Chelsea shifts direction with signing of Torres

Chelsea shifts direction with signing of Torres

Published Feb. 1, 2011 5:44 p.m. ET

Fernando Torres' arrival at Chelsea in the biggest move of a record-breaking January transfer window for the Premier League heralds a change in direction by the Blues in more ways than one.

English clubs spent a huge 225 million pounds ($362 million) in a month, but only because Chelsea laid out more than 70 million pounds ($112 million) to emphatically end its loudly trumpeted but short-lived intention to rely upon homegrown players.

And having spent 50 million pounds just ($80 million) on Torres, the Blues will have to adapt their tactics to play to the strengths of a forward who is very different to regular strikers Didier Drogba and Nicolas Anelka.

Drogba has been arguably the Premier League's most complete striker over recent seasons and the lone spearhead of Chelsea's attack, but he will have to learn to play with a partner to avoid being displaced by a player who lacks his physical presence but compensates with greater speed.


Anyway, the Ivory Coast veteran's loss of form following a bout of malaria is one of the reasons Chelsea needed a new striker.

Chelsea's 42 goals this season make it the third-highest scoring team in the Premier League, but 19 of those goals came from its first five matches. It has played another 18 since then.

Even if manager Carlo Ancelotti keeps Florent Malouda and Nicolas Anelka playing wide in support of a lone striker, Torres' selection ahead of Drogba would require the midfield to create a more regular supply of balls along the ground. Torres is a skilled header of the ball but is not as adept at challenging burly defenders in the air as Drogba is when fit.

''After this, there are no more steps forward,'' Torres said. ''This is the top level. The target for every footballer is to try and play at one of the top-level clubs in the world and I can do it now.''

With 81 goals in 142 games for Liverpool and the only goal in Spain's 2008 European Championship win over Germany, Torres is the proven topflight scorer Chelsea needed to re-ignite its flagging attempt to retain the Premier League and FA Cup titles it cruised to last season.

''This is a very significant day for Chelsea, capturing one of the best players in the world with his peak years ahead of him,'' Chelsea chairman Bruce Buck said. ''We have long admired the talents of a player who is a proven goalscorer in English football and Fernando's arrival is a sign of our continuing high ambitions.''

Argentina striker Carlos Tevez was widely recognized as the most expensive player in English football until Monday.

Manchester City has never confirmed the cost of his 2009 transfer, which has since been reported as costing about 47 million pounds. With a contract at Liverpool that ran until 2013, Chelsea's billionaire owner Roman Abramovich was forced to beat that to get Torres.

David Luiz's signing from Benfica should also help improve an uncharacteristically porous defense, but Chelsea's spree helped disguise the fact that - despite smashing the 2008 record for 175 million pounds (then $347 million) spent in a single January window - most Premier League clubs were more parsimonious than usual.

According to accountancy firm Deloitte, only Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Aston Villa spent more than 10 million pounds ($16 million), and the quartet's spending on six players totaled 80 percent of the overall outlay.

Liverpool's cash came from the sale of Torres and Ryan Babel and went on strikers Andy Carroll and Luis Suarez, Manchester City spent big on Edin Dzeko thanks to the largesse of its Abu Dhabi owners, and Villa owner Randy Lerner was apparently spooked by the prospect of relegation into paying about 20 million pounds ($32 million) for Darren Bent.

''Whilst Premier League club revenues have never been higher, we were surprised to see more than 200 million pounds spent in a January window for the first time, particularly after only around 30 million pounds was spent in January last year,'' said Dan Jones, partner in Deloitte's Sports Business Group. ''This was a particularly polarized window, with only a few clubs flexing their financial muscles on what was a deafening final day of an otherwise quiet window.''

Liverpool's 35 million-pound ($56 million) outlay on Carroll turned a striker who has started just 25 matches in the English topflight and played once for England into Britain's most expensive player - smashing the previous record set by Rio Ferdinand in 2002 by six million pounds ($9.6 million).

Carroll is injured and largely unproven, but Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish denied the cash-rich, time-poor club had been rushed into a panic buy.

''At the moment he's got a bit of a knock and is probably a few weeks away from playing, but the signing wasn't made to cover a few weeks,'' Dalglish said. ''He signed for 5 1/2 years and there's a lot of weeks in that time when he'll be fit and playing for us.''

Chelsea fans should get their first chance to see Torres in a blue shirt on Sunday - when Liverpool visits Stamford Bridge in the Premier League.

''It is like destiny,'' Torres said. ''It is not perfect for me but we will see what happens and I only have good words about Liverpool. They made me a top player and gave me the chance to play at the top level.

''I will never say anything bad about Liverpool. I have been very happy there, but now the history is different and I am playing for Chelsea. If I have the chance to play, I will do my best for Chelsea and hopefully I can score.''