by Neil Chhabda
Late last year, I wrote an article on Fernando Torres. At that time he had lost his speed, his confidence and his predatory instinct, and indeed Chelsea FC had agreed to sign another striker. I wrote about how he needed to mature as a player, and work on his movement and finishing, adapting to the loss of his greatest asset: his lightning acceleration. Six months on, Torres is Chelsea’s top scorer for the season, with 22 goals in all competitions, and on Wednesday night, he scored the first goal in Chelsea’s 2-1 victory over Benefica in the final of the UEFA Europa League. Torres indeed no longer looks like a broken man with no hope, he looks reinvigorated and hungry, displaying incredible determination, drive and passion.
The entire credit for Torres’ return must go to one man, and one man alone: Rafa Benitez. The interim Chelsea manager is the man who made Torres the best striker in the World. Despite achieving little success in his second spell with Torres, Benitez has managed to completely transform a player who looked like less than even an empty shell of his former self. Benitez seems to have instilled an insatiable desire for winning matches and scoring goals into the Spaniard. For the last two years, Torres has played like a man with no motivation, with no aspirations. In fact last year he claimed that he got to a point where he didn’t care whether the team won or lost. However, Benitez has once again inspired Torres to play with a winning mentality and strive to return to his previous glory.
Secondly, a lot of the credit must go down to Torres himself. He has worked incredibly hard. Before Benitez arrived, he had gone from being as fast as Cristiano Ronaldo (one of the fastest footballers in the world) to being outpaced by Sylvain Distin (one of the slower players on an already very slow team). Since then he seems to have regained around 90% of his lost pace and appears to have gotten around three of four times stronger than he used to be. The goal he scored on Wednesday night was absolutely vintage Torres. He made an intelligent run, ghosting past his marker, Ezequiel Garay, an accomplished defender. He then proceeded to outpace and outmuscle the next defender, leaving him on the floor. He then rounded the keeper and coolly slotted the ball into the back of the net. The credit for this almost miraculous improvement must go down to Torres’ hard work and willpower. Benitez often praises Torres’ work rate, saying that he stays behind after regular training hours to do sprint training and gym work to improve his strength and speed. For this, Torres must be commended. Instead of giving up after falling time and time again, he continues to get back up and push his limits. This resolve and mental strength are key in his return to form.Finally, and this factor is key, Torres has changed his hairstyle…again. Instead of having spiky brown hair, or long golden locks, Torres is now going for a much plainer, short brown hairstyle. It may not be as good to look at, but it shows how much he’s matured as a player and as a person. Instead of having high-maintenance hair, he’s gone for something more professional. It sends a message: he’s wasting less time on unimportant matters and is concentrating on his football, spending more time trying to improve.
Conclusively, Torres has shown vast improvement since last year and is getting closer and closer to his peak form. A lot of the credit must go down to his compatriot Rafa Benitez, but the determination and hunger that we have seen from him represent a new beginning. He’s a changed player, a better player, and I believe the next season, he will show us why the sheer mention of his name made defenders tremble in fear.