The striker is capable of breathing new life into an ageing side – if he can cope with the level of expectation
When Fernando Torres had his medical with Chelsea, it would have been helpful if the club could have checked how great a load he can carry. Unfortunately the weight he must bear is all in the mind and no one can tell whether he will buckle or not. The £50m price is a measure of his ability, but also of the expectations that await him.
The manager, Carlo Ancelotti, will strive to play down the demands made of the newcomer. Torres, it is true, will not be treated as a man capable of turning back time single-handed. Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and Nicolas Anelka will continue to be players of an attacking style who are turning into veterans. Anelka, 32 in March, is the youngest of them. In that same month Torres turns 27 and the period ahead ought, in theory, to be his zenith.
There is an issue over integration into the line-up. Chelsea, in common with most clubs, employ one centre-forward, with Anelka in a slightly wider and deeper position and Drogba as the spearhead. With the advent of Torres, the Ivorian might seem the player most likely to be displaced, although he does not seem the sort to accept demotion placidly. Ancelotti may have been making a pre-emptive effort last week to mollify the striker.
"In general Drogba can play with anybody, including Fernando Torres," the manager said. "Didier's in great form – his malaria has gone and he looked in fantastic condition at Bolton. From now to the end of the season, he will be fantastic for us."
This line of argument would imply that Chelsea will revert to a 4-4-2 system, regardless of the fact that such a formation is rare among prominent teams. Given his relative youth, it should be Torres who is preferred if and when it becomes essential to choose a single striker. The fee indicates just how much the club is counting on him.
All transfers, regardless of the fee, carry an element of risk. It would be an absurdity as much as an insult to suppose that Chelsea have not considered the Spaniard's medical history. Groin and hamstring injuries, as well as knee surgery, will have been noted, but Torres does not really come across as an invalid. His total of nine goals for Liverpool at this stage in the campaign requires no apology, particularly since the team's form had been abject until recently. He did reach a tally of 33 in the 2007‑08 campaign, but any subsequent decline in impact is nowhere as steep as that of the Anfield squad as a whole. It must have been of great benefit to Torres three years ago that Xabi Alonso and Javier Mascherano were around to give the side such a base in midfield.
Chelsea have a footballer who is likely to improve the team noticeably. It would have been better for the club if they could have identified undervalued footballers who then made their names at Stamford Bridge. Some recruitment has been good and, considering the inflation in transfer prices when Chelsea express an interest, it was a coup to get the defender Branislav Ivanovic for £9m.
More generally, the club has had trouble doing smart business. Daniel Sturridge was taken from Manchester City, with an initial sum of £3.5m paid in compensation. At the end of this transfer window, however, Chelsea were prepared to let him go to Bolton Wanderers on loan. On the whole, they have much to do before anyone is convinced that they can renovate the squad more cheaply in the year ahead.
Frank Arnesen will be leaving the club in the summer. He was appointed in 2005 to locate emerging talent, but there have been no real coups. Josh McEachran could well turn out to be one, but the 17-year-old midfielder has been connected to Chelsea since he was eight. It has to be stressed that there have not been too many native prodigies to be uncovered, which explains the justified amazement when someone such as Arsenal's Jack Wilshere appears on the scene.
Clubs of means sigh and meet the cost of someone like Torres. The owner, Roman Abramovich, may have in mind one particular return on the investment in Chelsea. It looks too late for the Premier League to be retained, but the forward is eligible for the Champions League. A price of £50m might be seen as a bargain if it delivers the great prize that has so far been denied the club's owner.