“el niño” comes of age

It is, often times, hard to argue how great a player actually is. But amongst those who follow the game closely or infrequently, it’s one of the the most common debates in the sport. Who is a great player? Who is the greatest player? These are the questions we ask ourselves all the time, week in and week out.

torres dances through the hull city defense for his second goal.
torres dances through the hull city defense for his second goal.

I’m not going to argue who the greatest player in the world is because 1) I feel there a glut of amazing players playing today, and 2) I don’t think it’s really possible to name one. Cristiano Ronaldo has shaken early jitters at Madrid and seems to have recaptured his top form, netting five goals in five La Liga outings. His teammate Kaká is no slouch either. Rivals Barcelona also have four amazingly talented players in Ibrahimovic (also with five goals in five games), Xavi, Iniesta and the always spectacular Messi. David Villa from Valencia tops the scoring charts in Spain with six goals from five, so it’s fair to consider him in the same class.

And let’s not forget the players to the North. Wayne Rooney’s wide array of talents are hard to ignore. Frank lampard’s consistent top level performances are also convincing. Cesc Fàbregas’ simple, yet brilliant, style of play mesmerizes me. And who could forget Steven Gerrard, who’s dazzling club displays over the last few years have tempted many of the world’s top teams to try and pry him away from Anfield.

But like I said earlier, I’m not trying to argue which of these players is the best in the world. However, I do want to announce the “official” arrival of another player into this upper echelon of elite players: Liverpool’s Fernando Torres.

Yes, I know many of you are probably questioning my thought process here. “He’s already been one of the elite for a while now,” you’re probably saying. And I get that, because it’s not like he hasn’t been performing at this level for the most of the last few years. However, that’s exactly what I’m using to make my point. In order to be considered a truly elite level player, you have to put in those world-class performances for a sustained period of time.

There have been plenty of players who have been flashes in the pan. Ever heard of Kevin Phillips? Currently playing for birmingham city, he led the Premier League in goals in 1999-2000 season with 30 tallies for Sunderland. And though he has topped 15 goals/season six times in his career, most of those have come in the Championship. How about Salva Ballesta? Playing for Racing de Santander, he netted 27 times to win the Spanish Pichíchí. You get where I’m going with this…

Torres wasn’t exactly a goal machine while playing in Spain, never scoring more than 21 times per season for Atlético Madrid in seven seasons. However, he was young and typically surrounded with a poor cast of supporting players during his spell at the lesser capital club. But after netting 33 times in his first season with Liverpool, El Niño set the bar pretty high for himslef. Unfortunately, he followed up with a sub par 2008-2009 season with only 17 goals. However, his second campaign in England was injury ravaged and therefore I’m willing to excuse it.

The best way to put his output in the correct frame of reference is to look at how many games he’s played to produce that output. In 64 games in the Premier League, he has scored 36 goals. And while a goal every other game (more or less) may not be historically significant, it’s also not something that many players can boast about doing in three separate seasons at this level. The game has changed, and producing a goal per game in this day in age is a pretty tough ask. In my humble opinion, he has proven himself capable of performing at a world-class consistency for at leaslt the last two and a half years.

And while there are certainly players with more goals than he over the last few years, it’s the class with which Torres scores that separates him from the rest of the pack. Look no further than all three of his finishes against Hull City from the weekend (No seriously, look at them). Sure, he was the receiver of spectacular passes to give him the opportunities to score all three goals, but he still created all three goals for himself. All had breathtaking footwork. I’m still in awe with how each was amazing in it’s own right.

earlier this season, it seemed el nino was living up to his nickname, and still had some growing up to do.
earlier this season, it seemed "el niño" was living up to his nickname, and still had some growing up to do.

Early in the season, Fernando’s mouth and ego were getting the better of him. Most defenders around the league had figured out that the best way to get Torres out of his game was to rough him up a bit. He complained to the press, and openly during the games to the referee, about his treatment by opposing teams. The hacks, pushes and rough play had clearly gotten into his head, and his form was reflecting that. There’s no doubting that he’s looked frustrated on the pitch, lately.

It took his manager calling him out to finally snap him back into shape. Hushing his critics and opposition on the field by scoring goals would be Torres’ path to salvation. And considering his performances in his last two outings, El Niño clearly accepted the challenge.

Keep in mind too that Fernando has also has a pretty good strike rate playing for Spain, When playing in his national team jersey in major competitions, he seems to find the back of the net more often than not (3 goals at World Cup 2006, 2 goals at Euro 2008, 3 goals at Confederations Cup 2009).

Look, there’s no doubt that Fernando Torres is already one of the top strikers in the world. Just remember he’s only 25, and barring any major injuries, he has no where to go but up. He still has aspects of his game he can improve upon (ego being the largest), but those are things that can be worked on. And that, I would imagine, has to have Premier League defenders more than a little worried… the one they call “The Child” has finally come of age.

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