An untimely concussion days before the start of the English Premier League season may have saved the league's most expensive player from the ultimate humiliation.
Fernando Torres could be ruled out of Chelsea's season opener at Stoke on Sunday after picking up a head injury while on international duty during Spain's midweek friendly defeat in Italy. However, that problem may have actually spared Torres some embarrassment, as Yahoo! Sports has learned that the 27-year-old striker was due to be dropped from the starting lineup for the first official fixture of the new campaign.
Torres cost Chelsea $79.5 million when he was signed from Liverpool in January, a move that was expected to give the West London club a huge boost as it attempted to hunt down Manchester United in the race for the EPL title. Instead, his acquisition turned out to be a disaster, with Torres taking two months to score his first goal and falling out of favor with then-coach Carlo Ancelotti as the club slipped well off the title pace.
Part of the reason behind Ancelotti's departure at the end of the 2010-11 season pertained to disagreements with owner Roman Abramovich over how Torres should be used. Once new coach Andre Villas-Boas arrived in the summer, it seemed certain that Torres would get another chance to prove himself.
Yet Villas-Boas is adamant he will not be dictated to by Abramovich on team matters and will do whatever he feels is best to help the team win. Torres looked unconvincing in preseason and Villas-Boas is said to have little confidence in his ability to successfully lead the attacking line.
That responsibility looks likely to fall once again on Didier Drogba, the veteran forward for whom Torres was brought in as a viable long-term replacement. But once he recovers from injury, Torres is in danger of going down as one of the most expensive failures in EPL history unless he manages a drastic turnaround.
He is already being nicknamed "Shev-Nando," a reference to former Chelsea striker Andriy Shevchenko, and the similarities between the two are indeed striking. Shevchenko was signed on the orders of Abramovich during the Jose Mourinho reign and failed to settle during three miserable years. The situation created a rift between owner and coach as Shevchenko, having cost close to $50 million, could not score with any regularity.
Villas-Boas faces a tough task. He arrived at Chelsea this summer having led Portuguese side Porto to four trophies in his only campaign there, including the UEFA Europa League (formerly the UEFA Cup). However, at the age of only 33 and with no professional playing experience, he has some things working against him. Known as AVB, he is a similar age to many of his senior players, many of whom remember him in a much more junior Chelsea role – that of opposition scout under Mourinho.
But part of Villas-Boas' ethos is his ruthlessness and he may see the Torres situation as a way to stamp his authority and make his mark on the job. If the new coach is to stand a chance of being successful, he knows he must remain firm and not be undermined by anyone. Not the players, not even the owner.
"People think that at our club a lot of us players are strong and have too much input," captain John Terry said. "But that is not the case and hasn't been for the past four or five years."
Even so, Villas-Boas may have to upset some of the established stars if he is going to keep the Chelsea squad fresh and competitive. Early signs are he is not afraid to make the tough calls, even if Torres' injury gave him an extra week's grace from doing so.
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