07 March 2008


By Frank Malley, PA Chief Sports Writer

The only thing certain for Liverpool supporters right now is that the rising sun will bring another day of uncertainty.
Will co-owner George Gillett sell out his 50% share in the club to the Arab sheikhs from Dubai whose shoulders are pressed hard against the Anfield gates?
Will co-owner Tom Hicks raise the cash to buy out the partner with whom he appears to have fallen out so spectacularly?
Will Dubai Investment Capital come up with an offer Hicks cannot refuse?
Will the most fractious takeover shambles in English football be resolved before England's most successful club is torn asunder?
The questions could go on and on but in a week in which all the talk was about the brilliance of Arsenal, the efficiency of Chelsea and the deep pool of talent at Manchester United as they eased into the quarter-finals of the Champions League there was just one man at Liverpool who supplied answers.
Twenty four of them to be exact.
That is the number of goals Fernando Torres has scored in a season during which Liverpool have been so far off the Premier League pace that if they had been pounding around nearby Aintree they would surely by now have been pulled up.
Three more arrived against West Ham on Wednesday, a night when Liverpool fans protested again against the American owners who admitted when they arrived that they knew little about "sawker" and have since proved they know even less about what counts at a club steeped in football's finest traditions.
The form of Torres has been sublime.
So much so that when the time comes to pick the footballer of the year he will be right up there with Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney and Emmanuel Adebayor and Cesc Fabregas.
And here's a thing. That's the same Fernando Torres who doubters, many from leading Premier League clubs, claimed was not a natural goalscorer before the season began, even though he had scored 82 in 214 matches for Atletico Madrid.
The point is that it was Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez who took the gamble on the Spaniard, who identified his worth and who invested £21million of the new owners' cash in the only mega-purchase he has been allowed since arriving at Anfield.
Apart from Arsenal, where the talent-spotting brilliance of Arsene Wenger remains unique, the likes of Manchester United and Chelsea have bought success by forking out big money on big players.
Sir Alex Ferguson spent £30million on Rio Ferdinand, £25million on Wayne Rooney and around £52million last summer on Owen Hargreaves, Nani and Anderson. Chelsea, meanwhile, play £31million Andriy Shevchenko in the reserves while £130,000-a-week Michael Ballack has taken two years to come close to matching his worth.
The fact is that while Gillett and Hicks famously promised unequivocal support for Benitez in his transfer dealings they have not delivered.
Apart, that is, from Torres.
Yes, Benitez has overdone the rotation. He has under-used Peter Crouch. He has disrespected England's cup competitions and some of his selections have been bizarre.
But the defeat of West Ham took Liverpool into fourth place in the Premier League and that crucial Champions League qualifying spot.
Next week the chances are they will join United, Chelsea and Arsenal in the quarter-finals of the Champions League when they visit Inter Milan with a 2-0 first leg lead.
Would anyone back against them going all the way to the final for the third time in four years?
Could anyone doubt that would be one of football's most fantastic feats given the warring factions disrupting Anfield this season?
Could anyone seriously argue that Benitez was not a success in such circumstances?
Yet most observers predict the sun will set on Benitez's Anfield reign this summer. If so, then one man at least will remain as testimony to his talent. A goal machine named Torres.

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