by Liam McConville

As Spain and Italy shared the spoils in Gdansk yesterday, Fernando Torres cut a frustrated figure yet again. Spain sprang a surprise by not naming a striker, instead going with a 4-6-0 formation for their Group C opener. As Spain has such an embarrassment of riches in midfield, this was a credible way of incorporating their vast array of talent. However it was yet another sign of the decline of the £50million man, Fernando Torres.

The Chelsea forward has become a shadow of his previous self over the last two years and his national team manager, Vicente Del Bosque has responded accordingly. Although Torres came off the bench for the last twenty minutes he couldn’t make the difference despite a couple of great opportunities. He got his feet in a tangle when trying to round Buffon, a chance he would surely have taken two years ago. Then an ambitious chip went agonisingly close before drifting over the crossbar; close but no cigar for El Nino.

This is what Torres has been reduced to, an impact sub that unfortunately rarely makes an impact. There have been occasional flashes of brilliance or moments that appeared to be a turning point that could halt the slide. However with every positive step that Torres has made, he has taken another two steps back. From a late goal at the Camp Nou, to that miss at Old Trafford it’s been a mixed season of trophies and frustration.

The twenty-eight year old finally claimed the first club trophies of his career, an F.A. Cup winner’s medal followed swiftly by the Champions League. However silverware was not enough to satisfy Torres, in the aftermath of the dramatic victory in Munich he declared his frustrations in the press. Although there was no danger of it souring the jubilant celebrations, it was a clear indication that Torres doesn’t see Stamford Bridge as the place to recover his form.

At his best Torres was lightening quick, his pace regularly reducing defenders into a quivering wreck. Indeed he made Manchester United colossus Nemanja Vidic look very average on numerous occasions (most notably in a 4-1 win for Liverpool at Old Trafford). He would go onto the pitch brimming with confidence, scoring goals from everywhere, volleys, headers tap-ins, ‘Nando was the complete forward who could do it all. He was captain of his boyhood team, Atletico Madrid at the tender age of nineteen. A man for the big occasion, he scored the winner in the Euro 2008 final with a delightful dink.

But now he has lost at least yard of pace and is completely bereft of confidence. Having burst on the scene at just seventeen, it is perhaps understandable that he burnt out both physically and mentally. Add into the fact that he struggled badly with injury during the latter stages of his spell at Anfield, it makes a potent combination. But the question now is, will he be able to recover? It seems unlikely that he will be able to consistently reach the high standards that he previously set himself. He has struggled to adjust from being the big star at both Atletico and Liverpool to just falling among the ranks with Chelsea and now with Spain.

As previously stated on this site, perhaps it would be best for both parties if Torres was to leave Chelsea this summer. Roman Abramovich would not sell cheaply considering the significant transfer fee that it cost to bring him to the Bridge. Although they say never go back, maybe it would be the best thing for Torres if he could somehow make a return to the Vicente Calderon. He’d certainly be welcomed back by a club where he was idolised. The main sticking point would be Atletico’s delicate financial situation but a swap deal with Falcao heading to West London is not beyond the realms of possibility. Of course the Colombian’s stock is a lot higher than Torres’ so Chelsea might have to offer some cash as well, but I really feel that this is a move that could happen.

For now the focus will be completely on Spain and the Euros. Torres will be desperate to force his way back into the team and prove his doubters wrong by landing a third successive major international tournament.

Long term though the question remains, has Fernando peaked too early? Or will his time come once again with or without Chelsea? For the sake of the troubled forward let’s hope it’s the latter.