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Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011

PREMIER REPORT

Move for Torres sees Chelsea overpay again


LONDON — When you are a billionaire, you tend to get what you want.

Christopher Davies

Five years ago, Roman Abramovich wanted to bring Andriy Shevchencko to Chelsea and paid AC Milan £30 million for the privilege. Mission accomplished — even though the street parties in Milan after getting such a huge sum for a player past his best went on for weeks.

Abramovich tried to buy Fernando Torres last summer but the change of ownership and management at Liverpool put the move on hold.

Last Monday the Russian bankrolled Torres' £50 million move from Liverpool — twice as much as he had bid six months earlier. In the end Abramovich got his man — again.

Jose Mourinho certainly didn't want Shevchencko, who at 30 made as big an impact at Stamford Bridge as a fly hitting a windscreen.

Carlo Ancelotti is hardly going to say Torres wasn't his choice, though he did not want Ray Wilkins to be sacked, but Abramovich disagreed. There is only one boss at Stamford Bridge.

For the last year or so, Torres has mainly been playing on reputation, injuries and his desire to leave Liverpool blunting his cutting edge.

One commentator remarked that the fastest Torres ran in one Liverpool game recently was when he was substituted.

Torres had clearly had enough of what he perceived as broken promises at Anfield, and in his words "wanted to do a step forward in my career."

By a wonderful coincidence Torres will make his Chelsea debut against Liverpool on Sunday, when his former teammates will be aware that the striker spoke of "my delight of being able to play alongside big-name players such as John Terry and Frank Lampard."

A penny for the thoughts of Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Pepe Reina would be money well spent.

Apart from Torres, David Luiz, who cost an initial £17 million from Benfica, will also make his debut in defense.

Abramovich has generally kept the purse strings tightened over the past couple of years, and the departures of Ricardo Carvalho, Michael Ballack, Deco and Joe Cole reduced the wage bill. Chelsea's youngsters have not progressed as quickly as hoped, and Abramovich knew he had to dig deep for the Blues to remain competitive.

Missing out on the Champions League would be a financial disaster and a blow to the ego of Chelsea.

Lining up against Torres will be Liverpool's new £22.8 million capture from Ajax, Uruguay striker Luis Suarez, who scored in his debut against Stoke.

Unfortunately Andy Carroll, who cost an eye-watering £35 million from Newcastle, is injured.

Carroll, like Torres at Liverpool, had recently pledged his future to Newcastle after signing a new five-year contract.

Newcastle manager Alan Pardew had maintained that Carroll, who is making a significant impact in his first full season in the Premier League, would not leave St. James' Park.

That was until extraordinary circumstances came along, explained Pardew, the circumstances in question being a £35 million offer for a promising player, but unlike Torres not one who has proved himself at the highest level consistently.

Pardew will look back on his promise that Carroll would not leave as a rookie error, he should have been aware that owner Mike Ashley makes such decisions, not him.

Carroll said Ashley made it clear to him that he was not wanted at the club. Pardew maintained he did not want Carroll to leave and if Carroll had wanted to stay, he would have.

Of course, the club has the ultimate say in whether a transfer goes ahead, the truth, as usual, is somewhere in the middle, but the agents who conducted the Carroll and Torres deals aren't complaining. Their respective fees are £1.1 million and 2.2 million.

Whatever the truth, the mega moves guarantee a more intense than expected battle for the title and Champions League places.

Manchester United and Arsenal decided their squads did not need strengthening, Manchester City paid Wolfsburg £24 million for Edin Dzeko, Tottenham investing almost loose change in Everton's Stephen Pienaar.

Chelsea trails United by 10 points, but the arrival of Torres and Luiz will lift a team that was in danger of losing its way. The two clubs must play each other twice while United also has to travel to Arsenal and improving Liverpool, plus entertaining rival City.

If United is to emulate Arsenal's Invincibles of seven years ago and remain unbeaten, the side Sir Alex Ferguson did not believe needed strengthening will have to keep out the high-profile, big money strikers in the coming weeks.

* * * * *

THE ONLY thing Gary Neville and the press have in common is their opinion of each other.

Contempt almost flowed from the Manchester United fullback when he undertook media duties, while Red Nev was known as a barrack room lawyer for some of his extreme views.

Neville announced his retirement from football this week and personal feelings must be put aside because he was the outstanding right-back of his generation. The England international preferred to win games and trophies rather than popularity contests and he certainly succeeded in this respect.

Rumor has it Neville is wanted by Sky Sports — the words "poacher" and "gamekeeper" — spring to mind, and while many of us would want to turn him off, he is eloquent, intelligent and refreshingly honest. He would be compulsive viewing even if we don't really like him.

Christopher Davies was a longtime Premier League correspondent for theLondon Daily Telegraph.


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