Inside the mind of Fernando Torres
LONDON -- The suburban London town of Cobham is where Chelsea striker Fernando Torres clocks in for work during the week. He extends a smile and a handshake to his visitor and easily slides into a chair for a brief chat before the morning's frigidly cold training session.
It is hardly a secret that Torres has started slowly this season. He is the first one to admit it. Athletes who play at the highest level like Torres have struggled before, and will struggle again.
Many recall New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter's dumbfounding 0-32 slump in April of 2004, one he eventually snapped by simply continuing to do the very things that got him to the highest level. Torres is no different. There is no need for anyone to send him their good luck charms. The man knows what he is doing.
"All my life I've been doing the same thing since I was a little kid," Torres said. "My managers taught me to work because that's the only way to get a reward. It's what I've always done and it's the only way I know, so I'll keep preparing for the games the same way."
So what's Torres doing to help shut out the cacophony of negativism that bombards him week in, week out? Away from the field, he continues to do the same acute mental preparation that he always has. It is not necessarily the traditional visualization techniques utilized by athletes like Tiger Woods and Michael Phelps, but more like making a withdrawal from his memory bank in the days before a match. After four-plus seasons in England, he has a good sense of what he will be going up against each week, especially at hostile away grounds where the chants can cut to the bone, to say the least.
It's such a strange feeling now because I am feeling better than ever physically. I am not finding the chances and when I do find the chances, I cannot score.” -- Fernando Torres
"Every player or athlete is different," Torres said. "I did some visualization in the past but it didn't help me. I don't do it here at Chelsea because I just find the way to prepare that works for me. When it's two days before the game, I start thinking about the other team and their defenders since I know more or less the weaknesses and strengths they have."
Off the field, the transition from Anfield last winter has been a seamless one. He and his family are happy to be in the London area, and his quality of life as a Chelsea Blue has exceeded his expectations.
Moreover, young players like Juan Mata and Daniel Sturridge have joined Torres to inject a new enthusiasm into a side that has long relied on stalwarts like Didier Drogba, Frank Lampard and John Terry.
"To be honest, after one year I was expecting things would be better than they are now," Torres said. "It is a difficult situation because I am happy in my personal life. We really like the club and we're very happy here to be involved with the staff and the players. On the pitch, it is a difficult time for Chelsea because we are not finding the results, but we're changing things like playing a different style and still we have a young team to do it."
There are hints that a goal is close for Torres, such as the astounding scissor-kick volley that rang off the crossbar versus Sunderland last month. Even after masterfully setting up Mata's wonder goal in the first half last week versus Manchester United, all anyone wanted to talk about afterward was how he passed up an open shot at United goalkeeper David de Gea.
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"He has looked close to scoring and opening the floodgates but you do wonder why, for 50 million pounds, a year and more has now passed and he is still struggling," said Jamie Jackson, a correspondent for the Guardian in the U.K. "It's very odd."
Looking at the numbers from a goal perspective, the disparity between Torres' time at Liverpool and Chelsea is nothing short of astonishing: In 142 matches with the Reds, he had 81 goals. As a Blue, he has managed just four goals in 45 total appearances. Coincidentally, Torres is also on pace to reach a career high in assists for a season, but for El Nino, it has become a cruel juxtaposition.
"Personally, I have to improve," Torres said. "In my time at Liverpool there were games where I would not be playing well or I would be doing nothing but every time I touched the ball, I scored. It's such a strange feeling now because I am feeling better than ever physically. I am not finding the chances and when I do find the chances, I cannot score."
Even after just 12 months at Chelsea, he has unwillingly become the center of transfer rumors. A move back to Liverpool or a return home to Spain to Atletico Madrid has been mentioned by the European press.
Yet with the famous $80 million price tag and five-and-a-half seasons remaining on his contract, even if Chelsea was interested in selling -- and the club says it's not -- suitable offers will be few and far between for the 27-year-old. At this rate, there is only one way it can unfold: Torres has to succeed at Chelsea.
"There's been a lot of speculation about Torres returning to Spain, but Fernando is only thinking about triumphing in Chelsea," said Javier Estepa, a correspondent for Spain's most widely circulated newspaper, Marca. "I don't think it's a good idea for him to return to Spain. His dream is to win in London and he won't stop until he gets that done."
One man who can help Torres accomplish that goal is the aforementioned Mata. Mention the name to Torres and suddenly, he becomes more animated.
The crafty Asturian midfielder arrived at Chelsea over the summer from Valencia and has amazed Torres by how quickly he has adapted to the English game. The evolving link between Torres and the 22-year-old Mata could very well be the key component in getting Torres back on the right track.
"He's the kind of player I like to play with, especially when he plays in the middle behind the striker," Torres said. "He can assist and find the striker and make the last pass to put you in front of the keeper. You can see why the fans love him."
As for now, Torres will get back to the drawing board in hopes of snapping his streak Saturday at Stamford Bridge against Birmingham City in the FA Cup. One thing is for certain: The adamant look on his face suggests that the only end result at Chelsea is success.
"My present and my future are here," Torres said. "I have many things to do here and I want to do it because I always did what I wanted in every club I've been at, so this is not going to be different."
Arch Bell is a freelance writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached on Twitter at @ArchBell.
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