Fernando Torres’ highs and lows from roller coaster Chelsea career 10 years on

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September 18, 2011: With just under 10 minutes to play at Old Trafford, Chelsea are trailing Manchester United by three goals to one when Ramires threads an inch-perfect through ball into the path of Fernando Torres.

Torres, whose dinked finish just after the half-time break restored a glimmer of hope for the visitors, takes it in his stride and races through on goal, before fooling David de Gea with a neat step-over and rounding him comfortably.

The entire goal is gaping at the Stretford End as United fans hold their breath in anticipation of a dreaded lifeline for Andre Villas Boas' side. There is still more than enough time for them to blow what seemed an unassailable 3-0 lead.

"Torres must score again," exclaims an impassioned Martin Tyler.

What comes next, of course, is perhaps the most iconic blunder in Premier League history. As he lines up to shoot, Torres loses balance and somehow scuffs a left-footed effort wide of the post. The home crowd descends into laughter.

After sinking to the floor, the crestfallen Spaniard rises to his knees with hands on both hips. In a frantic and desperate search for justification, he looks down towards the turf as if to blame it for the cock-up.

His stuttering Chelsea career has just reached a new low.

This month marks the 10th anniversary of Torres' momentous £50million move to Chelsea, by far one of the most dramatic deals ever completed on transfer deadline day.

El Nino, Spanish for 'The Kid', waved an acrimonious farewell to Liverpool on January 31, 2011, and headed for London, where he put pen to paper on a five-and-a-half-year contract with one of their biggest rivals.

Encouraged by the transfer request he had submitted a few days earlier, Chelsea, the reigning Premier League champions, forced Liverpool's hand as the hours ticked down on the winter window by tabling a then-British record fee. It was simply too good an offer to turn down.

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    At the peak of his powers on Merseyside Torres certainly staked a claim to being the best out-and-out centre-forward in world football.

    A lethal return of 82 goals in 141 Liverpool appearances only serves as evidence of that, though before getting his desired switch to Chelsea the fearsome reputation he had amassed at Anfield was already beginning to fade.

    After missing the final month of the previous season to undergo knee surgery, Torres flattered to deceive in the first half of the 2010/11 campaign, scoring a mere nine goals in 26 appearances and, most worryingly of all, appearing to lose a yard of the lightning pace which had set him apart from the rest.

    His struggles were so evident, in fact, that the Liverpool dressing room was left perplexed when Chelsea came calling.

    “I knew we had kidded Chelsea,” former Reds defender Jamie Carragher said last year. “I’d played with Torres; for the last 12 months he was a shadow of his former self.

    “I think for 18 months at Liverpool he was the best striker in the world. And I think he had such a good record against Chelsea that it obviously stuck in the owner’s mind.

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    “What happened for us, and was very fortunate for Liverpool, was we played Chelsea that season; we weren’t having a great season, Torres was having a really poor time, but he scored two against Chelsea and I think we won 2-0 or 3-0 under Roy Hodgson at Anfield.

    “I think the decision was probably made then for Roman Abramovich, ‘as soon as January comes we’re going for Fernando Torres’.

    “Now £50m was major money at that stage and we were all in a state of shock.

    "Listen, we were gutted that Torres was gone but I think we all knew he was never going to be the same player.”

    Almost written in the stars, the very first outing of Torres' Chelsea career came against his former employers six days after the move.

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    Carlo Ancelotti threw his blockbuster recruit straight into the starting line-up alongside Didier Drogba, who had scored 29 goals in 32 games the previous season. Their fantasy partnership, however alluring a proposition, would never take off and in the end only be called upon when Chelsea were desperate and seeking a late goal.

    For the travelling Liverpool faithful, their trip to west London represented a golden opportunity to lambast Torres, once a hero in their neck of the woods, for selling his soul to join a major rival. A hard-hitting banner held aloft in the away end read: "He who betrays will always walk alone".

