Was Fernando Torres ever really that great?

“Fernando Torres has never been a great player. Some players are overrated and I don’t think Torres has ever been a great player. That’s just my opinion." - Lou Macari; September 18, 2011

The former Scotland and Manchester United player was speaking prior to United’s 3-1 victory over Chelsea on Sunday - a game in which the decorated Spanish striker scored a goal of the highest quality before wasting an opportunity that will surely go down as the miss of the season, even at this early stage.

Whether Torres is still capable of being a great player is a question that naturally divides opinion. His move to Chelsea has thus far been a disaster and at times he has looked like a man who believes his career to be in a dystopian condition.

Of greatest concern is that his problems may not be exclusively mental, but physical, too. His troublesome knee has finally robbed him of his predatory pace and mobility and consequently, this once elite striker is destined to play out the rest of his career like the small-hall heavyweight boxer who once challenged for the world title before squandering his fortune on drugs, alcohol and material possessions.

The counter argument is that Torres is simply suffering from a severe crisis of confidence and playing in a team that struggles to give him the service he needs to succeed, a situation in which he is not alone.

The common denominator behind each school of thought is that Torres was once a striker of the very highest calibre, possibly the best in the world.

For Macari to dismiss Torres in such a way is senseless. He displayed all the hallmarks of a man blinded by nostalgia and consequently unable to contemplate the possibility that something or someone from the modern era could even hope to compete with the finest his had to offer. Perhaps Ronaldinho and Thierry Henry – players whose best days are firmly behind them - were never great, either.

Raise the subject of who's 'overrated', and one expects to hear the names Miroslav Klose, Mauro Camoranesi - perhaps Franck Ribery, but not Torres. There are countless players that were simply good, not 'great'. Nicky Butt is in that bracket, as is Gus Poyet, or Kevin Phillips.

There's no shame in rubbing shoulders with such professionals, but it’s always disappointing to see true quality being taken for granted. At a time when England's lack of striking options have seen Jay Bothroyd receive a cap, it's not unreasonable to expect a man working within British football to recognise true quality when it is there for all to see.

To put Macari's poor judgment down to his United loyalty is also far too simplistic and harsh on a man who has praised the likes of Kenny Dalglish, Emlyn Hughes and Graeme Souness in the past. That being the case, it makes his declaration - which was delivered without a hint of uncertainty - all the more mystifying.

In the modern era, Diego Forlan, Hernan Crespo, Mateja Kezman, Andrei Shevchenko and Djibril Cisse have all arrived in England with reputations as some of the most prolific strikers in the world before failing to succeed and departing to rediscover their goalscoring touch.

In three full seasons at Liverpool – none of which were without injury – Torres scored 66 goals in 111 appearances (including 14 as a substitute). He dispelled the argument that Liverpool were a one man team, was one-half of the partnership (along with David Villa) that consigned the Spanish great Raul’s international career to the past and won both European Championship and World Cup winners’ medals.

While Torres predominantly featured as a substitute in the 2010 World Cup, Spain’s incredible strength-in-depth is often overlooked, so for him to have been a key player in Euro 2008 is not to be dismissed. Players of the quality of Pepe Reina and Cesc Fabregas failed to earn regular starts in either competition, while Xabi Alonso and Pedro only managed it in the latter.

That he was lionised by Liverpool's fans is also significant. While they're known for loyally supporting their side, there are few who achieve true 'hero' status at Anfield.

Talents like Michael Owen and Steve McManaman were there for several years without ever truly joining the pantheon of greats that features Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher, Kenny Dalglish, Ian Rush, Robbie Fowler and - at least until he left to join Chelsea - Torres. He spent little over three years at the club but had such an impact that he was deemed to have earned parity with the club's favourite sons.

Where some prolific goalscorers save their best form for weaker sides, Torres produced his finest work when it mattered.

Regularly destroying the ruthless Nemanja Vidic in a way that hasn’t been seen before or since mattered. Scoring the only goal in the Euro 2008 final to end decades of international underachievement mattered. Finding a late winner at Portsmouth to keep Liverpool’s title dream alive mattered, as did the most exquisite and explosive of finishes against Arsenal in a finely balanced Champions League quarter-final.

Every so often a player comes along whose ability is so exceptional that even the most shamelessly partisan judge finds it difficult to discredit him. Regardless of what the future holds, Torres was one of those.

“Fernando Torres has never been a great player. Some players are overrated and I don’t think Torres has ever been a great player. That’s just my opinion.”

Next time, Lou, keep it to yourself.

Follow Declan Warrington on Twitter @decwarrington

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