Rotten system turned Torres into a traitor
Neil Clark: UK football won’t be rid of selfishness and greed until salary caps are brought in
You didn't think there could possibly be a footballer as selfish and arrogant as Wayne Rooney? Think again. Step forward El Nino, otherwise known as Fernando Torres.
Liverpool did everything to keep their Spanish star happy. They paid him £110,000 a week. They tried to build an entire team around him, looking to buy new players to complement him.
Despite his poor form by mid-season - just four league goals before December 31 from their star striker – the club management preferred to put the blame for the team's lowly league position on manager Roy Hodgson.
Out went Hodgson by "mutual consent" and in came Kenny Dalglish, tasked above all with helping the Spaniard rediscover his once-glorious form. It seemed to work: in four games under Dalglish, Torres scored three times.
And how did the Spaniard repay his club's loyalty and patience? By putting in a transfer request.
Torres's disloyalty is in sharp contrast to how he behaved earlier in his career. Despite the interest of several big money clubs, Torres preferred to stay with his first team, Atletico Madrid, telling reporters that he wasn't interested in a move to Chelsea in 2005. Even after his dazzling performances for Spain in the 2006 World Cup, Torres stayed put, a decision both his father and grandfather supported.
When he did eventually arrive in English football in 2007, El Nino proved an instant hit. He became the first Liverpool player in a decade to score more than 20 goals in one season. The Kop chanted his name - and Torres pledged his future to the club for years to come.
The parallels between Torres's rise to become the hero of Anfield and Wayne Rooney's ascent at Old Trafford are striking. Like Torres, Rooney burst on to the scene as the naturally gifted footballer with an eye for a goal who seemed to be playing the game out of sheer love for the sport. Like Torres, he moved from the club he had supported as a boy (Everton) to play for a richer team that could win the very top trophies.
But in 2010, both men's reputations became tarnished. Both players, coming back from injury, had poor World Cups, failing to score a single goal between them. At least Rooney could blame his team-mates, who were equally poor - Torres could hardly do that, given that Spain won the World Cup.
Rooney and Torres then took their poor form into the new domestic season. For most of 2010/11, El Nino has looked sluggish and disinterested. Partly because of his lack of goals, Liverpool slipped down the table, so that on New Year's Eve they hovered – unbelievably - just above the relegation zone.
Torres's £50m move to Chelsea makes him the fourth most expensive player in football history. His wages will rise to a reported £175,000 a week and he'll soon be playing Champions League football. "I am doing one big step forward in my career joining a club like Chelsea," Torres declared.
But for English football, his move is one big step back. "There is no one individual bigger than this club," was manager Kenny Dalglish‘s parting shot. "There never has been and there never will be."
Liverpool fans feel betrayed by a man they idolised, and will no doubt vent their rage when their club plays Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this weekend.
Yesterday's events, on what the Daily Mail called the "craziest day in English transfer history", remind one of the classic post-war Italian film Bicycle Thieves. In it, a poor man and his son search the streets of Rome for his stolen bicycle which he needs for his work. His search proves fruitless. Totally demoralised and frustrated, he decides to become a bicycle thief himself. Acting selfishly can be contagious.
The mad, greed-ridden culture of the Premier League won't end until the league is properly regulated - with strict controls on clubs' levels of debt, the introduction of a salary cap (as UEFA President Michel Platini has called for) and a divisional maximum wage. Let's hope that the reaction to Torres's move brings that one step closer. ·