Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Torres mystery

Tonight against Birmingham City at Stamford Bridge, Fernando TorTorresres may score his first goal for Chelsea.
Sooner or later, the £50 million pound-man must break his duck and show his new employers what he is really made of. Yet thus far, his transfer has been a near-disaster. No goals in twelve games, Torres has failed to gel with his new teammates while his record-breaking arrival has seen Chelsea dumped out of Europe and fall away in the title race.
Torres clearly can cut the mustard, and was probably the world's best striker in 2008, but has not been the same player for the last season and a half. He was not firing on all cylinders in South Africa and looked listless for Liverpool in his final year there. A decline seems to have set in from the day Spain lost 0-2 to the USA in the 2009 Confederations Cup semi-final.

The Spaniard now seems to have lost his exquisite first touch and his shooting sights are askew. Not only has he yet to find the net despite benefiting from one of the best attacks around, he has not looked even close to scoring. His aim is cock-eyed while he is struggling, in the vernacular, to trap a bag of cement.

What is going on? Nobody really seems to know. Torres is hardly past it at age 27, won the World Cup last summer and has not yet forgotten scoring the winning goal in the Euro 2008 final. He is a happily-married man who is known for staying at home with his family instead of hitting the town. He is fabulously rich. So why can't Fernando suddenly play football?

Confidence is the old chestnut of an excuse for a lack of form or a run of good form. It is true, the more you win the more you believe in yourself and vice-versa, but Torres is not facing relegation. Once he scores one, many are claiming, the floodgates will open to a tide of goals.

But the C-word clearly has a big role to play in football. It must explain to a great extent the almost perennial discrepancy between home and away form for a start. And how many times do you hear a team accused of showing the other 'too much respect' or not 'believing in themselves enough'? I once interviewed the Japanese international goalkeeper Yoshikatsu Kawaguchi, and although English was not his strongest language, I was struck by how much he mentioned the word confidence - a part of the English footballing lexicon all right.

What is keeping Torres nervous? Is the problem the lack of a Spanish-speaking legion at Chelsea like there was at Liverpool, is it tension with a coach who might have been forced to sign and play him by his chairman (shades of Jose Mourinho and Andriy Shevchenko), is it famil
Torresy issues or perhaps an inability to adapt to a new home, teammates, formation and playing system?
If Fernando has left his confidence in Liverpool, who can help him find it again in West London?

Clubs have been using psychologists for some years, although no-one seems to have analysed their efficacy in terms of results. It is normal for motivational speakers to address the squad and for trained specialists to encourage them to visualise success and fill their heads with positive thoughts. Psychology is still a controversial field in some scientific circles, although in its popular form it has spurred a giant self-help industry, tying in nicely with the American way of pioneering self-reliance. Although as a US international footballer once told me, "You can have all the confidence in the world but if you don't have that ability in the first place..."
In the past, managers were motivators alone, but with managers morphing into first-team coaches, clubs employ specialists in several fields. That same footballer told me what his club really needed was a stroke of luck, a break that would grant them a much-needed win to spur them on. Perhaps Fernando just needs to hear that first thwack of the onion bag and he will soon be his old self again.

He has barely half a dozen games left this campaign in which to find his shooting boots, so perhaps a summer free of tournaments and a nice long rest will do the trick. If next season he is still playing like a pub player instead of a £50m man, it really will be a case for a Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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