Terrible Torres in fish bowl
This weekend's grim proceedings at Stamford Bridge got me thinking about The Sopranos, and an exchange between Tony Soprano and his shrink, Jennifer Melfi.
"You think that everything that happens is preordained? You don't think that human beings possess free will?" she asks.
"How come I'm not making freakin' pots in Peru?" replies Tony. "You're born to this s**t. You are what you are."
Fernando Torres is not making pots in Peru, and neither is Rafa Benitez. They are what they are, and, despite their riches and apparent liberty, they now share an enslavement (until further notice) to fate, football and Roman Abramovich.
Not that the worlds of elite sport and organised crime have plenty in common. There are some differences between them: in sport, all the betrayals happen openly, the hits are non-lethal and taxes are paid. But one of the similarities is the fishbowl psychology that dominates both industries.
Like Tony Soprano and other secretly sensitive hoodlums, the dons of football can feel utterly trapped in their lives. There are no honourable exit routes. Whereas the mobsters are tormented by the guilt and fear of violence, struggling football players and managers are tormented by the sadistic scrutiny of the gawking world.
Torres is a textbook case. The poor bastard has no place to hide. He grew up as a golden boy, a prince of Madrid who could do no wrong, but now he can do no right. A moderate physical decline started the rot: he cannot surge past quick defenders like he used to, and he resents that. Most good forwards will adapt to a loss of pace by playing a bit deeper, reading the game better and contributing more assists. But the Spaniard has never been anything but a finisher.
So every goalless performance weakens his morale, his work-rate and his technique. All the arrogant, instinctive accuracy is gone. He shambles around in a sulk between sporadic bursts of effort. Every time he is subbed off, he has to try (and fail) to mask his misery as the cameras cut to close-up. Now he has the added burden of knowing that many Blues fans blame his shoddy performances for the premature axing of Roberto di Matteo.
Can Benitez fix Torres? Not likely. It can't hurt that they know each other well, and are compatriots. The new manager is a meticulous analyst of the game. But he's no Jose Mourinho - or Jennifer Melfi - and he has little confidence to share: he is a stopgap for someone more credible, and was bluntly rejected by the fans before his first game.
It was excruciating to watch Benitez trying to laugh off the hostility of his constituency in a post-match interview. He's been out of work for two years, and this gig is a precious chance to reclaim the prestige he had when he arrived at Anfield from Valencia in 2004.
To do so, he must invent some kind of psychic time machine, stick Torres inside it, and send him to go and fetch the mind he had in 2007, if not the legs. The only alternative, for both Spaniards, is to move to Peru and make freakin' pots.