    It was they who laughed last and laughed loudest at Stamford Bridge. Raul Meireles netted a late winner for Liverpool shortly after Torres was replaced by Salomon Kalou, rubbing the most satisfying of bragging-right victories in the face of their former striker, who endured a miserable afternoon on the whole.

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    The £50million man had squandered an early opening, lofting a shot straight over the bar after being picked out on the edge of the area, much to his former adorers' delight.

    And John Terry, Blues captain at that time, felt Ancelotti made a mistake by throwing Torres in at the deep end against his old club.

    “We had three unbelievable strikers and we tried to fit them in together,” Terry recalled.

    “We had enough fire power in Didier and [Nicolas] Anelka, whether Anelka was wide or just behind, to then bring Fernando on later in the game which would’ve been a good impact for him, I think.

    “But it seemed after that game his confidence was shot to bits, to be honest.”

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    Torres was eventually hooked off for Kalou with 25 minutes remaining, a substitution which triggered a boisterous response from a gloating visiting crowd.

    Those spiteful cheers may have become deafening had they been made aware of the nightmare form Torres would endure over the next two months. Unbeknown to everyone who watched him light up the Anfield turf for three-and-a-half years prior, that gloomy debut was the first of a disastrous 14-game run in which he would fail to break his Chelsea duck and suffer a monumental fall from grace.

    Over 900 minutes of football had passed him by when that humiliating goal drought came to an end on April 23, 2011. With Chelsea leading 1-0 at home to West Ham, Torres was released in the box by Anelka and had to readjust when the ball held up in a puddle. He stopped, spun 180 degrees, took a touch to set himself and swept it into the back of the net.

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    Stamford Bridge erupted. Torres wheeled away in jubilation and was bundled by his team-mates. At long last, he had his first goal in a Blues shirt.

    Yet, the patronisingly wild celebrations which followed spoke volumes about the depths he had plummeted to over the past two months. It would also prove his only goal for Chelsea that season. How the mighty had fallen.

    The succeeding 2011/12 campaign presented Torres with a clean slate in west London. Ancelotti was gone, brutally sacked in the tunnel at Goodison Park after a final-day defeat against Everton, and in his place came every football hipster's dream man in Andre Villas Boas.

    New season, new manager, new Torres? It was both a realistic and optimistic hope to have in store. However, he would have to wait another five matches and 400 minutes to open his Chelsea account for 2010/11.

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    After capitulating in a woeful first half which saw them fall three goals behind, Villas Boas' men got the second off to the best start imaginable when Anelka, again the provider for Torres in his hour of need, picked out a sublime pass to slice open the United defence and leave him with a clear sight of goal.

    It was then that Torres displayed exactly the kind of genius he made famous on Merseyside; first turning to straighten up his body, then dinking the ball with his right foot over David de Gea and into the back of the net.

    Chelsea were back in with a shout and their club-record signing was rejuvenated after recording his first goal in close to five months. Unfortunately, he would come tumbling straight back to square one with the open-goal howler that would also kill their hopes of completing a sensational comeback.

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    Nevertheless, Villas Boas maintained faith in his misfiring forward despite the glaring setback, using Wayne Rooney's missed penalty earlier in the game as justification.

    "You have to be fair that the best world strikers missed great opportunities," he said.

    "It happened to Fernando but it happened to Rooney, too. The worst things happen to the best strikers in the world and today it happened to both of them."

    Petr Cech was also remaining positive about Torres, praising his all-round performance and tipping him to soon rediscover optimum form.

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    "What everybody needs to remember is just how well he played for the whole game and the great goal he did score," Cech said.

    "He created a lot and his movement was there. You can see it. I'm not worried about it. He will score lots of goals."

    The goalkeeper's upbeat prediction appeared vindicated 30 minutes into their next match at home to Swansea. In an eventual 4-1 win, it was Torres who made the breakthrough for Chelsea on the half-hour mark, swivelling inside the box and finding the bottom corner after receiving a well-weighted pass from compatriot Juan Mata.

