Saturday, 29 January 2011

Time to stop bouncing then...

There must be plenty of us who wish we were the ‘aul dear giving Bertie Ahern a hard time outside Dáil Éireann the other day. “You should be ashamed of yourself,” she said repeatedly to the part-time inane columnist who once led this country for over a decade and who, according his court records anyway, is one of the most phenomenally lucky gamblers in history.

Ahern, of course, was playing out the last chapter of his incredibly long goodbye to Irish political life. Two and half years ago he felt that – after handing in his resignation as Taoiseach and heading for a goodbye scoop in Fagans – he had made a dignified goodbye to life at the centre of national politics. Dignified goodbyes though are very, very rare in any walk of life, particularly politics, and after the criticism of his tenure that has followed, there is now a general consensus that this was a bumbling yes man who got several things right but many, many of the big things wrong.

There’s little point in going into the minutiae of what Bertie did and didn’t do, but suffice it to say he believes that everyone should still think he’s a wonderful man of the people. Denial is the order of the day, and while most of us remember his true legacy, he just remembers that celebratory pint of Bass in 2008. Steeped in self delusion, a dignified goodbye is no longer an option.

I’m obviously thinking about goodbyes because, as of yesterday all Liverpool fans like me must surely have accepted that, despite the initial shock, we will soon be saying goodbye to Fernando Torres. Goodbye to a phenomenal goal record, goodbye to the only man on the team self confident enough to tell Jamie Carragher to shut up, goodbye to lengthy absences from the team and goodbye to that bouncy Anfield chorus that paid tribute to ‘Fernando Torres, Liverpool’s number 9’.

I don’t blame Torres for wanting to leave, I don’t believe he owes anybody anything either. This is a bloke who’s nearly 27, and who must look back on the summer of 2008 and think where did it all go wrong? He scored the winning goal in the European Cup Final, he had just had an astonishing first season for Liverpool and he was heading back to start an assault on the Premier League and Champions League believing he could win both with his team, and indeed came relatively close on at least one front.

Since then, he has drifted further and further away from top club honours – his stated reason for leaving Athletico Madrid in the first place – while having won the World Cup for likely the only time last summer, his joy was tempered by his terrible form throughout the tournament and painful injury during the final itself. A multi-millionaire who can’t buy a break when it comes to the big things he wants to achieve, how could he not be interested in Chelsea’s offer?

Even if the side is aging, they appear to have the funds to keep buying in new stars and it’s the thorny subject of reassurance of transfer money that sparked his major problems with Liverpool in the first place. Having been, in his opinion, lied to by the Hicks and Gillett regime, this summer he stayed around in the hope that a billionaire might arrive. FSG’s promises of revival based on steady progress and wise investment clearly doesn’t appeal to a man heading into his prime. Frankly, those who don’t understand why he’d go have their heads buried in the sand.

The only real question now is whether it’ll be a quickie divorce or lengthy, drawn out affair. Or of course, there may be reconciliation, but if Mrs Doubtfire taught us anything – and I’m not sure it did – it’s that sometimes, these things just can’t be fixed. As of now, there are pretty much three possible outcomes.

(1) Liverpool accept a bid from Chelsea and Torres goes.

It’s the most obvious, least messy option but it is more than a little complicated. Kenny Dalglish won’t like the idea of losing a prized asset during what he hopes are the first six months of his second tenure as manager and won’t let Torres go easily. Those who’ve read Roy Keane’s autobiography will vouch for the fact that Dalglish can be a bit prickly when it comes to losing out in major transfers. In turn, Chelsea will now have to come up with a bid that meets Dalglish’s valuation of the player, not to mention appease the money men in Fenway Sports Group.

Chelsea need to send a fax (apparently English clubs still use fax machines for such things) to Anfield with an offer that will make up for the lost commercial revenue that Torres generates and that offer is well above the £35 million offered yesterday and, most likely well above the £40/£42 million offered last night alongside Daniel Sturridge. Will Chelsea have the cash to spend? £50 million might just be the type of symbolic figure that would do it, though a Chelsea player in exchange may also be needed. Or maybe they could just take Joe Cole back, which would be very nice of them. Doing all of this in a few days, during which Liverpool can’t sign a striking partner for Luis Suarez, is going to be a challenge but not impossible. Odds on option one? 3-1

(2) Torres stays until the summer and leaves for a bigger fee once Man City get involved.

As a Liverpool fan who tries to remain somewhat reasonable when it comes to emotional attachment to the team (I try not to use the words ‘Football Club’ very often anyway), I’ve learnt that transfers should always be viewed as cold business transactions that must make sense to all sides. Break it down to the basic elements of any deal and even Robbie Fowler’s return a few years back falls under this category*.

