to break out of that culture.

"It was all the things that you had to do as a captain off the pitch which made it harder for me," was how he assessed it when he arrived at Anfield. "I had to help all of the new signings settle in by helping them find a new house, new car, then go for meetings. I didn't have as much time to think about myself and my own game."

The Torres Robinson knew from those days – part prodigy, part folk-hero – was one punished by his club's own mid-table mediocrity. "When Fernando played for Atletico Madrid, they probably only created three shots at goal per game. Because Fernando played on his own, if he missed he received all of the blame. It was so unfair to place such a ridiculous amount of pressure on one so young." But the Torres he encountered at Liverpool was one released from that expectation.

L4 hardly brought the anonymity of Fuenlabrada – the Madrid suburb famous only for putting skirts on the green stick-man illuminated at pedestrian crossings in the interests of gender equality – but others operated on his level and in one particular soul-mate, Steven Gerrard, he had someone to read his footballing mind.

There were some halcyon days from August 2007, though the deteriorating physiological picture – knee, groin and hamstring problems began tearing at him – was arguably less significant than the psychological one. Gerrard's own extended absences through injury, allied to the struggles which Benitez began to encounter at a warring Anfield, left Torres burdened again. His goals would save Liverpool but his all-round game rarely dragged the club into the light.

Antonio Sanz, Torres' agent, told the Financial Times last month that the striker was "an intelligent, cerebral man who is neither corrupted by success nor destroyed by failure. His family is his refuge and he is not the kind of person who likes to show himself off."

That raised the question of whether this player might actually think too much. Lionel Messi's thought processes create no such danger, though he is a home-bird, too. The paper put the question to a number of sports psychologists, who seemed to agree that there was a way back from this paralysing period of self-doubt for Torres. "That level of athletic talent is hard to suppress. My prediction is that he's not done yet," said one recognised cognitive behavioural therapist. Santiago Solari, the former Argentina and Atletico midfielder, was less optimistic. "When a player has been at the peak of his form in a career and then goes downhill – well, I've never seen a player return to his best in those circumstances," he said. Sanz did not dismiss out of hand the notion of Torres seeking psychological help.

Though Abramovich wants Torres in starting line-ups, being afforded a fresh chance, it is hard to avoid the impression that his future lies outside of west London now. His decision to join Chelsea was a fundamentally bad one. In the chaos of the club's January spending spree of last year, he might have seen that this might be a rocky ride, though he had an itch about a lack of trophies – born of his barren career at Atletico – to scratch. The road back to Liverpool seems closed off now – though that club's fans would welcome him back tomorrow – with Gerrard's own capacity to reach the heights of three years ago open to some question and Benitez long gone.

The road home to Fuenlabrada may actually be the one he takes, if Atletico are so flush with cash should they sell Radamel Falcao this summer that Diego Simeone can bring Torres back.

For some who observe Liverpool closest, the memory of Torres which burns most intensely dates from that frenzied deadline day in January last year when he and his advisers sat on the couches in the foyer of the club's Melwood training ground, preparing to take their leave. They could have reached out and touched the replica European Cup which has pride of place there, as they finally stood up and left.

Such were the riches that Torres left for and has not found. Silverware would still be nice but, judging the way things look today, he would settle for any kind of silver lining.

Decline and fall: Torres' goal rate

0.1 goals per game for Chelsea

0.57 goals per game for Liverpool

0.37 goals per game for Atletico Madrid

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The 67P/CG comet as seen from the Philae lander
scienceThe most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Arts and Entertainment
Ian McKellen as Gandalf in The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies
film
Sport
football
Arts and Entertainment
Sarah Koenig, creator of popular podcast Serial, which is to be broadcast by the BBC
tvReview: The secret to the programme's success is that it allows its audience to play detective
News
Ruby Wax has previously written about her mental health problems in her book Sane New World
people
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

Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

The Interview movie review

You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

How podcasts became mainstream

People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

A memorable year for science – if not for mice

The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

Christmas cocktails to make you merry

Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
5 best activity trackers

Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair