WITH the F.A. Cup final looming large on the horizon this coming weekend, I thought I’d have a look at two of the strikers likely to be making the headlines.
When Rafael Benitez brought Fernando Torres to Anfield in the summer of 2007, I, like many, held my breath, hoping that the 23 year old Spaniard, nicknamed El Nino in his homeland, would prove to be the answer to Liverpool’s goal-scoring prayers. At £21.5 million, Torres was by no means inexpensive; however, it did not take long before he was repaying the hefty transfer fee in goals.
Torres hit the ground running, becoming the first Liverpool player to score more than 20 league goals in a season since Robbie Fowler had achieved the feat in the 95-96 season. In this, his debut season in England, Torres beat Michael Owen’s Liverpool scoring record for number of goals scored in one season (in all comps.), eclipsed van Nistelrooy’s record for most goals by a foreign player in debut season, was nominated for PFA Player of the year, PFA Young Player of the year and made the PFA Team of the Year. Not too shabby at all!
For two more seasons Torres would continue to enthral and excite worldwide audiences, bringing tremendous pride to those lucky enough to be true Liverpool fans, with his goals, his all round play, and his seemingly unquestionable loyalty. In his second season El Nino scored his 50th Liverpool career goal in just his 84th appearance and in the 2009/10 season, having had it cut short by niggling hamstring injuries and ultimately, knee surgery, the Spanish sensation scored 22 in 32 games.
Following Rafael Benitez’s dismissal and the appointment of Roy Hodgson by the hated Hicks and Gillett, Liverpool’s slide down the league continued. Torres, who had played for Spain in the World Cup, quite probably too soon after his knee surgery, looked a shadow of his former self. The body language was different, the terrorising of defences had ended and a sulky frustrated Fernando Torres emerged, often to be seen skulking around the pitch, getting angry with referees, opponents and team-mates in equal measure. He still had the quality, which he showed in flashes of brilliance but his confidence, game and work-rate had all dropped significantly, leading many to question his desire and finally his commitment to the club.
With Hodgson being shown the door, following a dreadful almost six months in charge, and Liverpool seeking to regain a precious top four spot which they had relinquished in Rafa’s final season in charge, reinforcements were sought. Not simply to add numbers to a thin squad but, more importantly, to compliment the talent that was already at the club and take some of the pressure away.
With this in mind, Liverpool identified and targeted, then Ajax captain, Luis Suarez. Suarez had been a star of the 2010 World Cup in South Africa where he had helped, through his goals, endeavor and determination not to lose, propel Uruguay to their highest place finish since winning the competition in 1950. With Kenny Dalglish back at the helm and the Suarez deal in the bag, the opposition must have been quaking in their boots. Liverpool would have a front two of Torres and Suarez – two of the best strikers in the world. Glory would surely be ours once more! However the unbridled joy and hope wouldn’t last long as, with an offer from Chelsea on the table, Torres handed in a written transfer request and a Judas was born!
The sun hasn’t shone on our former “Golden Boy” since he left Anfield, a fact that hasn’t gone unnoticed on the Red half of Merseyside and has been met with unabashed glee amongst most fans. The bitter pill of his final act of betrayal has been sugar-coated somewhat, not only because of the torrid time that he’s endured at Chelsea, but also because of the brilliance of the man we signed to play alongside him. Yes, it is hard to believe, but unless you take a retrospective look across the last four or five seasons, it is difficult to even remember Fernando Torres, brilliant though he was, as a Liverpool player, and that is coming from somebody who hailed him as a true Kop hero.
Immediately upon his arrival, Luis endeared himself to the Anfield faithful by speaking of his love for the club and the importance it holds to him, saying: “For me this is the most important club, not just in England, but in the whole world”, and from day one, he’s set out to prove it. His determination, skill, dribbling ability and work rate are second to none in the Premier League, he’s a scorer of great goals and a great goal-scorer, no matter what doubts the mainstream media like to plant in the minds of our supporters. More importantly though he, quite clearly, cares more than anything about winning, and winning for Liverpool, which is a lot more than can be said for Torres.
Compare that era to Luis Suarez’s first season, almost season and a half, in the Premier League. A team in the midst of rebuilding, new owners, a new look first team with a new manager and new coaches, a midfield certainly not as good yet as it was in Torres’s first two seasons. A defensive unit that’s getting there but has been blighted by injury, to those in the back five as well as to Lucas, in the protective Mascherano role.
When Torres arrived he was like the final piece in a carefully constructed puzzle, although Suarez was meant to be part of that existing puzzle when the deal was made, he ended up becoming the centre piece of an entirely new jigsaw. Quite a different prospect I’m sure you’ll agree.
Then you have the personal side of things. Already singled out as some kind of Devil by the ridiculous British media for a handball which not only got his team to the World Cup semi, but also ruled him out for the rest of the tournament (a huge personal sacrifice in my book), he has had to endure bile and vitriol not only from the press but also, in the wake of the Evra debacle and the F.A’s ludicrous stance in terms of the evidence available, from opposing fans for almost the entirety of this campaign.
Despite a slight dip in form brought about by the nine game lay off in January, has his head dropped? No it hasn’t! Does he let the boo-boys get to him? No he doesn’t! Does he keep fighting with everything he has for ninety minutes whenever he pulls on the red shirt, no matter what the circumstances? Yes he does!
As far as the numbers go, Fernando Torres has scored 178 goals in 424 appearances (including 6 in 24 as a sub), scoring 81 goals in 143 games for Liverpool and 27 in 91 for Spain, including the winner in the Euro 2008 final. Luis Suarez has scored 159 goals in 279 appearances (excluding as a sub, that data is hard to find), scoring 21 in 49 so far for Liverpool and 26 in 53 at International level including winning the Golden Boot as Uruguay lifted the 2011 Copa America.
The numbers would appear to back my thoughts on the subject, namely; that I would rather have Suarez at my club than Torres, in the absence of being able to have them both of course. He scores more goals, is much less injury prone, appears to be far more committed both to winning and to the club, his workrate is better and like Torres he has commanded the respect of fellow professionals and others involved with the sport everywhere he has been. He became Ajax captain not long into his spell at the club and was heavily involved in FIFA’s anti-discrimination programme during the World Cup in South Africa. The media outcry over those most unproven and un-provable of allegations aside, he is still well regarded amongst fellow professionals.
Luis Suarez plays the game, in his own words, “like a little kid”. He seems not only to love the game passionately but also to play without fear or pressure, which is what makes him so exciting and such a joy to watch when he puts on the shirt. Long may he continue, in Luis we trust. He is ours and we love him! Fernando who? It’s Luis Suarez that we just can’t seem to get enough of!
You can catch Neil on Twitter @Neil1980 or on his blog http://itsallinthegameblog.wordpress.com/
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