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Friday, 5 September 2014

The Serie A and AC Milan could turn out to be Torres’ saving grace

Spanish forward Torres (right) pictured at the Italian Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Lazio over the weekend.

Spanish forward Torres (right) pictured at the Italian Serie A soccer match between AC Milan and Lazio over the weekend.

THERE was very little value-for-money as top European clubs splashed the cash in the final hours of the summer transfer window earlier this week.

But the man who may be remembered as the most overpriced Premier League signing of all time could turn out to be a shrewd bit of business for AC Milan.

Fernando Torres has swapped the blue of west London for the red and black of northern Italy by signing a two-year loan deal. He could make his Serie A debut on Sept 14 as the Rossoneri travel to Parma after the international break.

Putting his troubled three-and-a-half year stay at Stamford Bridge behind him, Torres has quickly made a positive impact in Milan, impressing manager Filippo Inzaghi by smashing fitness records during initial medical tests.

Some may jest that football-loving athlete Usain Bolt would also send needles off the charts before producing a similarly meagre goal return if given the chance to wear the number-9 shirt for a top team in Europe.

Torres’ decline remains one of sport’s great mysteries. But the Spanish striker now has the chance to rebuild his reputation away from the glare of the Premier League.

After years of excess, Italian clubs are now forced to spend frugally and AC Milan have picked up the 30-year-old without having to pay a transfer fee. He agreed to a reduction in his £175,000 (RM915,000) weekly salary for the loan deal, which may turn into a cut-price, permanent move.

He is effectively a direct replacement for ex-Manchester City maverick Mario Balotelli, who has joined Torres’ former club, Liverpool, in one of the unexpected transfers of the window.

Whichever way you look at it, Torres’ Chelsea statistics are poor.

He scored just 20 goals in 110 Premier League games — not quite up to the mark for a man who cost a then British record of £50mil (RM261mil). In all competitions for Chelsea, he scored 45 times in 172 matches, yet hit the net 81 times in 142 games at his previous club, Liverpool.

So what went wrong? How did the striker who regularly terrorised Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand in their Manchester United prime when playing for the Merseysiders become the butt of so many jokes about flustered forwards being unable to hit the proverbial barn door?

If you believe in omens, it was doomed from the start. Torres made his debut on Feb 6, 2011 against his former employers, less than a week after completing the formalities of his deadline day move.

Subbed off after 66 minutes, Torres was ineffectual as Kenny Dalglish’s Reds secured a 1-0 victory at Stamford Bridge. To make things worse, he was constantly boo-ed by the vociferous away contingent.

“He Who Betrays Will Always Walk Alone” read one of the signs thrust in his direction and Torres seemed to be visibly upset by the negative attention from the same supporters who had previously adored him.

Liverpool legend John Barnes declared that then Blues’ manager Carlo Ancelotti had made a big mistake by starting the former Atletico Madrid forward instead of easing him in from the bench.

“Fernando is a sensitive guy at heart who will always love Liverpool, so it could be very difficult for him,” he said.

Sure enough, he needed another seven weeks to net his first Chelsea goal, ending a scoring drought of 903 minutes in a 3-0 victory over West Ham towards the end of April.

Torres struggled with a lack of sharpness due to the combined effects of previous knee injuries as he tried to fit into the systems of the five different managers at Stamford Bridge.

As he collected the first three major club trophies of his career, he did score some important European goals — including the injury-time equaliser in the Champions League semifinal at Barcelona in 2012 as Chelsea went on to win the competition for the first time. But too often he failed to deliver on the big Premier League occasions.

When you factor in his massive wages, Torres cost the Blues an eye-popping £85mil (RM444mil). So it is perhaps not surprising that 49% of those responding to an ESPN FC poll voted Torres as the third worst value-for-money signing in history, after Andy Carroll (£35mil) and Andriy Shevchenko (£30.8mil).

Torres must be burning inside, desperate to get his mojo back and prove his critics wrong.

He was left out of the Spain squad for this week’s matches despite a healthy scoring record for his country — 38 goals in 110 games — almost double the return when compared to his Premier League record for Chelsea.

After AC Milan’s eighth place finish last season, the only way is up for the seven-time European champions. They did not qualify for Europe — the same as Manchester United — so there will be few distractions for a squad that has also been boosted by another Chelsea loanee in Marco van Ginkel and the recent signings of fellow internationals Alex and Jeremy Menez.

A formidable striker during his 20-year career, Inzaghi should be able to bring the best out in Torres.

But then again, we said the same thing about Benitez and Mourinho.

> Jason Dasey is senior editor of ESPN FC, a football website that is due to launch a South-East Asia edition later this month.

Tags / Keywords: Central Region , Community Sports , Jason Dasey , ESPN FC , football team


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