The £50m move that shook the Premier League: Torres to Chelsea

The move that shook the Premier League: John Terry and Chelsea fans were convinced they would dominate for years after splurging £50m on Fernando Torres in 2011, but the Liverpool hero was already a shadow of his former self and ruined by injuries

  • Fernando Torres swapped Liverpool for Chelsea on January deadline day in 2011
  • He had become one of the leading strikers in Europe in his three years at Anfield
  • But as the club fell away, the Spaniard’s injury struggles soon caught up with him
  • Torres was already a pale imitation of his best self when he left for £50million 

The image that best sums up Fernando Torres’ career is not one of him gliding past stricken Premier League defenders in his Liverpool red. Or clipping the ball over Jens Lehmann to deliver Spain’s long-awaited glory at Euro 2008.

It comes instead at St Andrew’s, Birmingham, in April 2010, when Rafa Benitez, chasing victory to keep alive hopes of Champions League qualification, replaced Torres with David N’Gog with the scoreline locked at 1-1.

Torres looked nonplussed, shrugged his shoulders nonchalantly as he jogged off to be replaced by a striker who scored 23 goals in 147 Premier League appearances.

Steven Gerrard looks stunned as Fernando Torres is taken off in a draw at Birmingham in 2010

Rafa Benitez claimed that Torres was ‘exhausted’, and by this point his injuries were piling up

Behind him Steven Gerrard was aghast – if looks could kill. His relationship with Benitez was already strained as he has gone on to admit, and here it spilled over into the public domain.

The Spaniard explained after that Liverpool’s star striker was ‘exhausted’. Four days later he scored twice as Liverpool overcame Benfica to reach the semi-finals of the Europa League.

Little did anyone know then that his season was over. Two weeks after the infamous substitution he went under the knife because of a torn cartilage in his right knee.

Torres shocked the Premier League when he swapped Liverpool for Chelsea in January 2011

Torres had become the darling of the Kop when he signed from Atletico Madrid in July 2007

He had been playing through the pain barrier for much of the season but had still delivered 22 goals in 32 appearances for a team in freefall.

Without him Liverpool lost to Atletico Madrid on away goals and finished a dismal seventh in the league, 12 months after being runners-up to Manchester United.

Benitez was gone by the start of June and Torres was in a race to make Spain’s World Cup squad. He played in every game in South Africa, but only started in three. 

And by the time of the semi-final with Germany he had been dropped to the bench.

Two years after his heroics in Vienna, Torres was a bit-part player as Andres Iniesta secured sporting immortality for Spain’s golden generation. 

Torres delighted those at Anfield with a home debut goal against Chelsea in August 2007

Torres took to life in England instantly and scored 24 goals in his first Premier League season


Apps: 142

Goals: 81 

The golden boy of Euro 2008 failed to score a single goal in the tournament, and was a 105th minute substitute for David Villa in the final against Holland. 

In those 15 minutes in Johannesburg he managed to tear his thigh muscle and was taken off on a stretcher before the celebrations could begin.

Torres had been rushed back from injury by club and country too many times and his body was creaking. He was only 26, but his best days were already well behind him.

Curious, then, that seven months later Chelsea smashed the British transfer record to bring Torres to Stamford Bridge in one of the most astonishing January deadline day dramas.

Roman Abramovich finally had his hands on his crown jewel, but he was already three years too late. Torres was damaged goods and, as Jamie Carragher revealed this week, the signs had been there for some time.

‘I couldn’t believe it,’ he told Sky Sports, on a call with Chelsea legend John Terry. ‘I knew we had kidded Chelsea. Those last 12 months, he was a shadow of his former self. 

‘For 18 months at Liverpool, he was the best striker in the world, and I think he had such a good record against Chelsea that obviously stuck in the owner’s mind. Chelsea at that stage, I think the owner was still buying players who he wanted, (Andriy) Shevchenko was another case.

Torres leaves Nemanja Vidic in his wake, on his way to scoring in a 4-1 win at Old Trafford

‘What happened that was fortunate for Liverpool, that season we played Chelsea, and we weren’t having a great season and Torres was having a really poor time but he scored two against Chelsea. I think the decision was made then – as soon as January comes, we are going for Fernando Torres.

‘£50m was major money at that stage and we were all in a state of shock, we could not believe we had got £50m. We ended up doing something similar ourselves in buying Andy Carroll for £35m, but we did get Luis Suarez out of it. I was not surprised at all that it didn’t go well.’ 

Torres had been a revelation on Merseyside. After years of steady, if unspectacular, progression at Atletico Madrid he exploded into life in the Premier League in 2007.

He scored 33 goals in his debut season, 24 of which came in the league – it was the most successful debut campaign by any foreign forward in English football. To look at Torres’ numbers, though, is a disservice. His impact stretched far further.

Torres took to Liverpool, and Liverpool took to him. They seemed destined for each other, ever since Torres was seen with ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ etched onto the inside of his captain’s armband at Atletico.

Torres’ goalscoring heroics were at odds with his increasingly troubling injury record

Torres struggled to find the back of the net during Roy Hodgson’s six months in charge


Apps: 172

Goals: 45 

It became the subject of the Kop chant for Torres – ‘His armband said he was a red, Torres, Torres.’ The Torres Bounce, as it was called, was a regular sight in that astonishing debut season. He starred in a Nike advert that celebrated the Spanish revolution that had taken hold in the city.

And the goals themselves were magisterial. From his opening strike against Chelsea to a mazy slalom run at Marseille and the volley against Blackburn, they were often spectacular in intricately different ways. 

