Poor Fernando Torres. Hardly had he hit the Sunderland bar with that glorious scissors kick, thus enabling Frank Lampard to score, when the ball bounced charitably off him into the net, hardly had he struck with a header which beat Sunderland’s keeper Mignolet but was headed off the line by Bardsley; not to mention the preceding incident when Bardsley surely brought him down in the box, only for a confused referee to give Torres a yellow card, then the critics were at him again.
He was reported to have determined to practise his finishing in training, encouraged by a concerned coach and still desperate to get that elusive goal. I saw his performance against Sunderland and although it was so to speak goalless, it seemed to me a huge improvement on his recent performances – and I also saw him a couple of home games earlier, come on as a substitute and almost immediately – yes! – hit the bar with a powerful shot from well out.
In the Sunderland game, when almost all around him in the Chelsea team was mere mediocrity, till Michael Essien at long last was able to come on, well into the second half. Torres for me was outstanding. That he still hadn’t scored seemed a mere matter of statistics.
He surely wasn’t worth that £50 million, who could even in this hyperbolic times but by comparison with the non-striking striker who cost Liverpool £35 million when he supposedly took Torres’ place, he might almost seem a bargain. Almost.
Whether or not he might have scored against Sunderland, whether or not he should have had a penalty, it was surely the increased fluency with which at last he moved, confidence has plainly and largely returned. When Didier Drogba went off to play for Ivory Coast in the African Nations Cup, it seemed chimerical that his place could adequately be taken by Torres, yet in his own way, he looks as if he can and will.
Now Cahill has arrived from Bolton to strengthen them, one presumes, the defence, you wonder what will become of the £20 million David Luiz. Of his talents there can be no doubt but he always seems an accident likely and waiting to happen, dashing impetuously upfield, selling himself in rash tackles, careless of his positioning and fundamental defensive duties.
But arguably the most positive and encouraging feature of the match for a largely dull and mediocre Chelsea was the so belated return of the formidable Michael Essien, whose influence on a previously stuttering midfield was immediately clear.
There has been under Villas Boas, rather too voluble for his own good whatever his precocious achievements in Portugal, a certain element of turmoil. The recent draconian decision to banish the reserves from first team facilities apparently because they haven’t been good enough by and large for the first team was somewhat undermined by the decision to allow the 18-year-old Josh McEachran, a burgeoning talent in midfield, to go out on loan. If a player of such obvious ability can for the moment at least find no first team squad place at Stamford Bridge, surely some kind of a double standard is being applied.
One can sympathise with Villas Boas’ impatience with his second string. It has been all too obvious for some time that Chelsea’s youth scheme or whatever you want to call it has been notably unproductive. Not least under the aegis of the highly cited Frank Arnesen.
One recalls all too well how Chelsea conjured away a couple of supposedly most promising teenagers from Leeds United, for whom they were very properly forced to pay large fees. But neither of them made the slightest impact at Stamford Bridge, and both, alas, have by now faded into obscurity. John Terry stands alone as a pure Chelsea product. The exception who, all too embarrassingly, proves the rule.
Long ago a ruthless Chelsea poaching policy, conducted by just one shrewd scout, Jimmy Thompson, was vastly more productive. Above all, it produced Jimmy Greaves who, East London born, would have been a natural acquisition for West Ham United but it was Chelsea who grabbed him.
Chelsea for whom he showed such gloriously precocious form, scoring 124 League goals (Frank Lampard laboriously caught up against Sunderland) before he left for Milan in 1961. Eventually, of course, he would play for West Ham, but that was only at the fading end of what had been such a prolific, goal-scoring career.
By Brian Glanville