Fernando Torres could be forgiven for wondering where it all went wrong.
The Liverpool he joined for a club record £21.5 million (Dh125.5m) in 2007 were managed by a compatriot, Rafa Benitez, and contained a squad with a strong Spanish contingent who had won the European Cup two years earlier. In Atletico Madrid, he left an unstable club which did not win trophies for a stable one which did. How was he to know that the fortunes of both clubs would ultimately reverse?
He could not see three years into the future and besides, the move worked out for Torres for much of that time. He made a mockery of Manchester United's assessment that he was not cut out to play Premier League football by scoring 24 league goals in his first season in the top flight, eclipsing the record set by United's Ruud van Nistelrooy for the most goals scored by a foreign striker. Torres was equally lethal in his second season when he was named in the Players' Team of the Year. His goal against United at Old Trafford in a 4-1 win emphasised the point that he was a world-class striker.
Although frustrated by the departure of compatriot Xabi Alonso to Real Madrid in 2009, Torres enjoyed a solid third season with 22 goals from 32 games. Along with Steven Gerrard, Torres was Liverpool's prized asset, both rewarded with wages of £110,000 a week. Liverpool's failure to qualify for the Champions League and the departure of Benitez - the man who described him as "the best player in the best league in the world" - clouds Torres's future at the club, as did the meltdown behind the scenes over ownership.
Torres has not commented on the situation, but his trusted compatriot Pepe Reina, the goalkeeper, called it "chaos". Sources close to Torres indicate that both he and Reina would be able to leave the club in January if the ownership issue is not sorted out. Injuries have plagued Torres this year and he has cut more of a forlorn figure in a faltering Liverpool side. His seven league appearances this season have yielded a solitary goal and he failed to find the net in any of Spain's seven World Cup matches. That his country won the tournament anyway and boast emerging strikers like another Fernando - Athletic Bilbao's Llorente - will not help him sleep easier.
Torres is settled in Liverpool, who are desperate to keep him, but he has become something of an anomaly - one of the few Spanish internationals playing outside the Primera Liga. Torres is still highly regarded in his homeland. Catalan radio stations buzzed with rumours at the weekend that Barcelona were interested. British tabloid newspapers even ran quotes from Gerard Pique urging Torres to leave Liverpool and join Barca. Except the quotes were fabricated and Pique never said anything of the sort.
With Liverpool's terrible start meaning they look unlikely to again qualify for the Champions League next season, Torres, 26, will be questioning his future. Liverpool's best case scenario is that new owners invest in a fading team and persuade Torres to stay. Their worst is he joins Manchester United. Few clubs could afford to match his current wages. Manchester City could, United claim they could and, while Chelsea were interested in the past, they have trimmed their wage bill and are hardly short of firepower at Stamford Bridge.
Spain may be a more realistic destination, though he is too expensive for his old club Atletico, leaving Barca or Real. Joining Real would burn a bridge with the Atletico fans who still idolise him, so Barca are a better option, with the tantalising option of Torres playing up front with his Spain teammate David Villa and Lionel Messi. The striker is not going to stick around if Liverpool's ship continues to sink.