I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one who felt uneasy on Sunday. A torpid performance against an admittedly game Newcastle United, struggling to a draw. Fans trickling away at the final whistle like water draining from a bath. The ground a third full by the time the players came out for the lap of appreciation (and those who had the decency to remain were starting to get the hump).
I’m fairly certain as they wandered half-heartedly around the pitch, that Sunday was the last time we’ll see quite a few of them. Boswinga looks headed for the exit. I can’t see us retaining Zhirkov; Kalou seems to have reached the point where he will never improve beyond a good squad player. Even the futures of Malouda, Anelka and Drogba seem far from certain.
There are other disquieting factors. After almost 15 years at the top, anno domini seems to be catching up with Frank Lampard. And then there is Fernando Torres. Signed at the deadline for a British record of 50 million smackeroonies – and no smacking Rooney jokes please – for the return of just one goal during 2010/2011.
The support from the fans has been immense, albeit there was some criticism of his rapid departure down the tunnel following his maiden goal against West Ham. But I can take that. He seems like a shy guy, not happy to be in the spotlight, unlike some of the players, whose mugging and gurning for the camera would do credit to a really ham actor at a RADA audition.
But my chiefest disquieting sensation surrounds Fernando Torres. I hope what’s about to happen is that regardless of who is manager when pre-season begins at the start of July, there will be changes in the personnel and formation that will enable us to turn round this time next year and say “Fernando? Yeah, £50 Mill was a steep investment but it’s proved worthwhile”. A kind of 2012 version of Frank Lampard, if you like.
However, there’s another, nightmare scenario in which any new system doesn’t work, he misfires badly at the start of next season, and the fans turn on him about October. The thing that was amazing about Andriy Shevchenko’s stay at Chelsea was not the number of fans who turned against him, but the number who kept faith (by the way, I hope I wasn’t the only one alarmed seeing him sitting next to Roman at the Ressies final).
We have had a litany of embarrassing flops up front over the years, most notably Shevchenko, but prior to that Sutton, Furlong, Fleck, and you could argue that were it not for his sad and career-ending injury, you could have added Casiraghi to that list. Some of our greatest forwards have arrived on a budget. Think Luca on a free, although with huge wages, and Tore Andre Flo for just £300,000.
Kerry Dixon. Mark Hughes. Some of the very greatest, Greaves and Osgood, albeit I’m too young to have seen them play in person, came up through the ranks. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink might have cost £15 Mill, but he justified his fee in every way.
If you calculate the combined cost of Torres, Sheva and Veron, it comes to £108 Million pounds for three players. £58 Million of that money brought nothing to the team.
It remains to be seen whether Torres will finally break the mega-money hoodoo.