    But just like at Old Trafford, when he moved one step forward and two steps back by missing that open goal, once again Torres completed a drastic shift from hero to zero by earning himself a straight red card 10 minutes later.

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    A two-footed challenge on Swansea's Mark Gower left referee Mike Dean with no choice but to send him off, resulting in a three-match ban.

    If he wasn't already, El Nino was now at his nadir.

    While the miss at United was a case of one step forward and two steps back for Torres, his red card against Swansea would eventually feel more like one step forward and 22 steps back.

    That was the number of appearances he went without a Premier League goal after the sending off, a catastrophic run of form which somehow trumped his previous drought in terms of sheer disaster.

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    Yet a season which appeared well on course to go down as the most underwhelming of his career actually concluded as his most rewarding in club football – and also included his most celebrated moment.

    By the time Chelsea had smash-and-grabbed their way to the Champions League semi-finals in April 2012, Villas Boas was long gone after becoming the latest coach to fall victim to Abramovich's bloodied axe in SW6. The 34-year-old was handed his P45 at the start of March amid a run of three wins in 12 games and replaced by club legend Roberto Di Matteo, who stepped up from his role as assistant manager to take the interim reins until the end of the season.

    Di Matteo, whose first move as head coach was to restore several of the Blues' experienced pros ostracised by AVB, provided a new-manager bounce to inspire a marvellous comeback against Napoli in the last-16 and edge past Benfica in the quarter-finals.

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    Blocking their path to the most unexpected of Champions League final appearances, and only the second in their history, was none other than the holders, Barcelona – who under Pep Guardiola's tutelage are still considered one of the greatest teams of all time to this day.

    Nevertheless, a valiant and at times frantic defensive display in the first leg ensured Chelsea travelled to Catalonia for the second with a 1-0 aggregate lead in the bank. Were they to open the scoring in the decider, Barcelona would need to find the back of the net three times to crush their European dreams.

    What played out on that historic night in April 2012 remains an all-time Champions League epic. Chelsea did not make the breakthrough. Instead, early goals from Sergio Busquets and Andres Iniesta sandwiched by a moment of madness from Blues captain John Terry, sent off for lodging a knee into the back of Alexis Sanchez, had well and truly turned the tide for Barca and left Di Matteo's masterplan in ruin.

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    That was before Ramires, the unsung hero of the evening, raced onto Frank Lampard's pass and produced an exquisite chip over Victor Valdes to level proceedings out of nowhere. With the aggregate score locked at 2-2 as both teams went in for the interval, Chelsea were heading through on away goals.

    Ramires' sublime finish ensured the Blues started the second half with a clear game-plan in mind: defend, defend, defend. If they could keep Barca's mercurial talents at bay for longer and longer, the home crowd would become anxious, their attacks desperate, and the impossible would soon appear possible.

    As it turned out Di Matteo's men managed to do exactly that, but when Lionel Messi sent a 49th-minute penalty crashing against the crossbar it was clear Terry had actually been replaced by Lady Luck when given his marching orders in the first half.

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    Chelsea defended like their lives depended on it in an unfathomable 45 minutes of football which remains etched into footballing folklore, and which ended with Torres embarking on a 50-yard free run from the halfway line, rounding Valdes and stroking the ball into an empty net to send them to the Champions League final.

    Having been thrown on by Di Matteo as a late substitute at the Nou Camp, El Nino found himself completely unmarked just inside Chelsea's own half as Barca huffed and puffed for a late winner. When Ashley Cole cleared the ball downfield in the 90th minute of the game, it fell straight to his feet and left him with a clear sight of goal – albeit a long one.

    “I looked in front and saw Victor Valdes really far,” Torres recalled in 2019, “Trust me, I never saw the goal so far. It was like 300 metres, and then I saw Valdes with the space to go past him.”

    Torres indeed went past Valdes before slotting home to book Chelsea's place in the European football showpiece against all odds.

