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Monday, February 7, 2011

Is Fernando Torres Now Just a Marquee Name?

Liverpool score two goals, one that beat Chelsea and another that left Torres thinking of firing his team of ‘incompetent’ advisers.

Going into the Chelsea-Liverpool game this Sunday, focus was not only on a potentially hard, closely fought and entertaining match but also on Fernando Torres, that infamous guy in the eyes of the Merseysiders who completed a staggering £50m British record  move from Liverpool to Chelsea.

On this day, only three outcomes were possible for Nando. A win for him and his Chelsea side would have convinced him beyond doubt that he made the right decision to abandon the Liverpool ship and join Roman Abramovich’s Blue Armies. A goal for him in that win would have been even better, regardless of whether he celebrated it or not. A loss on the other hand would have sent him googling on the Internet and perusing through the English dictionary to find what the real meaning of ‘best’ is. A draw perhaps would have been the result the 26-year-old wished for so that he didn’t feel his presence hurt his former employers.

But as it turned out, a win for Liverpool had been written and had to be done. Having a Fernando Torres, Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka on your frontline is every manager’s dream. Fielding all of them to start a game is every opposing manager’s nightmare. 

Little surprise then that Kenny Dalglish decided to field five defenders, of course with Martin Kelly on the right and Glen Johnson on the right given freedom to roam forward once in a while, whilst Daniel Agger, Martin Skrtel and returning Jamie Carragher provided cover in central defence.  

This tactical approach by King Kenny worked to perfection as Chelsea were clearly frustrated. Agger dealt well with the threat of Torres, Anelka did all the running but to no avail while the ever menacing Didier Drogba (who Pepe Reina admitted he didn’t like playing against) didn’t even get a shot or header off target.

At the end of the normal time plus four additional minutes, Liverpool players were congratulating each other for a job perfectly done. The fans were chanting their voices out, the manager – who has now lost only once to Chelsea in 21 matches as a player and manager – was left wondering who among his players was the man of the match. New signings Andy Caroll and Luis Suarez, who was an unused sub, must have been thinking ‘well, I made the right decision’, and the club’s owners must surely have been looking at the statistics reading four straight wins for Liverpool since Dalglish took charge and pondering ‘hmm…why not make him permanent’. Even journalists who just a few weeks ago were asking Roy Hodgson about the unthinkable relegation of the mighty Liverpool were now asking Kenny about the Champions League.

On the other hand, Chelsea fans were left cursing, humming and fuming. Ancelotti looked like he needed to rub his face Roy Hodgson-style, Petr Cech and Ivanovic wished they were to main event in Wrestlemania27 while Fernando must have been thinking of firing his team of advisers.

Talking of Fernando Torres, could we be seeing the last of him? Is Fernando Torres no longer that defender’s nightmare player who we were accustomed to before the World Cup? Could Fernando Torres be just a marquee name with no on-field value? Only one game for Chelsea and some of the club’s fans are already casting doubts about his ability. At Liverpool, the fans managers and fellow players stood by him even when his form was surely sulking. At Chelsea, he will surely miss this.

If there’s one thing Fernando Torres must have seen in the Liverpool-Chelsea match, it must be the kind of unity exuded by his former team. On the stands, the fans cheered the team on from the first whistle to the end of the game and to the streets in London. On the dugout, the manager, Kenny Dalglish shouted out instructions to his troops on the field and they duly responded. In contrast, Chelsea boss Carlo Ancelloti looked on as his team knocked the ball around without much progress and looked like they lacked inspiration and killer punch even after fielding three fiery strikers in the shape of the skillful Nicolas Anelka, the bully Didier Drogba and the fallen Anfield hero Fernando Torres. 

Chelsea players looked out of sorts, clueless and at odds end with each other. This was clearly manifested by the misunderstanding between Petr Cech and Branislav Ivanovic when the two engaged on an on-field spat that almost got physical. Liverpool’s goal was also gifted somewhat when Cech, Ivanovic and John Terry misjudged Steven Gerard’s cross which evaded them and onto the foot of a predating Raul Meireles who dispatched it with aplomb sending the red side of the crowd at Stamford Bridge into a carnival. The look on Fernando Torres’ face was all telling and he must have wondered whether he made the right decision.  

How he sorely missed those chants of You Will Never Walk Alone, that club song that sings of fighting through turbulent and hard times and staying together.

And soon, he will perhaps realize that a famous Champions league match at Stamford Bridge is barely on any level as even a Europa match at Anfield against some team like Anorthosis Famagusta.

And That’s thesteifmastertake!!

What Does the Word ‘Commitment’ Really Mean in Football?

