At the time of writing, Fernando Torres has gone fifteen matches without scoring a goal, his last being against Genk in the UEFA Champions League back in October. Even without the huge burden of a £50m price-tag, his malaise is utterly staggering.
Before the 2010 World Cup the Spaniard was regarded by many as the best centre-forward in European football - yet now he appears a pale shadow of that player. The confidence and self-belief that were stamped all over his performances for Liverpool, seemingly replaced by trepidation and self-doubt at Chelsea. Yes, there are peaks and troughs in the careers of even the best players, but this sort of prolonged dip in form is almost unheard of in a footballer of his age, who's done it on a consistent basis for several years prior.
The situation's got so bad, it's beginning to make a complete mockery of the well used phrase; 'form is temporary, class is permanent'. It's only natural that people have looked for some sort of explanation and all manner of theories have been put forward. From his understanding, or lack of it, with Didier Drogba, to a change of haircut - from the plausible to the ridiculous, it's a subject just about every football supporter has an opinion on. Something, or rather someone, I've not really heard mentioned in all this though is Rafa Benitez.
The man who first brought Torres to these shores, a person he's been known to refer to as a 'father figure'. The more I look at what's become of Torres and the more I look back over his career, it becomes evident to me that Benitez had a bigger role to play in his development into a world-class striker, than the former Liverpool manager has ever been given credit for.
Consider for a moment some of the managers Torres has played under - Luis Aragones, Gregorio Manzano, Carlos Bianchi, Jose Murcia, Javier Aguirre, Roy Hodgson, Carlo Ancelotti, Andre Villas-Boas, Vicente del Bosque, Inaki Saez. Plenty of big reputations and a fair few medals between them, yet it is undoubtedly Benitez who has most consistently got the best out of 'El Nino', in fact the stats make interesting and surprising reading.
Before his move to Liverpool in July 2007, Torres had a strike-rate of a goal every 2.67 games at Atletico Madrid - his best goals-to-game ratios coming under Aragones in 2002/03 (14gls in 31 apps) and Manzano in 2003/04 (21 goals in 40 apps). During three seasons under the management of Bentiez at Liverpool, Torres saw his strike-rate increase dramatically to a goal every 1.6 games. Following the departure of Benitez from Anfield in June 2010, that worsened to a goal every 2.89 games, before the forward's £50m move to Chelsea in January 2011. During his troubled time at Stamford Bridge, under the management of Carlo Ancelotti and Andre Villas-Boas, Torres has so far averaged a goal every 8.6 games.
His strike-rate at international level is far better than that, at 3.3 goals per game, but even in a side containing the creativity of players like Xavi and Iniesta, Torres hasn't been able to consistently replicate the form he found in front of goal under Benitez at Liverpool. I'm not suggesting for a moment that Roman Abramovich fire Villas-Boas and hire Rafa, but if the plan is to stick with Torres, rather than cut their losses, Chelsea could do worse than examine how Benitez managed the player.
Cynics will argue that the former Liverpool boss simply struck lucky with the special relationship that developed between Torres and Steven Gerrard - an almost telepathic understanding, so rare at the highest level. But Benitez also made sure that his Liverpool team gave Torres what he needs most - space. Torres at his best runs at defenders and does much of his work outside the penalty area - even dragging opponents out wide - he likes quick service from midfield and he doesn't share the limelight well up-front - just ask Didier Drogba.
By making Torres the focal point of his attack in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Benitez created the ideal conditions to exploit the player's full potential. He also made it clear that Torres was his number one and that he believed in his ability implicitly - illustrated perfectly by Benitez risking his personal reputation on a club-record signing from his own country, who'd never set foot in the Premier League.
The circumstances at Chelsea are totally different and so have been the results. To my knowledge there's no internationally recognised formula for defining a centre-forward as 'prolific' - but if you accept the assertion that it's when they average a goal every two games, then Torres has had three 'prolific' seasons in his club-career and two of them were under Benitez. Despite that and a managerial CV which boasts two La Liga titles, a UEFA Cup, an FA Cup and a Champions League, it's become common practice for many to belittle the managerial ability of Rafa Benitez. His 'fact press conference' often used to poke fun at a man who began his career at Anfield by becoming a Champions League winner, but ended it struggling to achieve Europa League qualification.
There's no doubt that he made mistakes, but Torres wasn't one of them.