By Liam Twomey
Given the events of the past 18 months, Fernando Torres could have viewed this season as an incredible burden or one of incredible opportunity. To Chelsea's great fortune and to his great credit, he appears to have viewed it as the latter.
Few players have endured a crisis of confidence and slump in form so profound, so extended and so well documented. Torres has been a shadow of himself for so long that his extraordinary talent and capabilities were in serious danger of being forgotten completely.
For almost two years between 2007 and 2009, the Spaniard could stake a legitimate claim to being the greatest striker in world football.
He earned hero status at Liverpool without winning the trophies befitting his achievements, and played a starring role as Spain beguiled their way to Euro 2008 glory.
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|10'||GOAL!! A simply stunning goal from Chelsea! Fernando Torres scores a fabulous finish and what a one-two it was with Eden Hazard beforehand. The Belgian's flick back to the Spaniard was sublime. Chelsea 2-0 Newcastle United!|
Spain won the World Cup in South Africa in spite of rather than because of him and, by the time that long-term admirer Roman Abramovich splashed out a jaw-dropping £50 million to bring him to Stamford Bridge, the Russian was paying a premium for what seemed like the memory of a world-beater.
At Chelsea, weighed down with the baggage of his billing as the most expensive player in the history of English football and parachuted into a team suffering its own identity crisis, the situation was never likely to improve, and Torres appeared primed to become the quintessential 'flop'.
His nadir came at Old Trafford in September of last year when, after delivering a performance which was both encouraging and frustrating, he contrived a miss so spectacular that it prompted a wave of ridicule and the serious suggestion that the Blues might have to discard their marquee signing.
But Abramovich could bear neither the shame nor the financial consequences of such an act. So he opted instead to persist and to build a team so creative and so attack-minded as to bring about a situation which would remove all doubt over Torres' capability to rediscover himself.
This summer the Blues owner achieved his aim. Eden Hazard, Oscar, Marko Marin and, most recently, Victor Moses have arrived to bolster a squad already far from bereft in terms of creative, attacking options, while Didier Drogba's departure has left the Spaniard as the sole focal point.
In such circumstances, Torres could only either dazzle or prove himself a lost cause. The reward could not have been greater, yet the stakes could not have been higher.
Which is why, when he raced through the rain onto Hazard's superb back-heel just before half-time against Newcastle on Saturday evening and impudently poked the ball into the top corner with the toe of his right boot, it felt significant as well as special.
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There were signs that this was coming. Only Ivan Ramis' sliding goal-line clearance denied Torres a goal against Wigan on the opening day of the season and his controversial strike against Reading was a deserved – if not entirely legitimate – reward for an industrious and intelligent display.
Newcastle represented the stiffest challenge yet to the Spaniard's apparent resgurgence and his team's burgeoning title credentials and from the start it was clear that they intended to take things up a notch.
Mata and Hazard buzzed around the field with menace, while Torres prowled menacingly in the final third. The solo run which suckered Vurnon Anita into a tackle that ruined his full Premier League debut was impressive, but it proved a mere appetiser for the brilliance that was to follow.
There can be little doubt now that the 28-year-old can again scale the heights which once made him so revered, and inspire his team to become, in time, worthy adversaries for Manchester's finest.
Rather, the only concern for Roberto Di Matteo now must be the possibility that the rigours of the task take their toll on the Spaniard's body, for if they do, there is no one in the post-Drogba Chelsea yet capable of filling his considerable shoes.
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