Fernando Torres: World Cup winner to Japanese benchwarmer
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Fernando Torres recollects the glory days in a Spanish national shirt, winning the World Cup as well as two European Championships with the national team. The J.League should be an extension and rejuvenation process for the striker who has been struggling for some years. It’s not working.
The Spaniard moving to Japan was always going to be big news even when joining a team situated in a Japanese town comparable to Peterborough.
Torres' post-Liverpool years were turbulent, lacklustre and disappointing in many ways. His teams won accolades but he wasn't the driving force behind the trophy runs. He sat in the back, looking at the scenery passing in the window.
When he announced he would follow Andres Iniesta to Japan, many thought he might revive his Liverpool form. Goal after goal; the Torres show would be an Asian special series. Instead, the broadcast has been relatively uninteresting, troubled with a poor signal, generally unable to live up to the expectation set by the prior transmissions, a bit like I'm a Celebrity, get me out of here. He’s been terrible since he left Liverpool and now he’s sitting on the bench in Japan. At least the scenery goes by faster on a bullet train.
In his fabled first English season at Anfield, Nando scored 24 Premier League goals. He was 35% of Liverpool's offence. Torres outscored an entire team. Derby County only mustered 20 that season. He fed off the quality surrounding him. Javier Mascherano, Steven Gerrard and Xabi Alonso cooked up chance after chance.
He was also a much younger man with pace. He slowed down a decade ago.
After his big money move to Chelsea, Torres slumped into obscurity, ending up back at Atletico Madrid where he had one good season. Again, he was a cog in a much larger machine. Antoine Griezmann, Koke, Miguel Correa, Saul Niguez, Yannick Carrasco. It's notable his greatest success came when surrounded by Spaniards and Spanish culture. Maybe Mexico would have been a better option for a retirement cheque. Andre-Pierre Gignac thrives with Tigres in Liga MX.
Unlike his pace, Nando hasn't lost his height. He remains an aerial presence, particularly in the box against shorter Japanese defenders. The problem is his Sagan Tosu teammates don't provide service. A striker who doesn't create his own chances, he's out of place in a mediocre squad. He's the lone star in the team. At Liverpool, Atletico, even Chelsea, he was another celestial body in a galaxy.
Sagan isn’t chasing titles or participation in the Asian Champions League. They are wrestling off relegation to the second division. When used, he's isolated up front. Most of his teammates aren't even international quality. The onus is on Torres and that isn't his game.
In his debut half-season, he scored three goals across 17 games. The team survived in good part due to his goal in the season's penultimate match. That strike wrote off his poor start. Fans gave him a fresh start this term but Sagan isn’t set up for him at all. On the whole J. League isn’t set up to deliver perfect high/long balls for a player like him to exploit.
In addition, he's almost as alone off the pitch. Isaac Cuenca is the only other Spaniard in the squad, The former Barcelona, Depor de la Coruna and Granada winger is seven years his junior and the only connection to home. At 35, it's difficult to see him fighting for and winning a place in the squad.
Until a fortnight ago, the club hadn't won in ten matches. With Torres firmly planted to the bench, Sagan beat Gamba Osaka 3-1. Nando mopped up in the final five minutes. He’s averaging 57 minutes per game with no goals in any competition. He played no part in the 1-0 win against Kashima Antlers that followed the Gamba victory. The team sparked without him on the field. It’s a bad omen and a bad ending for a legendary career.