The problem with Fernando Torres is physical, not mental
Premier League commentary could do with more Craig Burleys. An engagingly astute reader of the game who refuses to hide behind platitude and cliche, the former Scotland international habitually cuts to the chase.
Analysing Chelsea's 3-3 draw with Manchester United for the league's own, globally broadcast, television channel, Burley expressed the problem with Fernando Torres in one short sentence. "He's never going to get back to his best," he said. "It's just not going to happen."
There was an intake of breath from Premier League television's main match commentator, caught aback by the Scot's direct pronouncement of a fact football in general, and Chelsea in particular, still struggle to comes to terms with.
It goes far beyond the horrid statistics of the year Torres has had at Chelsea. The three goals in 33 league appearances, five in all competitions. The 1,000-plus minutes of playing time, 19 matches, and three-and-a-half months since the league's most expensive player last did what he was so extravagantly purchased to do.
This is not a question of lost confidence or form. It is not, as Carlo Ancelotti and Andre Villas-Boas have understandably attempted to defend the £50 million (Dh290m) forward in repeated press conference inquisitions, principally a mental problem. It is a physical one.
When Roman Abramovich triggered the buyout clause in the Spaniard's contract on the final day of the January 2011 window he was purchasing a once-great footballer who had undergone two operations on the same failing right knee in the previous year; a player who had gone through the pain of an accelerated rehabilitation process to recover fitness for the 2010 World Cup only to be left writhing in the agony of a groin injury as Spain won it.
So late on deadline day was Torres signed by Chelsea there was not time for a complete medical.
Those at Liverpool who know his history of surgical intervention will privately say exactly what Burley said publicly on Sunday. Torres will never get back to being the player he was. It is physically impossible.
Abramovich made a gargantuan error, one Chelsea may long pay the penalty for. Yet he is not the first club chief to do so, nor is his mistake the most expensive. In the summer of 2009, Real Madrid paid €68.5m (Dh329m) to extract the once-even-greater Kaka from AC Milan complete with what insiders describe as "a vicious circle" of knee and pelvic problems.
As Billy Beane of Moneyball fame succinctly puts it: "In sports, like stocks, you want to pay for future performance not past performance." Chelsea and Real bought the latter.
Updated: February 7, 2012 04:00 AM