Ah, the January Transfer window. That glorious flurry of activity that brings the close of January and had us all staying up late, with our eyes glued on Sky Sports News. Compared to Chelsea’s record-breaking exploits in January 2011, my club had a relatively muted Transfer Window this year, with bringing in Demba Ba from Newcastle and selling Daniel Sturridge to Liverpool, with a surplus of £5m - the most prominent of all their actions. Ba, who scored two goals on his debut against Southampton, is proving to be a bargain for £7m, and represents an uncharacteristically astute piece of business from a board that is infamous for its mindless extravagance.
This “mindless extravagance” is epitomised in Fernando Torres, who Roman Abramovich had had his eye on for some time, and finally Liverpool buckled to his whims in 2011 when he made them an offer they couldn’t refuse. However, so miserable has Torres’ time been with Chelsea that it is a perfect example of how, where Abramovich is clearly a shrewd businessman in his own affairs (you don’t become a billionaire by getting things wrong), when it comes to football; perhaps he should make like what the inner-city kids like to say and #leaveityeah.
If he had watched Torres’ form closely in the lead-up to the Spaniard’s transfer from the north to south of England, he would have realised that Torres wasn’t playing anywhere near his best, and hadn’t been on peak form for quite some while. It felt, to borrow the old cliché about falling in love, more like Abramovich was infatuated with the idea of having Torres at his club than the actual reality itself. Fantastical romance and efficiently running a football club are not two things that have been known to go hand-in-hand.
Anyway, oligarchs rarely don’t get what they want, and Chelsea’s acquisition of Torres typified this. The forlorn striker then went on to suffer a wretched run of form that finally came to an end when he broke his three-month-long duck in the pouring rain with a goal against West Ham; a goal that was assisted by a puddle. The same West Ham, by the way, that would go on to be relegated at the end of the season.
There have been false dawns, oh, of course there have. His late, dramatic goal at Camp Nou, the one that led to Gary Neville to damn near soiling his pants on live TV, followed by a hat-trick against QPR at the weekend, was when most Chelsea fans thought Torres had turned a corner. Looking back, both those events could perhaps be accredited more to Ashley Cole’s punt from the afield and Victor Valdes’ inability to goalkeep, in the Barcelona case, and Anton Ferdinand giving a woefully inept centre-back performance, in the latter.
St. James' Park is not an easy place to go to. Chelsea won 3-0 there last season with goals from Drogba, Kalou and Sturridge (ie the three non-Torres forwards, naturally), but the scoreline gave undeserved sheen to what was a closely contested affair, and one which would have been much different had David Luiz rightfully been sent off for a clear foul on Demba Ba in the fourth minute of the game. The Brazilian had God to thank when Mike Dean gave him just a yellow, meaning that left Chelsea extremely fortunate to remain with 11 men on the pitch.
Perhaps the Luiz-non-sending-off rattled Ba, because that was one of the few games for Newcastle that he didn’t cause too much trouble in. For the majority of the time though, and as is the case this season, the Senegalese has carried his team. Newcastle are struggling in the league without him, for the simple matter that the striker constantly makes things happen. When he is not scoring, he is creating scoring chances for his teammates, or making a nuisance of himself and causing defenders and goalkeepers to commit errors.
It is for this obvious reason that I feel Demba Ba has to start on Saturday. Newcastle’s defence is a fairly physical one, and when Torres has been faced with defenders who out-muscle him, he has faded into the periphery, even if, on paper, they are “lesser” players than he. A depressingly bleak instance of this is when Chelsea went to the Etihad last season. In the absence of any fit first-choice centre-back's, Mancini played Micah Richards, who had operated the majority of the season at right-back, there. Despite the unfamiliarity of the role, the young Englishman had no trouble dealing with Torres; any feeble questions the Spaniard had to ask of the City defence, Richards had the answers.
And so do most other defenders in the premier league. Truth be told, the only player who I can think Torres causing any real problems in recent games is Leighton Baines of Everton, who gave a jittery performance at Goodison Park that undermined his credentials as a worthy competitor to Ashley Cole as “the best left-back in England.” But that is just one defender, out of a huge number. I don’t derive any kind of pleasure from ragging on my own players, but Torres’ work ethic, lack of goals and all-round performances stink with a capital S.
Some managers decide against fielding a player on a return to their former club, for two reasons. The first is practical - the players of the opposition will know the players’ tricks and habits from training and may be well-equipped to deal with them. The second is emotional; gaffers sometimes fear that the raw sentiment of being back at an old club will hamper their performances. Both criticisms are legitimate. But I’ll take my chances with Demba Ba. After all, the alternative - a sulky striker who doesn’t score, doesn’t run, and doesn’t do anything constructive - is far grimmer.