I am a big fan of the film Top Gun. As a kid growing up in the ’80’s it seemed that there was nothing as cool as being a fighter pilot. When young boys, such as myself, were asked what we wanted to be when we grew up being a pilot (particularly of the fighting variety) was generally top of the list followed closely by being a policeman (young boys not realising the financial implications of the latter at that stage).
The plot in Top Gun was never going to win any Oscars for originality or for depth, but that was not the aim of the film. Top Gun falls into the genre that Afrikaans people refer to as “skop, skiet en donner” or “kick, shoot and beat people up”. In a nutshell, the film follows a cocky and talented pilot whose pseudonym is Maverick as he enters the Top Gun training school. Although Maverick has abundant talent, he flies recklessly and is often selfish and doesn’t work as part of a team. Following a tragic training accident that results in the death of his co-pilot (Goose) Maverick suffers a crisis of confidence and loses his ability to fly as he did before. Naturally, this being Hollywood, Maverick regains his confidence and becomes a team player in the final action sequence and gets the girl at the end of the film. All’s well that ends well.
Although, the Fernando Torres story is not yet over at Chelsea it is certainly not going well.
By the time Chelsea Football Club made the decision to sign the Spaniard from Liverpool FC in January 2011 for a record British transfer fee of £50 million, Torres had suffered several injury problems and was not the same player who had dazzled the Premier League in his first three seasons by netting 72 goals in 116 appearances. He was definitely not the same player who scored the winning goal in Spain’s 1-0 victory over Germany in Euro 2008 and was named Man of the Match in the final.
Like Maverick after the training accident, Torres appears to have suffered a crisis of confidence from which he has never fully recovered. Although there have been glimmers of the old Torres (“OT”) from time to time, these moments have been similar to a flickering light bulb that never fully illuminates. Through it all, the Chelsea fans have been faithful to their record signing and have given him unstinting support during his troubled time at Chelsea. They praise his work rate and his industry, knowing full well that this was not the primary reason for which he was signed.
There were many theories or reasons given for why Torres had not quite found his feet for Chelsea: He was played out of position on the wing instead of through the centre; He could not play with Drogba as part of an attacking duo; He needed time to find his feet; It was all Andre Villas-Boas’ fault; He needed better support players around him with a bit of guile and creativity.
At the start of the 2012-13 season, the previous “problems” noted above were a thing of the past: Torres now plays exclusively through the middle as the sole striker; Drogba has departed for China; He has had over a year and a half to find his feet; AVB has left and been replaced by Roberto Di Matteo; Into the team are Eden Hazard and Oscar to complement the talents of Juan Mata. Would the impact of all these issues lead to the rediscovery of the elusive OT.
Perhaps it was all of the above, or perhaps it was none of them at all. Maybe the answer is that (as much as anybody aligned with Chelsea does not want to hear it) the OT shall not be seen again and that they should be satisfied with the new Torres (“NT”). NT does not play with the same fearlessness and intuitive ability that OT did. When one looks at players brimming with confidence like Messi, Ronaldo or Ibrahimovich, one sees players willing to try audacious and extraordinary feats with the football – most importantly, one notices that they do almost without thinking and with a sense of enjoyment.
NT does not look like a man who is enjoying his football, and this is illustrated by the hunched shoulders along with the desperate tracking back and lunging tackles made when he loses the ball to a defender. It is further illustrated when he goes into a one-on-one situation with a goalkeeper and hesitates and dallies on the ball that one second too long and gets dispossessed. NT looks like someone who turns up at work because he has to and does not enjoy that he is at work – and in that respect now resembles a mere mortal.
Maybe OT will magically reappear at Chelsea and reclaim his crown as one of the premier strikers in the world. I certainly hope that he does so that in his next one-one-one with a ‘keeper he can hit the brakes and watch them all fly by.