With no major tournament this summer there’s time to benefit from a big-money deal. Potential targets will know Liverpool have money to spend both on the strength of the Suarez move, as well as the massive funds likely to come from Torres going. The cash could also be used to reshape the side. Torres is the latest in a long line of footballers at Liverpool who have become the focal point of play; where the team is built around them but once they’re taken out of the side no semblance of a proper style is in evidence.

Think of Arsenal, they play based around an ethos that Arsene Wenger has imposed upon the club; it’s what Mourinho did for three seasons at Chelsea (even going so far as making sure all the youth teams played in a similar formation to the first team). Liverpool haven’t had a recognisable style (and no, ‘boring’ doesn’t count as a style) that runs through the team and rules how they approach each and every game for 20 years now. Pass and move was replaced by brute force and little imagination under Souness; fractured focusing on stars under Evans; hard work and crippling fear of failure under Houllier; and finally reactionary chopping and changing under Rafa.

Not that I’m saying Rafa didn’t do some great things for the club, but far too often he designed his team structure around the opposition. While some may argue that he imposed a style that focused on quick movement and pressing high up the field during the fourth year of his tenure (when Torres was at his best), this was, let’s be honest, based on a little luck. After two terrible years, Alonso came into form, Gerrard’s ego was massaged by not technically taking him out of the middle and, of course Torres’ immense form led the whole juggernaut from the front.

Take Alonso or Torres out, and the house of cards generally fell (though to be fair there was no Alonso present in the 4-1 thrashing of Man United). The reality is, take Fabregas from Arsenal in the summer and at the very least the team will still play in a similar manner, being as they are a construct of Wenger’s footballing design. Take one element from the Royal Flush Rafa had in his possession on 08/09 and things just fell apart. Odds of a big transfer in the summer and rebuilding, a hopeful evens.

(3) Torres stays, strikes up a partnership with Suarez, changes his mind ala Rooney and Tevez, following further discussions and everything is hunky dory.

Okay, sometimes I’m an optimist. This could happen, but it’s hugely unlikely. For one, Torres wants to play in the Champions League, the only time he’s looked happy this season was putting two past a big side (yep, that’d be Chelsea) while goal celebrations for anything else have been more than a little muted. Could playing alongside a kindred spirit like Suarez (well, they have the same agent at least) reignite his belief that Liverpool Football Club (sorry) is a team that’s going places? Probably not. The odds on this, a good 20-1.

Of course, as an infrequent and pretty bad gambler my odds may be askew there but whatever the outcome let’s just not lose the run of ourselves. Who knows, it could even be the best thing for Liverpool to let him leave. As the comic actor David Schneider said on Twitter this morning: “It's ok Liverpool fans. Suarez is a perfect replacement for Torres. They just have to check he has hamstring/groin problems and you’re sorted.”

Ok, it’s only the bloke from the Friday Night Armistice, but he might just have a point.

Later, JJ

*I’ll defend the Robbie Fowler statement in the comments if needs be. I can sense some doubts, though that’s mainly because people really, really dislike Robbie Fowler.


Jamie Casey said...

Could see this coming but am still hopeful he'll give the Suarez partnership a chance. Mind you, CL qualification is out of the question so you're right, we can't blame the lad for wanting to jump ship and I've no doubt he'll rediscover his form at Chelsea. Maybe we should accept defeat, but not in a manner than involves Sturridge.

Fowler's return to the club has been one of the highlights of my time as a Reds fan.

JJ said...

Have a lot of time for Fowler and it still irritates me how Houllier sabotaged his career. I'm sure you'll agree that this Carroll bid is madness?

Chris Taus said...

Understand when a player wants to move on and to be honest, every Liverpool fan has to thank Torres for all that he’s done for the club. On the other hand, the way he went about his transfer was completely disrespectful. He left the club only three days to replace him after handing in his transfer request and did so only weeks after he stated his loyalty and commitment to the club.

JJ said...

that's the thing really Chris - it's been obvious he hasn't been happy in a year. If he had of handed in a request at the start of the month that would have been fine but the rushed nature of it has the air of a spoilt child.

At least there's a few more options up front for Pool and two players who'll want to do well for the side. Sunday should be fairly tasty.

Mark said...

odds on a Carra reducer on Sunday?

JJ said...

Pretty good. The fear is that he won't be fit enough to do any real damage. Skrtel might try but he won't have the pace to keep up with him. Agger is just about dumb enough to get sent off for an elbow if he gets near him.

As for Johnson... he'll be passing it to Torres for the first 20 minutes before realising what's going on.