It’s almost one calendar year since we broke the British transfer record and signed Spanish striker Fernando Torres for a reported £50m. Needless to say this was also a club record fee. There were few doubts about the signing a year ago, Torres’s World Cup woes and injuries looked to be behind him and it appeared as though a return to top form was just around the corner. It’s fair to say that that corner has yet to be turned. Although we’ve seen greatly improved performances this season the goal scoring touch still deserts the Chelsea number nine.
At the close of last year’s January transfer window Chelsea fans were buoyant. We had just purchased one of the world’s best goal scorers, one that had yet to reach his footballing peak. One year on and the worrying lack of goals has become an ongoing saga. Yet despite this Torres still holds the affection of the Stamford Bridge crowd. There can be few fans amongst the world’s top clubs who would be so patient and so supportive of a big money forward who has misfired for so long. The difference at Chelsea of course is it’s nothing new to us. Torres would just be one more addition to a long line of striking duds. There seems to be something of a forward’s curse, one that strikes down once strutting goal machines and turns these poachers into weakened, pub team also-rans . So what does Nando’s record look like amongst the graveyard of Chelsea’s failed strikers and is it time we all admitted that it might be time to give up hope? Or do we still believe that Torres will come good?
First of all let’s have a look at how Torres is performing this season. He has so far scored 4 goals from 14 starts and eight appearances from the bench. He has two league goals to his name and has a shots-to-goals ratio of 0.08, with a more impressive shots-on-target ratio of 0.54. Discounting Lukaku, due to lack of appearances, how has he fared against his two main rivals for the central striking berth, Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka? Perhaps a little surprisingly he actually compares quite well. Drogba has netted 6 goals from 13 starts, four as a sub, and has only one more league goal than Torres with three. The Drog’s shots-to-goals ratio is an identical 0.08 but the big man has a worse shots-on-target ratio of 0.36. Before Anelka jetted off to pastures new in the far East he had one league goal to his name in 14 appearances. So compared to the direct rivals in his position this season Torres isn’t actually doing too bad. However a quick comparison with the two wide forwards is perhaps more telling. Daniel Sturridge has a whopping 14 goals from 22 starts, nine of those are league strikes. His shots-to-goals ratio, of 0.19, and shots-on-target ratio, of 0.55, both better the number nine. Danny boy’s been in great goal scoring form this season though so no real shocks there. The more creative Juan Mata however has now bagged 6 goals in 22 starts, four of those are league goals and his shots-to-goals ratio beats both Torres and Drogba with 0.14. Torres is not alone in being under par in the central striker role this season but he does have a strong shots-on-target ratio. This strengthens the argument that a touch of luck has so far deserted him in his Chelsea career – lots of his shots have found the target but still there’s been a lack of goals.
Next let’s have a look at how Torres’s record stands up next to strikers of Chelsea past. I wanted to be fair when making these comparisons. It is as useless as it is depressing to look at the goal scoring feats of legends such as Greaves, Bentley, Dixon, Hasselbaink or Drogba. Instead I wanted to look at high profile strikers we’ve signed, many for big money, over the last twenty years and I wanted to look at players with a similar number of games played. It is still early in Torres’s Chelsea career and it’s an unequal comparison to look at goal-to-game ratios of those who have played over a longer period. Still, I had start with another recent club and British transfer record fee, one Andriy Shevchenko. Sheva signed for a reported £30m and also arrived as one the world’s finest forwards but his Chelsea career didn’t hit the heights of his previous clubs. Even so his record of 22 goals in 53 (23) appearances now looks admirable, especially considering he had signed in his thirties. Another big money forward is Hernan Crespo, signed for £16.8m, and who’s two split seasons at the Bridge resulted in 20 league goals in only 33 starts. Another impressive return especially considering he was rarely afforded a consistent run of starts. Although both players had the weight of a hefty price tag they also had more seasons at Chelsea so I decided to look at those with a shorter Chelsea career.
Although Adrian Mutu was much more a number ten than a number nine (a snake as Ranieri dubbed him) his one season and £15m price offered a good benchmark. Mutu scored 10 goals in 30 (8) appearances, his 6 league goals are double the number Torres has scored in marginally less starts. Some striking ‘flops’ in recent years include Claudio Pizarro, his 2 goals in 10 (22) appearances and two league goals from only 4 starts looks frankly prolific next to Torres’s stats. Equally Mateja Kezman’s 7 goals in 14 (27) appearances, including 4 league goals in six starts, stands up just as favourably. Out of interest I checked on-loan legend George Weah’s record, he managed to reach his three league goals with only nine starts despite being at the tail-end of his footballing career.
