The grieving has begun. Denial, anger, acceptance. I’ve read despondent posts stating that Anfield will never be the same. I’ve seen tirades that label Torres a traitor, a soulless villain, a mercenary, and (incredibly!) merely an average striker. I’ve viewed the photos of his kit set ablaze in outrage. I’ve also read cathartic attempts to come to grips with his leaving. Invariably the author rambles–stream of consciousness-style–about how much the author loved Torres, how the author thought Torres understood the Liverpool Way, how Torres betrayed the club and fans, yet how the author still holds no personal grudge. Grieving is an interesting process.
While I wouldn’t characterize myself as an obsessed LFC fanatic, it would be fair to say that my happiness on any given weekend from August through May has a direct correlation with Liverpool’s match result. That’s just the way it is. To lift a quote, “There’s a fine line between a hobby and mental illness.” Like any good, deluded fan, I feel like I personally know the athletes who take the pitch for LFC. For me, Carragher and Gerrard are the heart and soul of our club, but for the last three years Torres was the spark– bottled lightning. There was always the anticipation– the certainty– that he was just about to deliver another lethal strike. The joy of yelling at the top of my lungs as he slid on his knees across the pitch after a surgical finish. He was the future. He understood the Liverpool Way. In my mind, Torres and I made promises to each other. I would cheer his feats and defend him through his poor run of form, his injuries, and his mediocre World Cup. In return, he would wear the badge with honor as we rose back to the top. That was our relationship.
How did it get to this point, seeing him hold up the number nine emblazoned on the royal blue of West London? Was it his selfishness? Was Liverpool not ‘big’ enough? Who is to blame? How do I deal with that? How do we deal with that? As Dalglish recently said, no player is bigger than the club. We move on. We cheer for Gerrard, Cara, Kuyt, and Leiva. Now we add Meireles, Carroll, and Suarez’s names to our chants. We find new heroes that represent the Liverpool crest. But it’s not so simple. Adding new names may make me feel better, but it doesn’t answer the question. What happened to our relationship? Why did he break his promise? Why did I feel there was a promise in the first place?
The key here is the difference between a fan’s relationship to the club and a player’s relationship to the club. These are very different beasts. A fan loves a club unconditionally due to identification, geographic pride, the vicarious triumph of victory and sad comraderie in defeat. A fan loves a club forever. A player may love a club for the same reasons, but rarely to the same degree. The reason is simple, in professional sports the player/club relationship is almost always temporary. Very few athletes play for their childhood team. From the first day Dalglish signed on for Celtic, he severed his emotional ties to Rangers. The same was true for Carragher and Everton. A professional footballer tied to the team for three years cannot be expected to have the same loyalty, love, and identification with LFC as the fan who mourned through Heysel and Hillsborough; or the fan who spent his savings to fly to Istanbul in 2005 in the hope of finding a ticket. The player’s relationship with the club is temporary. He knows this, and his unquestioned loyalty is necessarily temporary as well.
I’ve read many articles from fans who ‘thought Torres was different.’ I think he is. Despite this he cannot be expected to hold the same passion for LFC as many of the fans. Should we have assumed he would love LFC above Athletico Madrid simply because he wore YNWA on his armband? Of course not. He grew up watching, and then playing for Athletico as a boy. Did he betray them when he left searching for glory on Merseyside? Torres is a professional athlete– that’s his job. That’s not to say he’s a heartless mercenary, but realize that to compete as a top-tier athlete, he has to be ambitious, crave glory, and want to win titles.
The fact that he’s gone doesn’t mean he doesn’t care for Liverpool. My guess is that he’ll hold Athletico and Liverpool (in that order) in his heart to the end. He is not a traitor that deserves to be villified. He’s a professional footballer who rightly or wrongly felt that LFC hadn’t followed through on promises and that Chelsea FC offered the better hope for glory. He did not set out to betray fans and hurt our club. To the contrary, he probably viewed his move to Chelsea as both a benefit to him and to LFC. By all accounts, Torres is an introspective, thoughtful man. His relationship to the club was as expected– a player who gave his best playing for his second team, who appreciated the loyalty of the fans as well as the history, but who eventually moved on when the club didn’t live up to his ambitions. To be fair to him, he probably views LFC with more affection than most professionals do their clubs.
Consider how Torres saw things. He came in on the heels of two Champions’ League finals in three years. We challenged for the title in ’08-’09, despite being crushed under poor ownership. Then Xabi Alonso was allowed to leave, ushering in the horrendous ’09-’10 season. Despite this, Torres stuck with LFC based on the promises that ownership would bring in talent to match Chelsea and Manchester United. These promises were broken, heralding one of the worst first halves in LFC’s history. The misguided appointment of Hodgeson did little to assuage Torres’ concerns.
More importantly, we have no Champions’ League football this year. We almost certainly have no Champions’ League footbal next year. As a professional, how did he view his chances of winning titles. Prior to the transfer we we’re mid-table, nine points off of fourth and 19 points off of first. While the new owners had indicated that they’d be willing to spend, the smart money was that there would be no big, if any, acquisitions until summer. With unlikely prospects for a title in the next two or three years– as NESV has indicated we’re in the rebuilding process–and more importantly no Champions’ League play for the same amount of time, Torres must have felt that he had better options. Additionally, Torres knew that those options would yield a huge sum of cash for LFC to rebuild. The timing hurts, as we now feel like we’ve come through the dark era of Hicks/Gillette and misguided Hodgeson era, but lets be realistic– we’re in a rebuilding period and our bulwarks, Gerrard and Carragher aren’t getting any younger.
The inevitable question then is, why Chelsea? They’re not likely to win the league this year. They’re an aging club that appears to be on the wane. These may both be true, but Chelsea offers two things LFC doesn’t: 1) a billionaire willing to spend as promised, and 2) the potential for Champions’ League glory. To Torres they’re the best alternative to those rivals who could pay the massive transfer fee, as well as his salary. He likely despises Manchester United and Real Madrid. Barcelona do not need him. Arsenal won’t pay for him. Bayern cannot afford him. The play styles of Italian football don’t match his skill set. Man City…well, if only the money mattered, this would make sense. Chelsea may have no history, but City has no soul.
Much has been made about Torres’ comments today, where he noted he felt it was his destiny to play against Liverpool, that he hoped to score this Sunday, and that he had “taken a step forward in is career.” As if this proves he never respected or loved LFC. What is he supposed to say? “I hope I don’t score on Sunday. I consider Chelsea a lateral move.”
In the end, Torres’ decision makes sense when you take into account the nature of the modern game, professional athletes, and his personality. He chose a club that could pay the outrageous transfer fee to the benefit of LFC, had guaranteed CL play, the possibility of a title next year, and didn’t engender his own or the LFC fans’ hatred. That’s not to say we like the Blues, but they’re far better than Man U or Real.
Yes, Torres’ and my relationship has changed. I was gutted to see him leave, but I’d like to think we’ve made a new deal. For my part, I’ll cheer just as loudly for him in Blue when he scores against United. Hell, I’ll probably cheer for him when he scores against anyone but us. I owe him for the good memories while he wore red. For his part, he will remember Liverpool fondly, and not celebrate when, inevitably, he scores against us. He owes me that much. At least I hope that’s our new deal. Then again, this Torres is my own construct, and I’m just another LFC fan working my way through the grieving process. YNWA.