Liverpool became title challengers with Torres and Gerrard forming a potent partnership, but Benitez could never pair his totemic duo together often enough. Injury meant that when the Reds came second to Manchester United in 2009 they played together only 17 times.

A return of 17 goals in 38 games in 2008-09 became 22 in 32 appearances in 2009-10. But by then the team, and the club, were in freefall. Xabi Alonso’s departure stripped Benitez’s side of star quality, and the Spaniard himself was locked in a bitter civil war off the pitch and in the boardroom with the club’s toxic American owners, Tom Hicks and George Gillett.

Injuries were stacking up and Liverpool’s diminished status was not helping Torres’ commitment. If he had had his way he would have left in the summer of 2010. But Liverpool chairman Martin Broughton needed him to stay to complete the protracted sale of the club.

Torres cut a distant and isolated figure as Liverpool struggled in the 2010-11 season

‘Everything changed when the owners started talking about selling. The mindset of the club went in a different direction. Alonso was sold, Mascherano was sold, Benítez went too’, he said in Simon Hughes’ book, Ring of Fire.

‘Not all of the money went into new players. The club was saying, “We still want to be the best and we want to win” but doing the opposite.’

‘I left my club to win,’ he continues. ‘By the time I left Liverpool, when everybody was leaving, I did not have the feeling that I was going to win there. It was hard because I had been so happy. I’d never felt happier than during my time at Liverpool. But then I felt betrayed. That’s the truth.’

Fenway Sports Group eventually acquired the club after High Court drama in October 2010, ‘an epic swindle’ as the stung Hicks branded it.

Torres, suffering another injury-interrupted season and failing to fire under new manager Roy Hodgson, admits his patience had ran out by this point.

‘[Damien] Comolli told me that the new owners [FSG], they had an idea of how to spend their investment. They wanted to bring in young players, to build something new’, he said.

‘I was thinking to myself, this takes time to work. It takes two, three, four, maybe even 10 years. I didn’t have that time. I was 27 years old. I did not have the time to wait. I wanted to win.’

Torres still managed to fire a brace in a 2-0 victory over Chelsea in November 2010

Liverpool fans reacted with fury when Torres deserted the club for Chelsea in January 2011

Liverpool fans welcomed Torres with this banner when they faced Chelsea in his first game

Shirts were burned and Liverpool fans cried ‘traitor’ when their fallen hero eventually forced his way to Chelsea in January 2011.

Though it was far from simple, instead it was FSG who saw the dollar signs, a big pay day for diminished goods.

‘It looked like I wanted to leave for Chelsea and I did not love Liverpool any more’, Torres continued.

‘It looked like I did not want to train and play and that’s why I asked for a transfer request. It was presented as if I was a traitor. It was not like this in the discussion. Liverpool could not admit they were doing something wrong with the whole team. They had to find a guilty one.’

FSG saw that Torres was past his prime. They were ultimately proved right, despite the bad blood the saga created between player and club, and fans to player. 

Terry admits Chelsea thought they had struck gold: ‘We were like, “no way, we’re absolutely going to dominate the Premier League and Europe for the next five or six years”. That was our thoughts from playing against him and seeing it.

‘From a Chelsea point of view obviously he was the one I hated playing against,’ said Terry, speaking to Sky Sports. ‘He always seemed to score at Anfield or at the Bridge.

‘He was that kind of one player Roman always asked about, “is he tough to play against?”.

Torres receives an elbow in the face from Daniel Agger on his first appearance for Chelsea

Torres hits the floor after missing an open goal in a 3-1 defeat at Manchester United in 2011

Indeed, one of Torres’ great last stands in a Liverpool shirt was a blistering brace to down Carlo Ancelotti’s champions at Anfield in November 2010. It was one of the last moments of pure quality, the adrenaline rush of prime Torres in a red shirt.

It may well have lured Abramovich into a false sense of security, that this was still the Torres who bamboozled Chelsea for his first Liverpool goal in August 2007, who struck seven times against his side in three years.

It turned into a £50m disaster. Torres was broken. The weight of the move seemed to be dragging him down as much as his limited capacity after injuries had stripped him of the dynamism that had made him the best striker in Europe.

Torres endured a nightmare start, poetically his Chelsea debut came against Liverpool at Stamford Bridge a week after his dramatic move. 

He was elbowed in the face by Daniel Agger in the opening minutes and lasted just over an hour as Kenny Dalglish’s side earned a 1-0 win.

It took 15 hours for Torres to finally score his first Chelsea goal that April. In September his woes continued with an astonishing open goal miss as Old Trafford bayed for his blood.

Torres ensured Chelsea’s progress to the Champions League final with a late goal at Barcelona

Torres kisses the Champions League trophy after getting his hands on silverware in 2012

He embarked on another long goal drought later that season – 24 matches. It ended in personal triumph. His famous goal at the Nou Camp, eight years ago on Friday, that ensured Chelsea’s place in the Champions League.

A month later he had his hands on the trophy, though he was only a substitute despite Chelsea’s injury and suspension issues in Munich. 

Torres got the medals he craved at Chelsea, though he played such a peripheral role in earning them. 

Abramovich didn’t get the bang for his buck, but Chelsea fans can look back fondly at that magical night in Barcelona, and Liverpool fans have now long since forgotten the acrimony of his departure some nine years ago. 

For a time he was the leading striker in Europe, and they can find solace in the fact his best days came playing at Anfield. The horrifying image for those standing on the Kop, of him leading Chelsea into a golden age, never came to fruition.

The blistering pace, the devastating power and the long-flowing locks; Liverpool brought the best out of Torres, but their over-reliance on his heroics weighed down a fragile body well before its time. 

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