His was a signing that served to demonstrate Liverpool FC's standing in English football, a player whose contributions to a game would be one of the main topics of any post-match discussion. But, after a torrid few months at Anfield, Paul Konchesky has been shipped out on loan to Nottingham Forest. Meanwhile, the one player Liverpool supporters didn't want to see leave, Fernando Torres, has departed for Chelsea for £50 million.
Throughout his time with Liverpool Torres made regular declarations of his affinity for the club. This supposed bond also formed the basis for a series of toe-curling ads for Nike during ITV's Euro 2008 coverage, with Torres being hailed by Liverpudlians as he wandered through some city landmarks that were in the process of being painted in Spain's national colours.
Two years on, Torres has mostly wandered through games expending about a quarter of the energy he had previously put in, although he was suddenly rejuvenated when scoring the two goals by which Liverpool beat Chelsea in November. While he was doing little to help a side labouring in mid-table, Torres's representatives had been spreading the word that he was looking to move on, although Chelsea's swoop may have been as much of a surprise to Carlo Ancelotti as it was to Liverpool fans. However stroppy Torres has seemed lately, he is still only a minor league sulker when compared with Roman Abramovich.
Behind the Chelsea owner's habitual matchday expression of faintly amused bafflement, it is known that he has been brooding over the team's failure to transform themselves into an exact copy of Barcelona – even when they are wearing the latter's yellow change kit introduced at their owner's request. Worse still, for the first time since Abramovich took control, there is a distinct possibility that Chelsea may not qualify for the Champions League. The club still pretend that they are being run like a regular business and have just trumpeted an operating loss for 2009-10 of £68m, £4m less than the previous year.
Performances over the past three months have shown that the team needs reinforcements – to the centre of defence especially. Defensive worries may have been addressed with the arrival of David Luiz from Benfica but such things don't tickle the fancy of a bored potentate. The Torres transfer may yet propel Chelsea's owner into a confrontation with UEFA whose financial fair play rules, to be introduced in 2011-12, require clubs to break even. Abramovich lent his support to the initiative at a time when he was being comprehensively outspent by Man City but Chelsea can't hope to balance the books in the near future without selling key players, which would jeopardise their regular place in the Champions League.
When Luis Suárez's move from Ajax to Liverpool was inching towards a conclusion, he must have expected that he would be forming a partnership with Torres. Instead, he will line up alongside Andy Carroll who, at £35m, has cost Liverpool £10m more than they spent on bringing Torres from Atlético Madrid in 2007. If Roy Hodgson had arranged this deal he would have been chased into the North Sea. Kenny Dalglish, however, sought to pass off what looks like a panic reflex as sign of the club's "ambition". Liverpool could have spent the Torres money on half a new team in the summer but John Henry, the man with the outsized cigar, would sooner make a big gesture.
In the era when most major football clubs were PLCs they had to publicly account for their income and outgoings. But single private owners aren't obliged to make any such disclosures. Like Abramovich, Newcastle's owner Mike Ashley declines all requests for interviews. But, even if he was as fond of public pronouncements as his business rival Dave Whelan of Wigan, Ashley might find it difficult to explain why the team's star player was sold on the final day of the transfer window with not enough time left to secure a replacement, especially as Carroll only submitted a transfer request when negotiations with Liverpool were at an advanced stage. The fact that Carroll has been absurdly over-valued won't appease supporters who fear that Ashley is simply looking to cash in on an asset as a prelude to selling up.
The largest fee paid anywhere else in Europe on the final day of the transfer window was £12m. The Premier League will hail the big spending as a sign of the robust health of the English transfer market, but all it proves is that the game remains hostage to the whims of the obscenely wealthy.
From WSC 289 March 2011