Even before the ink had dried on Fernando Torres’ Chelsea contract, the Petaling Street stalls had started selling the number nine shirt with the Spaniard’s name brightly displayed over the familiar Chelsea blue.
February 1, 2011 and Torres’ British record £50m move from Liverpool had started doing the rounds in the football world. Kuala Lumpur’s Chinatown was ahead of the rest, though. The new Torres jerseys had quickly replaced the Liverpool ones as the best-sellers on the counterfeit market.
Now approaching the third anniversary of his Anfield departure, Torres somehow remains at Stamford Bridge and remains immensely popular in South-east Asia despite not scoring as many as he, and everyone else, had expected.
The phrases ‘scoring drought’ and ‘lost confidence’ have been used far more frequently than ‘hat-tricks’ and ‘potent striker’, even if the striker did begin 2014 with goals in consecutive away games at Southampton and Hull.
With four league goals in 16 matches this season so far, Torres is still not particularly good value for money. And as he prepares to turn 30 in March, it would be hard to imagine the £50m man having a current market value of anything above £15m.
‘El Nino’ has now played roughly the same number of games at Chelsea than he did at Liverpool and yet his goal return is well less than one-third (65 at Liverpool, 19 at Chelsea). During the four seasons Torres was at Liverpool, he was, at times, unstoppable.
At Chelsea, he has provided important goals in Europe and domestic Cup competitions but far too rarely in the Premier League. The Blues’ inconsistent first half of the season has largely been attributed to lack of goals from Torres and team-mates Samuel Eto’o and Demba Ba.
By mid-January, past the halfway point of the season, the trio had contributed just eight league goals among them, a figure exceeded by Chelsea’s loaned-out striker Romelu Lukaku at Everton. The Blues’ trio failed to score even once away from home in the league during 2013.
Despite the poor individual show, Torres’ move to Chelsea might seem like an overwhelming success.
He has won three major trophies at Stamford Bridge – the Champions League and FA Cup in 2012 and the Europa League in 2013. He also grabbed the Euro 2012 Golden Boot and 2013 Confederations Cup Golden Shoe, with Spain finalists in both while winning the former.
All for a striker who, in reality, has suffered the worst scoring touch of his senior career.
Shortly before Christmas, Torres admitted that while he had achieved his aim of accumulating some serious silverware by moving clubs – he won nothing at Anfield – he would have liked to have found the net a lot more.
Torres has been looking a lot sharper than he did in his first season at Stamford Bridge when he took 903 minutes to score his first goal. He scored just once in 18 games in all competitions in 2010-2011 and that too was a miscued shot in the wet against a struggling West Ham.
I remember watching his Chelsea debut against his former club on February 6, 2011 alongside Anfield legend John Barnes. Torres had a stinker that day as the Blues lost 1-0 at home. It was almost as if the tone had been set for the rest of his tenure in west London. Barnes observed that Torres was a sensitive soul who did not respond well to the heckling from the visiting Reds’ fans and should have started on the bench.
The transfer had happened so quickly that his head and heart had not properly adjusted to the fact that he was now wearing blue instead of red.
Despite his struggles, Torres remains one of South-east Asia's favourite and the most-watched Premier League players.
In 2011-2012, which was his first full season at Chelsea, Torres scored only 11 goals in 49 matches, six of them coming in 32 league matches. By the next season, he suffered another embarrassing slump that stretched more than 11 hours as interim manager Rafa Benitez replaced Roberto di Matteo in charge. His form did improve under his ex-Reds boss, but not dramatically.
Despite his struggles, Torres remains one of South-east Asia's favourite and the most-watched Premier League players. It always helps when you are tall, fair, handsome and, on the whole, humble. He exudes an air of vulnerability. Even a facial injury that meant he had to wear a Zorro-like mask for several matches last season only seemed to add to his appeal.
But, along with all the fond memories of the destructive striker who bagged 33 goals in just 46 games in his first Liverpool season, there is a certain amount of snickering and even pity for an emotionally vulnerable forward who had become the butt of some cruel jokes.
It is not difficult to poke fun at a £50m signing who has looked as though he could not hit a barn door at times over the past three years. Fortunately, his darkest days seem to be behind him and 2014 has begun in a promising fashion for a Jose Mourinho side that is gaining ominous momentum.
However, that does not mean he will be a Chelsea player forever. You can be sure that some enterprising merchant in Kuala Lumpur's Chinatown is already preparing an updated Atletico Madrid replica shirt with the name ‘Torres’ blazoned across it.
Jason Dasey - A Premier League host and executive producer of Astro SuperSport in Malaysia & regional editor of FourFourTwo magazine. He tweets @JasonDasey
Source: Al Jazeera