Ring the bell. Run down the curtain. Let the fat lady sing. It’s time to recognise that Fernando Torres’ career at Chelsea is over. Sure, he’ll play more games before the end of the season, and if the fates conspire to ping one in off his shin, he may even score a couple of goals, but to all intents and purposes, it’s over.
Why so definite you may ask? Well, since Demba Ba joined the club in January, the Senegalese – who very few would class as anything more than a decent Premier League striker – has made the Spaniard look even more ordinary than before. The striker pecking order at the Bridge has now changed so much that in the lesser games – Europa league, FA Cup ties against Brentford, twice and Middlesbrough – Torres has started, and in the more important matches – Premier League - Ba has got the nod.
As a Blues fan, I remember the Transfer Deadline Day drama, when Torres was whisked into Stamford Bridge in that silver people carrier to sign for the Chelsea. The prospect of pairing Drogba and Torres promised glory and goals aplenty. Sadly, it didn't work out that way, and Liverpool manager Dalgleish must have had difficulty sustaining his laughter as the deal was completed – although the way he spent that money, and more – Suarez excepting – drew as many laughs from the clubs he paid over inflated prices to for fairly average players.
It’s been easy to find excuses for Torres since he signed. Dragged down by the price tag, overshadowed by Drogba, the team wasn't set up for him, lack of confidence, the list goes on. This season however, the excuses have run out. Installed as the pinnacle of the team’s attack with three “number 10's” playing behind him – Mata, Oscar and Hazard – the team was constructed with the Spanish striker in mind. Seven league goals in the season to date, and in 2013, a blank in all competitions, if you discount the slight deflection from his shoulder on Ramires’ shot against Middlesbrough, is poor return.
So where did it go wrong? Some people have said that he hasn't been the same since that game against United. You know the one I mean. United were three up at half time, before Torres scored a cleverly flicked goal to bring his team back into the game. Then came the pivotal moment. Faced with a clear run on De Gea’s goal, he confidently left his compatriot sprawling on the ground with a quick step over. Then faced with an open net in front of the Stretford End and a chance to re-establish his reputation, unaccountably, he sliced wide. The Reds’ fans bayed in ridicule at their one-time tormentor, and he buried his head in his hands, falling to his knees in disbelief. From that point, the story goes, his self-belief was gone. Sorry, I’m not having that.
For me the answer is much less prosaic. In football parlance, his ‘legs have gone.’ It may be through injuries. It may be just wear and tear, but the simple answer is that the pace he once had, has now gone. The ability to consistently muscle his way past defenders is now only seen as a fleeting pastiche, and picking out decisive runs is now lost geometry to him. What made him great, has now made him merely ordinary. He works hard, but appears to know that – no matter how many different hairstyles he tries – the glory days will not return. With masses of endeavor, he can’t do what once came so easy and natural. All things come to an end, and I think this is his, as a top class striker.
Come summer, a parting of the ways will probably be a relief to both club and player. An emotional return to Atletico either as part of a Falcao deal, or to replace him if he decamps to PSG or Madrid looks a possibility. A good chunk of that £50 million fee will be written off, and the book on Torres will be closed. Cheque book time again Roman?