Lack of funds and the economic crisis have drawn AC Milan towards cheaper veterans past their best, but there is still hope for El Nino, despite the past.
From finishing third in the 2008 Ballon d’Or, behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, to his recently concluded transfer to Italy, Fernando Torres’ career has come a long way.
Every player goes through a downward spiral at some point in his career and the reasons vary, from lack of motivation to ageing limbs, but it’s hard to think of any other player in history to have declined so rapidly and mysteriously as El Nino .
There are factors to his ‘no-show’ with Chelsea which include his high price tag and the difficulty in adapting to a new system, coupled with the constant knee problems he suffered during his last year at Liverpool.
A return of just 20 league goals in over 110 appearances in exchange for the £50 million Chelsea paid for him in early 2011 is enough to suggest that there is no way back for a striker who not long ago was amongst the most feared and revered footballers in the world.
Yet, there is no shortage of admirers who still hope that his problems were psychological and got compounded season after season and worsened with the increased competition and the burden of expectations at Stamford Bridge.
It’s hard to believe that he is ‘finished’, but AC Milan – a club that has built a reputation for providing a final shot at a ‘career-revival’ to seasoned veterans – should help bust the myth.
For over a decade now, the Rossoneri have been regularly making ‘superstar’ signings considered past their best and they have had their reasons. They are either free or extremely cheap and aiming to prove their doubters wrong and are worth the gamble in the short term.
The list is illustrious – Rivaldo from Barcelona in 2002, Christian Vieri from Inter in 2005, Ronaldo and Emerson from Real Madrid in 2007, Ronaldinho from Barcelona and former club legends Andriy Shevchenko and Kaka from Chelsea and Real Madrid in 2008 and 2013 respectively.
Rivaldo, Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, Shevchenko and Kaka were all former Ballon d’Or winners while the likes of Emerson and Vieri were household names and amongst the most respected players back in the day but their stint with the Rossoneri proved to be the final nail in their coffin.
Rivaldo returned home to Brazil with Cruzerio before returning back to Europe with Greek clubs Olympiacos and AEK Athens while Vieri never really made it to the top level after leaving for Monaco only six months into his contract with Milan.
Cup-tied Ronaldo did make a good return back to Italy having been deemed surplus by Fabio Capello at Madrid scoring seven goals in 14 Serie A appearances for Milan which helped Carlo Ancelotti use an ageing Filippo Inzaghi sparingly in the Champions League as the club lifted their seventh European title in 2007.
But his knee injury returned to haunt him the next season, which effectively marked an end to his European career as he moved back home to Brazilian club Corinthians in 2008.
Both Shevchenko and Kaka came back to the club where they enjoyed their best footballing years, but the returning legends found it hard to replicate the form that made them heroes at the very same club.
Shevchenko returned home to Dynamo Kyiv eventually via Chelsea in 2009, while the later made an unsuccessful attempt to make the Brazilian squad for the 2014 World Cup at home. Kaka only recently went on loan to Sao Paolo via Orlando City where he is due to return next year.
While Milan’s gamble with veterans has, more often than not, resulted in mixed fortunes. Ronaldinho – albeit for a season – was an exception.
Even though he struggled to break through an attacking line that was still led by an in-form Kaka in his first season with Milan, the then 29-year-old came onto his own following his compatriot’s departure to Real Madrid in the summer of 2009.
No longer peripheral to Milan’s needs in attack like he was in Kaka’s presence, the two-time World Player of the year carried the club single-handedly to a third-place finish almost nearly returning to the kind of form that made him unplayable at Barcelona.
The World Cup winner enjoyed one of the most productive seasons of his career leading the Serie A charts with 18 assists and 12 goals as national coach Dunga was forced to include him in the 30-man provisional squad for the 2010 World Cup. Though he failed make the final cut, it’s hard to argue he didn’t deserve to.
“I am playing well for Milan, because I feel loved”, is what the magician had to say following his sensational hat-trick against Siena that season and that’s exactly what might just do it for Fernando Torres.
There are some players who play best when they know the teams depends on them. Ronaldinho was one such player at Barcelona as he carried the Spanish club out of one its worst periods in history in 2003 to turn into a club legend. Injuries and the emergence of Lionel Messi meant he no longer was the undisputed king which is what drew him to Milan seeking a ‘new challenge’.
With the arrival of Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2010, both Milan and the fans could rely on someone else and it wasn’t a surprise that Ronaldinho slowly lost form as Massimiliano Allegri sidelined him from the first team resulting in his departure from the club just six months after that glorious second season in Italy.
Milan are looking to get back into the Champions League next season and it would be interesting to see if a 30-year old ‘seemingly lost’ striker of the past will repay their faith.
Though Chelsea marked the downfall of a great striker, it’s only in Milan that we may actually find out if Torres is really finished.
“Great strikers don’t suddenly forget how to score goals … The goals will come for him”, is what Shevchenko – who experienced a similar decline in Chelsea – said of Torres back in 2011.
Well, we will have to wait and see.