SLEIGH-BELLS, tinsel, flashing bulbs, mistletoe, massive queues at the bar and bedlam on the car parks. Yes, it’s nearly another transfer window.
This time last year Fernando Torres was yet to really become the talk of the window although this time last year Roy Hodgson was still Liverpool boss. When Hodgson left and Kenny Dalglish came back in nobody expected the window to end the way it did, with Torres a Chelsea player having moved south for £50m.
Torres hasn’t exactly done what Chelsea wanted him to do for that £50m and is no longer a certain starter under Andre Villas-Boas, who wasn’t manager when Torres signed. That poor form, along with speculation that he’s unhappy in the capital and feels isolated at the club, has led to more speculation about where his future lies.
One paper claimed this week that he was up for sale for £20m but the Chelsea boss denies that’s the case: “It’s not true. He is not available at any price,” said Villas-Boas. “We are pretty sure when Fernando is called up he will respond with the quality and talent he has. We have to make the best decisions for the team.”
The phrase “not for sale at any price” is one that has become to players what “vote of confidence” is to managers. Short of offering a player a new contract, and him signing it, there’s little that can be done to stop the speculation once it’s started. The one part always open to question is “at any price”, but by using such words it tends to help keep the eventual price on the high side, sometimes high enough to prevent a deal from happening.
Liverpool issued statements to the same effect when news Torres wanted to go to Chelsea first leaked out. Such news leaks when it suits any of those involved to let it reach a wider audience and had Torres made it clear he didn’t want to leave the statement would probably have been accompanied by a hasty interview with Torres laughing it all off. Torres stayed silent and that silence spoke volumes.
Even if Torres does join his manager now in dismissing the rumours and declaring his love for Chelsea it’s difficult to see the speculation dying down any time soon. If he stays put in January it’s likely to continue regardless throughout the summer, as it did throughout the summer of 2010 when Liverpool were a club in turmoil and Torres was a player on the end of some broken promises from those running it into the ground.
Injury in the World Cup was followed by six months of gloom under Roy Hodgson and by the time Kenny was installed in January of this year Torres faced a difficult choice.
He’d already been courted by Chelsea, especially during that summer of discontent, and it was during that summer that Liverpool lost the ability to claim he wasn’t for sale “at any price”. Those running the club at the time had resorted to giving him what was effectively a release fee of £50m, a fee that was matched by Chelsea, meaning Liverpool then had no option but to sell. Had Chelsea offered that amount at the outset the transfer may have been less painful for all concerned. Had the £50m agreement not existed the offer may have got higher, or may not have come with such confidence that it would be accepted.
Liverpool fans, on the whole, just knew deep down, that Kenny was the man to make things better. He’d either be the man to bring everything back to how it should be or the man to repair the platform that kind of success can be built from. Patience was needed and most importantly everyone had to make sure they were on the same side. Reds just assumed Torres would be part of that, nobody realised what the club’s troubles had done to him, maybe he deserved a bit of sympathy.
But if Torres did deserve any sympathy from Liverpool fans, even just a touch of it, any hopes he might have had evaporated when he spoke about Chelsea as a big club, implying Liverpool weren’t. Whether that was his own view or something drummed into him by his new bosses wasn’t important; he’d insulted his old club and fans of any club don’t find that kind of thing easy to forgive.
Less than a year on and Liverpool fans, as a whole, have mixed feelings about him. Some wouldn’t have him back at any price, some would welcome him back with open arms and others would basically just trust Kenny to make the right call. For Dalglish to make a move for the player it would represent a huge gesture of forgiveness, after all he’d been back in the job a matter of weeks when Torres chose to leave and although it was still early days all the signs were that he was starting to make things better at the club.
Looking back to when Torres left there was still much uncertainty at Anfield, despite the King’s return. Most Liverpool fans had complete faith in the man who’d won so much before but there wasn’t anywhere near the same amount of faith in either the new owners or the recently installed Director of Football Strategy. Dalglish was employed as a temporary manager, a caretaker until the end of the season when he might be replaced by someone else. For all anyone outside the club, or outside its new boardroom, knew there may already have been a replacement lined up.
Kenny’s return brought hope back, but it was some time before uncertainty could genuinely be said to be no longer hanging over the club. None of that was a reflection on those new owners or those who they’d put in charge of various key roles, it was a reflection on what had gone before and on a string of broken promises and shattered trust. People began to make the effort to trust each other but the experience of the previous months and years meant there would always be questions in the backs of minds. It was going to take time to repair things and there was always a chance the repairs wouldn’t work. Torres clearly didn’t think he had the time left to wait for those repairs or to take the chance it might not work out, instead he picked what must have looked the easier option and Liverpool moved on.
Talk of a return for Torres suggests that Liverpool haven’t moved on, but for now that’s all it is – talk. The people who could make such a move happen aren’t the ones doing the talking, at least not in the open, and fans who discuss the idea aren’t talking about anything more than speculation.
Kenny isn’t keen on that: “We don’t speculate on anybody, either our own players or somebody else’s players ,” he said, having been asked about the idea of Torres coming back to Anfield.
His reaction suggested the question wasn’t a surprise, but the answer is one of Kenny’s stock answers from years of dealing with speculative questions: “It doesn’t matter what we say, there is going to be speculation in the newspapers, but we won’t be here to answer every question that’s in newspapers. We’ll do our business the way we’ve been brought up to do our business, and that’s privately behind closed doors.”
Asked if he’d be adding anyone at all, perhaps in light of Lucas’s injury, he wasn’t ever going to give any clues away: “We have the option to add if we want to, but we also have another option that we don’t have to.”
Whatever money Liverpool have to spend this January, whatever money might come in from sales, the only certainty is that Kenny Dalglish will do his utmost to keep the details out of the public domain until the last possible moment. Whatever supporters might think, the bottom line is that he’s the one who’ll be judged on his performance as a manager and that includes his part (alongside Damien Comolli) in any transfers. It’s not for fans to beg him to buy, or not buy, a particular player.
The speculation season won’t go away, enjoy it without taking it too seriously and it’ll soon be over, for a while.
It only comes but twice a year.