Goodbye and thanks, Fernando Torres
With recent news that Fernando Torres is set to join AC Milan on loan, provided an agreement can be reached on the much-maligned 30-year-old Chelsea striker's 180,000 pounds-per-week salary, many Blues supporters have taken to social media sites to express their relief, in varying degrees of politeness, that the Spain international's traumatic sojourn at Stamford Bridge will potentially reach a conclusion of sorts.
Whether Chelsea meet Milan's request that they continue to pay more than half Torres' wages for the proposed season-long loan deal is largely academic; the signing of Atletico Madrid forward Diego Costa (32 million pounds) and return of folk legend Didier Drogba meant the writing was on the wall for the former Liverpool player, whose performances for current manager Blues manager Jose Mourinho lacked conviction and, more importantly, goals.
In January 2011, Chelsea broke the British transfer record to prise Torres away from Anfield, but the 50 million-pound fee -- and the pressure that came with it -- soon weighed like a millstone around the Spaniard's neck as the form that had made him one of the most feared strikers in football deserted him.
It might have been different had then-Blues boss Carlo Ancelotti elected not to give Torres his debut in a home game against Liverpool, whose supporters were so enraged at their hero's departure that some had taken to burning replica Reds shirts bearing his name.
Similarly, in the same match (which Chelsea lost 1-0), it might have been different had "El Nino" found the net, which he might have done as early as the opening minute when rifling a shot over the bar from the edge of the penalty area. A less-than-memorable hour followed before Ancelotti hauled Torres off, replacing him with Salomon Kalou, a move that with hindsight would not have inspired much confidence.
Since that first fateful outing in the blue of Chelsea, Torres has made a further 171 appearances (albeit 55 of these from the substitutes bench) for the London club, scoring 45 goals. Not a bad ratio but nowhere near good enough given his price tag, previous scoring record and reputation.
Cast in the mold of fellow strikers Chris Sutton and Andriy Shevchenko, two former record Chelsea signings who failed to meet expectations, it would be easy enough to follow the herd and dismiss Torres as an expensive failure except for one glorious redemptive goal he scored that carries great historical significance for the Blues.
April 24, 2012: With a fraction over 10 minutes left of an epic Champions League semifinal second leg against Barcelona, 10-man Chelsea are fighting a desperate rearguard battle in the Camp Nou, endeavouring to protect the 2-2 aggregate scoreline until the final whistle. Interim Blues manager Roberto Di Matteo replaces Drogba with Torres, but the Spaniard is largely a spectator as the Catalan giants pressure Petr Cech's goal. First Alexis Sanchez finds the net but his effort is ruled out for offside, then Lionel Messi hits a post -- it seems inevitable that Barca will score.
The clock ticks down. In stoppage time, Ashley Cole hoofs a clearance upfield from inside his own penalty area, finding Torres in acres of space. Running half the length of the pitch with the ball at his feet, Chelsea's No. 9 rounds Barcelona keeper Victor Valdes and scores. Game over. The Blues reach the Champions League final and go on to beat Bayern Munich on penalties, a victory written in the stars that slakes the London club's munificent owner Roman Abramovich's thirst for European glory.
Drogba grabbed the headlines with the final kick of that game, but it might all have been a dream had it not been for Torres keeping his cool and scoring in the Camp Nou. Surely Mr. Abramovich would have gladly paid 100 million pounds to secure Nando's services had he been granted a glimpse into the future.
In the fickle world of football, one swallow most definitely does not make a summer. Having stuttered under Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas and Di Matteo, Torres was reunited with a former manager when ex-Liverpool boss Rafael Benitez was handed the interim gaffer's job at Stamford Bridge. Maybe it was a ploy on Abramovich's part to coax the best out of Torres -- or maybe not. Reviled by supporters who never forgave him for denigrating them, Benitez was short-lived despite guiding the Blues to a Europa League triumph. As if to prove a point, Torres opened the scoring against Benfica in the final, playing the full 90 minutes and turning in the type of performance that had the watching world wondering why he couldn't do it week in, week out.
Exit Benitez, enter Mourinho. The returning Special One gave Torres a start in the season opener when the crowd were baying for loan star Romelu Lukaku to be given a chance, but profligacy returned and remained as the Spaniard flattered to deceive once more.
The matchgoing Chelsea crowd never once got on Nando's back, always providing him with plenty of encouragement, but strikers are bought to score goals and not garner public sympathy. If a loan move to Milan spells the beginning of Torres' Stamford Bridge career, then so be it. Any memories will be of a couple of magic moments, with the rest soon forgotten.
Mark Worrall has penned several books on the history and success of Chelsea Football Club. You can follow him on Twitter @gate17marco.