Once again, Fernando Torres left St Andrews on Sunday trailing confusion and consternation in his wake.
Last season, Steven Gerrard was not alone in scratching his head in bafflement as to why Rafael Benítez did not allow Torres to finish Liverpool’s game with Birmingham. This weekend, he would have been forgiven for asking why the 26 year-old seemingly failed to start it.
To Jamie Redknapp, pontificating in Sky’s studio, the reason was obvious: Torres has simply lost the sprinkling of stardust which, for three years, has helped lift Liverpool above the ordinary. After a poor World Cup, the striker is shorn of confidence. His performance, said Redknapp, was “diabolical”.
An exaggeration, of course, and one dismissed out of hand by Roy Hodgson. The Liverpool manager, adamant that he is “not at all concerned” by Torres’s early-season displays, blames the Spaniard’s physical conditioning, insisting his travails are explained by his late return to pre-season training.
Neither rationale, though, captures the fears of Liverpool fans over the man viewed by the Kop as the club’s talisman. Torres is lacking form and fitness. The lingering doubt is whether he is beginning to lose faith, too.
It would be easy to assume that Torres, despite his pledge of allegiance to Liverpool this summer, is present at Anfield in body, if not in spirit, that the club’s inability to compete has affected his desire.
The Spaniard has made no secret of the fact he hoped to see at least four high-calibre arrivals this summer and two significant departures. Yet the arrival of Hodgson has hardly heralded a new dawn on the pitch and, off it, the men identified by Torres – and Pepe Reina – as the primary obstacles to Liverpool’s rebirth remain in situ.
“We did not spend much money in the summer,” said Reina. “We are just asking for a little bit. Unfortunately it is going to be like this for a little while until we sort out the [ownership].”
Torres, it is fair to assume, shares his disillusionment. The two Spaniards know Liverpool will not compete for trophies until Tom Hicks and George Gillett are gone. The longer they cling on, the longer the wait. Torres, certainly, does not possess infinite patience.
However, the most rational explanation for his poor displays is the one proffered by Hodgson – that he is, essentially, a month behind his team-mates in his preparations for the campaign – and supported by Kenny Dalglish recently.
“He has been through a lot,” said the former Liverpool manager. “He had a lot of injuries last year and even in the World Cup final he was injured. He has come back and only played two or three games, but still scored the winner against West Brom. He might have had a bad day, but he is not a bad player.”
There remains a question, though, over whether Torres will be in any position to prove that this season. His summer in South Africa was his third in a row featuring an international tournament and he has not been granted an extended rest since 2007. It is no surprise the injuries are not only mounting, but beginning to take their toll.
The Spaniard’s struggle says more about his team than it does about him. Liverpool’s midfield remains static, their full-backs tethered. Gerrard finds himself starved of the ball. They no longer press the opposition when not in possession, but retreat to their own box. The long passes from defence are aimless.
Hodgson, then, may well be right to suggest that he has weightier concerns than Torres. The Liverpool manager knows he must right the wrongs the Spaniard sees all around him if he is not to lose faith.