After the circus of events that occurred during the transfer saga of Chelsea new boy Fernando Torres – a player who had clearly come out in January 10th 2011 to reiterate his commitment to Liverpool – I for one have found myself going back to the dictionary to really confirm what the word ‘commitment’ means.

Oxford Student’s Dictionary of English, the one that I used, defines commitment as ‘being prepared to give a lot of your time and attention to something because you believe it’s right or important,’ or ‘a promise or agreement to do something; a responsibility’.

The keywords for me here are agreement, time and responsibility. And I believe any professional in any field should ensure that these three key things are present in their character, personality and in what they do. And that includes football. When a player agrees to sign for a club and declares that he/she is committed, they should be all set to give a lot of time – though not all of their time – and attention to the course of the club and see that as a responsibility, not merely a task to accomplish or ditch in the middle.

But as far as football is concerned, I want to think that those three elements of agreement, time and responsibility have gone astray in the beautiful game. 

Able to unite and electrify, this game can also partition and bring immeasurable fury. A fury that would make fans, and even the media, call a player who has jumped ship to a rivaling team ‘a traitor’. Again, my lexicon defines a traitor as ‘a person who is not loyal to his/her country, friends, (add club), etc. A ‘trait’ in this effect is defined as ‘a quality that forms part of your character or personality.’ Just to link up those two, disloyalty forms part of the character and personality of a traitor. 

So when a player comes out willingly, without duress and clearly states “My head is in Liverpool and on helping save our season. I am professional and I always fulfill my deals. I haven’t considered leaving, although in football that depends on the club,” perhaps we shouldn’t read too much into that and conclude that the player is loyal or committed to the course of the club.

It’s hard to argue that there’s no loyalty in modern football. Arguing that there is even more intricate. In Liverpool, combative defender Jamie Carragher and inspirational captain Steven Gerard (though he was consistently tempted to join Chelsea, but he never will) stand out from the crowd as club loyalists. I also tend to believe that one Ryan Babel could have stayed with the club for quite some time without wanting out.

Manchester United’s success over the last 20 years can be attributed to the loyalty of the likes of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Garry Neville and one Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. These individuals have not only been loyal to the club but to supporters, the club’s owners (including the Glazers) and one Sir Alex Ferguson.

Chelsea have their John Terry and Frank Lampard, while the likes of Gianlugi Buffon, Alesandro Del Piero, Raul, Andrea Pirlo, Gutti, San Iker Casillas and Barcelona’s Xavi Hernandez I Cruise and Carles Puyol Saforcada have proved beyond doubt that you can remain in one club and win honours with them.

I have left out the mercurial, gifted, Ballon d’Or-retaining Lionel Messi in this list of loyalists intentionally. Reason being that one never fails to wonder if he could have remained with the Catalan giants were it not that they were ‘the best (club) there has ever been’ according to one Paul Macdonald

Money has annihilated modern football. How many players have we seen move from one club to another for money today? While the likes of Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney would threaten to walk out, of course only to change mind after being locked in a meeting where their cheques are fattened, the likes of Christiano Ronaldo, Ashley Cole and I believe Fernando Torres give no damn.

But leaving a club is never a problem. The problem normally is how do you leave the club? El Nino leaving Liverpool wasn’t bad. The way he left the club was. In a bad but improving shape, with a new manager trying to inspire players who had been lacking inspiration, and need I say it, on transfer deadline day.

But of course it’s hard to really blame the players. They want to command huge wages and sponsorship deals. They want to make hay while the sun shines. They want to win titles and honours. For theirs is the talent and they want to make as much of it as they last.

To them, whoever said patience pays should have been crucified, immediately.

And That’s thesteifmastertake!!

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Looking at Liverpool - Post Fernando Torres

