23 July 2013

Fernando Torres, the Sword of Damocles, and Luis Suarez

George Santayana once said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Therefore, I'd like to present a cautionary tale regarding the last striker to leave Liverpool on a £50m fee, one Fernando "El Niño" Torres. Whether Torres is as good as Suarez is a separate debate, but the parallels between his transfer and Suarez's potential one are worth examining as I seek ever more reasons to agitate against signing Suarez.

My reason of the day: pressure. Simply put, I don't think Suarez can handle the pressure that will fall on his shoulders if he comes to Arsenal. Like Torres, I think he will fail to withstand the pressure that comes from being a record-shattering signing, playing in the Champions League, contending for a Premier League championship, and dealing with all of the scrutiny that comes with it. Since signing for Chelsea, Torres has netted just 34 times in 131 appearances in all competitions, a goals-per-game rate of 0.26. This represents a halving of his form with Liverpool, where he netted 81 times in 142 appearances or a goals-per game rate of 0.57. He has improved each season and did finally manage to get 22 goals last year, but incoming manager has only rated him as "so-so", a damning indictment of Torres's fall from grace.

Maybe he struggled under Villas-Boas's then-preference for deliberate build-up play rather than more open counter-attacks and long balls that catch defenses off-guard or disorganized.  Maybe he couldn't compete against or combine with Drogba. However, both of those excuses are off the table, so perhaps we're looking at issues that reside within Torres rather than that surround him, issues like confidence, stress, frustration. These are issues that are difficult to pinpoint or assess, but Torres frequently cuts a forlorn figure on the pitch. Each time he has the ball at his feet, he must be thinking (and overthinking) how important it is for him to score, and each failure heaps more stress and misery on his wounded psyche. Former Mugsmasher, Gunner, and Blue-er Yossi Benayoun highlighted this when he pointed out that "with the £50m above his head, it is not easy for any player" to perform. A transfer-fee of that size—one we might have to smash to sign Suarez—hangs like a Damoclean sword over Torres's head and would be sure to do the same to Suarez.

How shall I say this next bit delicately? Nuts to that. Suarez is far too unhinged to handle this kind of pressure. We've already seen him lose his cool under far-less pressure. He'd be leaving a perenially mid-table finisher (sorry, Liverpool, but it's true) for one that regularly finishes in the top four and is growing impatient at settling for that. He'd have smashed our previous transfer record three times over and become the Prem's ten most-expensive transfers ever (presumably). This leads down one of two most-likely paths, in my mind, and neither of them ends well for us:
  1. Suarez does his level-best, cleans up his act but still succumbs to the pressure, fading à la Torres and scoring ten goals per season.
  2. Suarez sees the  £45-50m transfer-fee as vindication of his ways and goes on to bite or taunt opponents, flip off fans, or dive if anyone exhales in his vicinity.
In both cases, we'll have squandered more than half of our transfer-kitty, not to mention the good-will of many of our fans, on a player could very easily fail to play in more than half of our Prem league games. In every game, he's going to get goaded by opposition-players over the various "incidents" he's been at the center of, and because of his reputation, he can't do much about it. Each hard foul he suffers will be seen by referees as just another dive. Each missed shot will be greeted by taunts from players and groans (if not worse) from impatient Gooners. The pressure will just grow and grow, and each time Suarez glances up, he'll see that sword dangling above him. How long before he cracks and lashes out?

Does he—do any of us—really believe that he can handle the pressure? He's the one who said, "I cannot apologise to the people in England any more. I’m angry with the English media, as they have never valued me as a footballer." Welcome to London, Luis, the belly of the English-media beast. I think you'd be better off avoiding London—and we would be too if you'd oblige me.

I hope I'm making headway here and maybe wearing down a few pro-Suarez Gooners. If not, maybe I deserve a little credit just for my mule-headed stubbornness persistence. Either way, pop over to the 2012-13 YAMA Awards to vote for "Best of..." Arsenal writers. Woolwich 1886 is nominated as a Best New Arsenal blog and I hope I earn your vote. Thanks!