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    “It was a feeling that everything was worth,” he added. “We worked really hard to reach that final and, especially for the fans, they had another final and another chance to [win it].”

    That Torres goal lives long in the memory of all football fans, not merely the Blues faithful, simply because of the hilarious ’goal-gasm' it generated from a flustered Gary Neville on commentary duty for Sky Sports. Who can forget it?

    They were on the verge of reaching the final anyway, but that late, great strike was an iconic cherry on top of a spectacular Chelsea cake, as well as a rare moment of glory for the forgotten star.

    At the start of this rollercoaster season Torres sunk to an embarrassing low by darting past De Gea and fluffing his lines in front of an amused Stretford End. It was somewhat poetic, then, that he closed it by going past Valdes and converting to banish the ghost of Old Trafford.

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    The impact Torres bestowed on Chelsea's equally dramatic triumph over Bayern Munich in the final was not as memorable, though it should be remembered that Didier Drogba would never have powered home the bullet header which clawed them back from the brink of defeat had his fellow frontman not won the corner that preceded it.

    Drogba's last-gasp header sent the game, staged in Bayern's own backyard at the Allianz Arena, to extra-time and the visitors managed to cling on for penalties.

    He popped up with the equaliser two minutes from time, and it was Drogba who buried the winning spot-kick for Di Matteo's heroes in blue, sealing the greatest night in Chelsea's then 107-year history and delivering their first ever European Cup. Torres, sleepwalking headfirst into a footballing abyss earlier in the season, had ended it on a high by clinching his first Champions League winners' medal.

    The following campaign went down as his most fruitful in a Chelsea shirt. While his Premier League endeavours still proved disappointing – his tally of eight goals was only two up from 2011/12 – El Nino rolled back the years in the Europa League under former Liverpool boss Rafa Benitez.

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    Benitez, who brought Torres to Anfield in 2006, replaced Di Matteo when the Italian was axed for leaving Chelsea on the brink of their eventual Champions League group-stage exit – a nightmare defence of their crown which ultimately cost him his job.

    Despite his toxic relationship with the club's supporters, Benitez steadied a sinking Blues ship and then steered it towards a top-four finish and the Europa League final, which they won 2-1 against Benfica in Amsterdam.

    Torres tucked home the opening goal at Ajax's Johan Cruyff Arena, outmuscling Benfica defender Luisao and taking the ball past goalkeeper Artur before sticking it in the net.

    It would prove to be one of his last major contributions as a Chelsea player.

    Benitez was replaced by Jose Mourinho that summer and Torres found himself competing with Demba Ba and new arrival Samuel Eto'o for the single starting spot upfront. Almost as often as the wind changed in west London that season, Mourinho's preference at the pinpoint of his attack would differ. And the Portuguese's reluctance to stick with one of the three strikers at his disposal for a lengthy run of matches meant Torres was offered fewer starting opportunities and less game time at Stamford Bridge.

    Thus, when the curtain came down on another underwhelming season for him at Chelsea in terms of statistics – he produced his worst league return of five goals in 28 games under Mourinho and only scored another six in cup competitions, albeit getting on the scoresheet in their Champions League semi-final defeat against Atletico Madrid – Torres bid farewell to the Blues and sealed a loan move to AC Milan. He would later return to Atletico on loan before making his second spell in Madrid permanent.

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    El Nino’s complete Chelsea record stands at 45 goals in 172 appearances, and it is impossible to dispute the fact his record £50million move did not live up to the billing at Stamford Bridge.

    In January 2011 Abramovich whipped out his chequebook and sanctioned a mega-deal for one of the world's leading centre-forwards. In truth, Torres never came close to resembling such a force.

    Yet, when Chelsea fans reminisce about his topsy-turvy three-and-a-half-year stay on the Fulham Road, the immortal sound of Neville's goal-gasm will remind them he still played an integral role in their greatest ever triumph.

    • Chelsea FC
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