Abramovich has shown he is still prepared to spend big but Liverpool can demonstrate their strength by holding on to Torres
One thing Chelsea's unsuccessful £35m bid for Fernando Torres proves beyond doubt is that Roman Abramovich has not lost interest in football. Taken in conjunction with the continuing negotiations over the acquisition of David Luiz from Benfica for £25.5m, it also suggests that the oligarch still considers Carlo Ancelotti to be the right man to strengthen the side in preparation for the closing stages of the current campaign.
Torres is eligible for this season's Champions League, which would make him particularly valuable as Chelsea prepare for the first knockout round of the competition, in which they meet FC Copenhagen. Luiz is not, but would provide valuable strengthening for the team's defence as they attempt to ensure a place in the top four in preparation for next year's European campaign.
Having lost Ricardo Carvalho, Joe Cole, Deco and Michael Ballack in the summer, Ancelotti was invited to make use of the cream of the club's expensively assembled youth squad to refresh the first team this season. The experiment of drafting four young players into the squad has born limited fruit. The emergence of Josh McEachran is a definite plus, but Gaël Kakuta has gone on loan to Fulham and the defenders Patrick van Aanholt, who is on loan at Leicester City, and Jeffrey Bruma have yet to establish themselves.
More to the point, Daniel Sturridge has not managed to displace Salomon Kalou, Nicolas Anelka or Didier Drogba, each of whom has looked under par in recent weeks (until Drogba's colossal opening goal against Bolton on Monday, that is). The 21-year-old forward has failed to score in 13 league appearances.
The bid for Torres, then, is an admission both of weakness on the playing side and of undiminished strength on the fiscal side. Whether Abramovich will sanction an increase in the sum tendered, perhaps closer to the £50m stipulated in the player's contract, remains to be seen. It would certainly trump Manchester City's £27m capture of Edin Dzeko this month, but at the cost of rendering even more unrealistic the Chelsea owner's professed desire to see his club pay for itself at some stage during his lifetime.
Cynics might be forgiven for concluding that the renewed appetite for life and football shown by Torres since the return of Kenny Dalglish as Liverpool's manager five games ago, exemplified by a pair of goals against Wolverhampton Wanderers last week, might owe less to the positive effect of regime change at Anfield than to rumours reaching the Spanish striker's ears of the possibility of a relocation to west London.
Torres's true state of mind has been the subject of debate for several months. Although it is true that he never looked happy playing for Roy Hodgson, it was not Hodgson's arrival or influence that had blighted the player's form to the point where he had become almost unrecognisable from the lithe, eager, inventive and decisive figure who made such a powerful impression after arriving from Atlético Madrid in the summer of 2007. His performances in the World Cup finals, where he started in four of Spain's opening five matches but was among the substitutes for the semi-final and final, were hugely unsatisfactory, ever bit as bafflingly deficient in zest and precision as those of Wayne Rooney for England.
Having become just as much of a talismanic goalscorer for Liverpool as were Ian St John, Kevin Keegan, Ian Rush and Dalglish himself in earlier eras, Torres in decline seemed to symbolise the generalised malaise that had begun to affect the club in Rafael Benítez's final season. It was all too easy to conclude that the departure of Xabi Alonso, followed by that of Javier Mascherano, had prompted him to give up hope.
The revival of his spirits appeared to coincide with Hodgson's dismissal at the start of this month, filling Liverpool's fans with hope that a genuine rebirth was on the cards. But Torres must have been frustrated by the club's failure to qualify for this season's Champions League, and Liverpool's struggles in the Premier League ensure that there is no possibility of a return to Europe's top club competition next year, either. For a man who will be 27 in March, this is a serious consideration. To miss one European Cup is acceptable; to miss two must feel like destiny slipping out of his hands.
For Liverpool to be forced to let him go to Chelsea would constitute a terrible humiliation for the five-times champions of Europe, just as Manchester United appear to be on the brink of beating their jointly held record of 18 league titles. To stand firm in their rejection of the London club's offer, and to continue to parade a Torres restored to vigour and effectiveness, would be to show the world the clearest sign that, under new ownership and management, they mean business of a different kind.