In the aftermath of Fernando Torres's departure to Liverpool FC rivals Chelsea, this article looks at his contribution to the dwindling fortunes of the Anfield outfit and recommends the way forward for the fans, supporters, manager and the entire LFC family.
 "People move and people come but the most important people at Liverpool are the ones who want to be here." These were the wise words that came out of one ‘King’ Kenny Dalglish, an Anfield icon who was recently called in to save the mighty Liverpool when they looked like they were on the precipice of extinction under Roy Hodgson.
Kenny said this in the midst of what has to go down as one of the most dramatic January transfer window deadline days. And it involved one Fernando Torres handing in a transfer request just three days before transfer deadline, his now previous club Liverpool, and his new employers, Chelsea.
And while his words could not prevent the 26-year-old former Atletico Madrid captain from joining the Blue side of London, it served the purpose of at least soothing the hearts of the Anfield faithful.
Torres has had nothing less than unwavering support from Liverpool fans. To the Kop, he was not supported but idolized. It takes a long, very long time for any LFC player to be ranked in the levels of Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and other Anfield greats like Kenny himself, Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler or even another ‘traitor’ Michael Owen. But Torres earned the respect to join that elite group in such a short while.
Prior to the 2010 World Cup, he sustained an injury that knocked him out of his perch and he ended up not scoring even a solitary goal for his World cup winning Spanish team. Many would argue the injury is still nagging him today. But even so, Liverpool fans continued to support him, singing his name, buying his replica shirts and using the argument; ‘form is temporary, class is permanent’ to his favour even when he cut a forlorn figure on the field and his effort was, well, laughable.
These same fans must be feeling cheated and such tagging like Judas, traitor, twat, turncoat among others already tells enough of what they feel of El Nino. If Torres really respected these fans who composed songs of him and called him legend, he shouldn’t have shown his face or donned the colours of a rival Premier League team. And that includes Chelsea, bitter Anfield rivals Manchester United as well as Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City.
In doing that, he spit in the face of the fans and you can guess right the reception he will get from the Kop when he debuts against Liverpool on February 5 at Stamford Bridge.
Many would argue that if Torres was a class player that many don’t doubt, he could have led the renaissance of the Anfield club. A Torres-Suarez partnership at the front sounds formidable enough to scare and tear the best defenders in world football. Goals win games and goals is what Liverpool have been missing in a season that began with Torres being nothing more than lethargic and detached.
Under George Gillet and Tom Hicks, Liverpool was rightly viewed as a club that lacked ambition and grit to succeed. But with the coming of Fenway Sports Group, the club's current owners, splashing the cash and building a team for the future is no longer a just-say situation but it is backed with action. Buying Suarez for £22.7 million and Andy Carrol for a club record £35 million clearly attests to this. Promoting youngsters like Jonjo Shelvley, Jay Spearing, Martin Kelly and Daniel Pacheco into the first team attests to this. Managing to convince players like Steven Gerrard and Pepe Reina to stay and sign long-term contracts with the club attests to the fact that the club is determined to keep its best players at Anfield. By sacking an uninspiring manager in Roy Hodgson and bringing in a club legend who has seen Liverpool climb up the table from 16th to seventh in four games, the owners showed they value success.
So what is it did Torres want? Success? Can he achieve it with a fast-aging Chelsea team?
 Saying “it is the dream for every top class footballer to play at a top class club and now I can do that,” is surely an insult to the Anfield faithful. Was that really necessary and why take a swipe at a club that made you command such a high market value?
So who was Torres to steal all the headlines on a day that Liverpool captured Luis Suarez? What was the logic behind handing in a transfer request on the very day Liverpool announced the capture of the Uruguay international? Isn’t that what they call a ‘kick in the teeth’ in English?
But the time to talk about Torres has long past. There’s no need sobbing over a player whose heart is not in the team and whose form had been sulking until King Kenny came to the club. Torres’s best days with Liverpool, it seemed were over at the end of last summer.
For Liverpool Football Club, it’s now time to build for the future. Think of a partnership between Suarez and Andy Caroll, with David Ngog being thrown in for good measure. It’s time to think about winning as many games as possible beginning with a win at Stamford Bridge against Torres and his new employers. It’s time to think about reaching the Champions League this season, something that is difficult but not impossible, with 14 games worth 42 points remaining. It’s now time to think of current players who might also be tempted away, Pepe Reina increasingly becoming impatient. It’s time to rebuild a title-winning Liverpool Football Club for next season.
And most important of all, it’s time to build and inspire a team around club legend Kenny Dalglish, the man who has seen the Merseyside club register back to back wins for the first time since November last year. This in itself shows the Scot is doing a better job than his predecessor. Capturing Luis Suarez, Ajax’s former goal machine adds a little bit more feather to Dalglish’s hat and if he manages to get the team into the top four or five (this sounds hard but is not impossible), a permanent job at the Anfield dug out will surely be his to lose.
For Kenny, the transfer of Fernando Torres has to go down as one of his defining moments. Whether it will backfire or not is a matter of wait and see but either way, he won’t shoulder the blame considering that Torres handed in a transfer request to a club not willing to trade him.
 For Liverpool fans, it’s time to say ‘bye bye’, good riddance and hasta la vista to Fernando, thank him for the memories and say hello to a new era at Liverpool! It's not time for them lose their voices or stop singing the famous 'You Will Never Walk Alone' song to the players who break a sweat everyday to bring the Merseyside club to where it belongs: to the top.
And by the way, Liverpool Football Club was established in 1897, not July 2007 when Nando joined.
And That's thesteifmastertake!!