By Jennifer Juneau
After viewing the first leg of the quarter finals of the Champions League match between Manchester United and Chelsea, there is one thing for certain: Manchester United know how to win. Knowing how to play may be a different issue so I’ll compromise: They know how to play to win, but playing fair isn’t always in the cards. Before I’m accused of being a disgruntled Chelsea supporter, because I do admit Manchester United were the stronger side—the striking force of Wayne Rooney was stellar, I have only two words to say: Penalty denied. The outcome, and morale, for Chelsea would have paved a confident road to the second leg if the score was tied.
As usual, at the start of the match we were annoyingly reminded once again that Fernando Torres, who Paul Hayward in The Guardian referred to as “a 50m pound expression of Roman Abramovich’s power over team selection” has yet to score for Chelsea. The pressure for this expression to score is tremendous. After all, he was the tool chosen to fix Chelsea into clenching the Champions League title. The question on many people’s minds is—Why? Over-analysis on the Torres saga has over-stayed its welcome, and yet we continue to ask, Why?
And why do we demand to know? Why hasn’t anyone put the issue to rest and let it be what it is: Torres has lost his spark, the success of his youth is behind him. But the topic remains: Who is to blame and what will it take to get him back?
When he hadn’t been doing well his last season at Anfield, the explanation was that he just wasn’t happy at Liverpool. But in retrospect he hadn’t done well in the World Cup either alongside his Spain teammates, so that erases the fact that he fell into a scoring slump at Liverpool because he just wasn’t happy.
Then we were handed the explanation that he was coming off of an injury. He’d been coming off that injury for too long. Then we heard he had homesickness.
None of it flies and none of it catches.
The Ancelotti – Abrahmovich Factor
If Torres was not suited to fix Chelsea into winning the title, at least Chelsea should be suited to fix Torres into adapting to the team. So far I’m not convinced. The more Ancelotti rants that he has faith Torres will come around and end his scoring drought, the less convincing he is. We often hear enough in the press that Ancelotti believes in Torres, that it’s only a matter of time but the thing is, do we believe in Ancelotti? He may very well be the problem. He didn’t select Torres to play for the team, Abramovich did, Ancelotti was taking his orders from the top. In fact, not too long ago it was published in the Daily Mail that Ancelotti said he had no interest in signing Torres after his World Cup disaster.
Far be it from Ancelotti to argue with Abramovich that he was throwing a wrench into his Drogba-Anelka dream combination. He may have ended up sacked, like Jose Mourinho for speaking his mind—although at least Mourinho’s dignity is intact and ironically his team, Real Madrid, may very well win the Champions League, setting a record for Mourinho to be the only manager to win three Champions League titles with three different leagues. And everybody hates Mourinho—except, of course, his players.
What is more important? To be miserable under a colossal weight of pressure and displace it onto your team only to lose? Or to stand up for what you believe, move on and win? If Ancelotti’s side keeps failing, he’ll be fired anyway so what’s he got to fear?
RTE’s Eamon Dunphy pointed out that Abramovich should have empowered his manager with trust and said, “Here’s 50m pounds, do what you can with it.” Without a voice in the process, Ancelotti was forced to bow to the owner’s wishes. How can one have the ease to integrate a player into a team that doesn’t want him?
RTE’s trio of commentators had a lot to say on the subject. First of all, as Dunphy pointed out, if Torres had the confidence, he wouldn’t have fumbled so much but flicked the ball right over the goal line on several occasions, making the feat seem effortless. According to them, Torres took the cloud he was under at Liverpool and placed it over Chelsea upon his arrival.
The Torres – Drogba Connection
Perhaps the most irksome circumstance of all is the forced duo of Torres and Drogba. It has been clear that Drogba and Torres do not mix and if they ever click the Champions League will be long over—then what?
When the two are played together, the frustration on Ancelotti’s face matches Torres’s frustration on the pitch. In the April 6 match it was noted that as Torres dribbled the ball down the field, Ramires and Drogba were slow to react leaving Torres with no one to cross the ball to and it fell at the feet of United.
The only positive move Ancelotti made the whole evening was to keep Torres in the full ninety minutes instead of substituting him. Against the grain of every other viewer on Earth, I believe he did the right thing. It’s his job as manager to install confidence in his new striker and up until now he hasn’t done so. Much to everyone’s chagrin, fans, commentators, newspapers alike, Drogba should never have been taken out in the 70TH minute. Eamon Dunphy referred to it as “a Drogba sacrifice to integrate Torres.” But how do they expect Torres to find his form when he doesn’t have any opportunity to play a full game?
Why Ancelotti continues on playing the two together is a mystery. They’re as much in sync as Ancelotti is with Abramovich. Their lack of chemistry has been the elephant in the room since January. Fans watch and they want to believe the connection between the two strikers will be electrifying.
Drogba has denied allegations that a Torres move wasn’t welcome by him and that he felt his position was threatened. No matter what he says or however hard he thinks he tries, on the pitch he has left Torres wide open numerous times having decided to take it solo with the ball ending up in the stands. In the 65TH minute of the April 6 game, this is exactly what Drogba did.
On two occasions during the match it was embarrassing to see Torres’s desperation rear its head in the form of a dive, in which he received a yellow card. Ferdinand refused to let him go down without a fight. The best response could have been for Torres to get angry and play with a vengeance, to score and stop United in their tracks—he’s done it before. Instead it was the reverse with him appearing more emotionally beaten than ever.
The Pressure of a Price Tag
Enough already. It’s not the fact that Torres went for 50m pounds, it’s the fact that people won’t let the guy live it down. Get over it. The deal is done. It’s yesterday’s news. He’s paid the price back in criticism from the press and backlash from his fans. Not one day in the newspaper or one Chelsea match goes by when his price tag hasn’t been thrown in his face.
It’s true that Liverpool got two for the price of one with the signings of Luis Suarez and Andy Carroll. What’s most important is that Liverpool received two extraordinary players who were hungry for success, who wanted to play for Liverpool despite their monetary value.
If either one of those players had 50m pounds waved in front of them they would have grabbed it too—along with the eternal debt of pressure and possibly demise.