There’s some top players amongst the ones I’ve mentioned, genuine world class strikers and undoubted legends in the game (and Mateja Kezman). So what about the real Chelsea forward flops? How does our number nine compare with the real striking stinkers? Personally there can be none more worse in my eyes than £10m lump Chris Sutton. Man, he was rubbish. Somehow he racked up 3 goals in 27 (12) appearances and bagged a solitary league goal from 21 starts. Thankfully Torres has treble that tally, so there’s hope yet. Another big money ( at the time)misfit was wee Robert Fleck who managed 3 league goals from 35 starts, again Torres is not quite at that stage yet. I thought I’d look at a few other forwards from the same era and was surprised to see that Mick Harford scored 9 league goals in 27 starts, treble what Fernando’s managed from 23 starts. Tony Cascarino, who football myth has it was once sold for a sack of football kit, has a better record than Torres at the moment, 8 league goals from 35 starts.
I started to wonder about wide players. If Mata and Sturridge are outscoring our forward so easily this season, what about seasons gone by? A look at the scoring records of Robben, Duff, Malouda, Kalou, Joey Cole – all offer no comparison. Sure they’d all scored a hell of lot more goals but they’d had more seasons to do so – an unfair comparison. So instead I looked for a wide player who hadn’t played many games in their Chelsea career and stumbled on blonde bombshell Bjarne Goldbaek. Staggeringly Goldbaek hit five league goals from wide midfield in 15 starts. Bjarne bloody Goldbaek has a better goal scoring record in a Chelsea shirt than our £50million striker. Incredible. There is hope for Torres though, he still has all the pace and power to frighten defences – it’s not like Shevchenko who’s speed had ebbed with the years. He still has the peak of his career ahead of him, he still has all the ability to turn the corner in his Chelsea career. We’ve seen the skill and finishing he is capable of, he just needs the belief and the luck to hit a level of striking consistency. But it’s also worth pointing out time is running out to prove himself to the coach, to the fans and to the owner. We paid £50m for Torres to put the ball in the back of the net. In 2012 Torres needs to be greedy, put his goals ahead of his build up play and bust a gut to get in the box and make things happen. Maybe then they’ll still be time for him to become a striking legend rather than a blemish on the record books.
Fernando Torres 2011-12 | 14 (8) Goals: 4
2 league goals shots/goals ratio 0.08
Shots on target ratio 0.54
2010-11 – 11 (7) Goals: 1
Didier Drogba 2011-12 | 13 (4) Goals: 6
3 league goals shots/goals ratio 0.08
Shots on target ratio 0.36
Daniel Sturridge 2011-12 | 22 (19) Goals 14
9 league goals shots/goals ratio 0.19
Shots on target ratio 0.55
19 goals in 28 Chelsea starts
Juan Mata 2011-12 | 22 (2) Goals 6
4 league goals shots/goals ratio 0.14
Nicolas Anelka 2011-12 | 1 goal in 14 appearances
Andriy Shevchenko: 22 goals in 53 (23) appearances, 9 league goals in 30 starts
Hernan Crespo: 25 goals in 47 (26) appearances, 20 league goals in 33 starts
Adrian Mutu: 10 goals in 30 (8) appearances, 6 league goals in 21 starts
Claudio Pizarro: 2 goals in 10 (22) appearances, 2 league goals in 4 starts
Mateja Kezman: 7 goals in 14 (27) appearances, 4 league goals in 6 starts
George Weah: 5 goals in 13 (2) appearances, 3 league goals in 9 starts
Chris Sutton: 3 goals in 27 (12) appearances, 1 league goal in 21 starts
Robert Fleck: 4 goals in 43 (5) appearances, 3 league goals in 35 starts
Mick Harford: 11 goals in 33 (1) appearances, 9 league goals in 27 starts
Tony Cascarino: 8 goals in 39 (6) appearances, 8 league goals in 35 starts
Bjarne Goldbaek: 5 goals in 21 (19) appearances, 5 league goals in 15 starts
Fernando Torres: 3 league goals in 23 starts