by STEVEN SCRAGG
CAN you hear the drums, Fernando?
A bumpy, playful but satisfyingly successful night out in West London it turned out to be for Liverpool at Craven Cottage – an area of the world not too far from where an old friend by the name of Fernando Torres lurks in the shadows, still trying to rediscover the art of goalscoring, an art which in the red of Liverpool used to come so easily to him.
Four points – just FOUR points – now separate Liverpool in fourth place from Torres and his now not so new partner, top-of-the-table Chelsea. The Reds are coming up the hill boys…
I remember long ago, another starry night like this: Is it really five years since Torres was part of the Rafael Benitez-powered 2008-09 flirtation with the title? In some ways it doesn’t seem possible that it’s so long ago. In other ways, it feels like a lifetime. Much has changed at Liverpool in that time: managers, owners, backroom staff, chief executives, directors of football and players-a-plenty coming and going.
It’s three years since Torres bailed out of Anfield for Stamford Bridge – it’s just one since Daniel Sturridge bailed out of Stamford Bridge for Anfield. Within that year in a Liverpool shirt Sturridge has so far plundered 26 league goals in just 32 league appearances – the latest in the two very different victories against Arsenal and Fulham; the first a masterclass in GBF (grievous bodily football), the other more of a test of mental strength.
After all, we don’t win those ‘After The Lord Mayor’s Show’ occasions do we? Yet, suddenly, we do. And it feels great. Beating Fulham provoked a feelgood that was just as potent as the hit the Arsenal win delivered. Out on the pitch the winning goal was celebrated with not just relief, but belief. The players looked like men who sensed they can challenge for the league title. It wasn’t the celebration of men who feel they can finish no higher than fourth – just look at Steven Gerrard’s face. Look at his face.
Torres I’d imagine had a quiet night at home with the curtains closed and his memories for company. In three years at Chelsea, El Nino has laboured his way to just 19 league goals. Put into context, in that 2008/09 campaign in a Liverpool shirt he banged in 20 league goals.
There was something in the air that night… As Steven Gerrard confidently put the ball into the back of the Fulham net from 12 yards, with nothing more than injury time left on the clock, he barrelled his way to celebrate in front of the travelling support, shirt jettisoned, iron man pose struck and hunter gather style roar letting rip into the cold night air. The men he leads on to the pitch, they followed in high-speed pursuit. We hunt goals in packs, we celebrate in packs. Something about this version of Liverpool FC is different. Something is very different. Something is most definitely in the air.
In 2008/09 we had a similar sort of something, but maybe we didn’t necessarily have the belief. Fulham proved a spanner in the works in 2008-09. A goalless draw at home to the Cottagers in late November, followed quickly by another goalless draw at home to West Ham in early December ultimately made the difference between winning the title and not. Four points were all that we needed come the final reckoning.
We drew seven times at home that season. We took more points on our travels than Manchester United. We had a better goal difference. We SHOULD have been the champions. Despite 2008/09 having a similar sort of something to what 2013/14 has, it’s still something different this time. They were shining there for you and me, for the RMT, Fernando… As Kolo Toure fell flat on his arse, watching in horror while the ball he’d just contrived to slice past a bewildered Simon Mignolet hit the back of his own net, the first thought to flash across my mind was how inconsiderate the RMT had been in calling off the projected second tube strike that had almost comically put the game against Fulham at risk of not actually taking place. “How proud you were to fight for freedom in this land,” or in broader reality a matter of high-level ‘chicken’ being played over delaying job losses for underground staff.
Either way, at 0-1 and later 1-2 down the concept of a rearrangement for a balmy and lighter evening in late April or early May seemed attractive all of a sudden after all the bitching many had done about Fulham running scared of us. Though we thought that we could never lose, there’s no regret… Tellingly, despite the setbacks of Toure’s own goal and the breakdown in communication for the second goal between Martin Skrtel, Jon Flanagan and Mignolet it was never an issue of panic. The shoulders never dropped and on we ploughed.
Whisper it, but it was almost as if we brushed those misfortunes off like flicking odd bits of fluff off our shoulder. We no longer appear to feel sorry for ourselves when fate’s cat vomits on our eiderdown. We just dust down and get on with correcting the problem. The next step is to get angry when we’re wronged and mete out our own brand of justice with the ball at our feet.
The title in a Liverpool shirt was never to be for Torres, though he still might win it in a Chelsea one. If he does, it will be as a support act rather than the star turn he would have been in red. In some ways Torres got what he wanted with Chelsea, yet despite picking up the medals he craved in many ways he remains unfulfilled – unloved, even. No regrets for us though. We’ve moved on to new things. Maybe they will prove to be bigger and better things.
If I had to do the same again, I would my friend, Fernando… I could never have blamed anyone for leaving the civil war – Hicks and Gillett-era Liverpool. But Torres rode that particular storm through to the other side and then decided to abandon ship once we were in the possession of new owners. The absolute joy of realisation to which Daniel Sturridge must wake up to every morning that he gets to play his football alongside Luis Suarez could have belonged to Fernando Torres.
The part that annoys is that we didn’t take Sturridge as part of the deal there and then, instead of throwing £35m at Newcastle United for Andy Carroll – the same Andy Carroll who history will forever point to walking away from Anfield with more medals from his time at the club than Torres did. Black and white facts that don’t tell the multi-coloured story.
Torres and Chelsea are due at Anfield towards the end of April – three games from the end of the league season. If we’re still mathematically in the hunt for the title when they come to visit, a win for the team in red might just blow the roof off Anfield. It’s fast turning into a season I never want to end. We might have seasons that end with more trophies, but we’ll never have one quite like this again.