THE financial climate may have changed in the Premier League, thanks to the extraordinary events at Manchester City this summer, but one immutable fact remains, according to Liverpool manager Rafael Benitez.
Fernando Torres, the brilliant young Spanish striker who took his season tally to eight goals in seven league games with a hat-trick during Saturday’s stroll past Hull, is one player money simply cannot buy.
Interestingly, Benitez revealed after the six-goal victory had ensured Liverpool their best start to a season in goalscoring terms since 1895 that he was contacted in the summer by agents representing Premier League teams who were inquiring about Torres’ availability.
It does not amount to an unreasonable assumption to declare that City would have been among the interested parties but Benitez’s answer to them, and any of their rivals, was an emphatic “no”.
This morning, such a steadfast refusal from Benitez to even enter the most fleeting of discussions with interested parties looks well founded.
“How much is he worth? Well at least £70million, you would say,” said Benitez. “I’m not saying he’s the best in the world because he is young and can get better, but of course he is one of the best, and he can still improve.
“This year we had some agents acting for other English clubs who were coming to us asking about the price of Torres, with big, big figures. But we said he’s not for sale. I would say he is not for sale at any price.
“People say every player has a price, but we don’t want to sell any player, so he does not have a price. Money can not buy him at this moment in time.”
All of Torres’ three goals, scored inside 47 minutes, showcased his instinct, foot speed and agility and, of course, finishing prowess although Geovanni’s 14th-minute volley was, arguably, the goal of the afternoon and cancelled out the Spaniard’s first three minutes earlier.
But Torres restored Liverpool’s advantage just after the halfway point of the first half and completed a remarkable hat-trick just two minutes after the restart, by which stage Hull were in meltdown and, by the frank admission of manager Phil Brown, had “thrown in the towel.”
Steven Gerrard, Ryan Babel and Albert Riera were also on the mark in the closing stages as Hull slumped towards embarrassment, an alarmingly familiar story already in the new campaign.
As for Torres, Benitez was able to take him out of the fray in good time, resting him ahead of either the midweek Champions’ League tie in Fiorentina or what has suddenly become an intriguing league visit to Chelsea on Sunday.
Benitez, of course, could elect to play the 23-year-old in both fixtures although the manager concedes he is still playing towards full fitness after a summer of international duty with Spain.
“We knew at the start of the season he’d struggle for condition,” said Benitez. “All the Spanish players arrived 20 days later than the rest of the squad. We knew it would take time for them to get fitter, and it would take maybe a month or two to see the best of Fernando.
“But he has been working really hard, and in the last few games you could see that hard work paying off. He can do better though. He wants to score more goals away from home.
“With him, he is always willing to learn, and how much he improves depends on him.”
The prospect of Torres having scope for improvement should be a daunting one for Liverpool’s title rivals for some time to come. For Brown, concerns are more immediate with pressure growing on his position.
Brown’s patience is clearly at breaking point, understandably so given the manner in which a strong first-half showing gave way to a shameful capitulation in the second.
The manager may have his critics and that notorious half-time team talk he delivered to his players on the pitch at Manchester City last Christmas will long haunt him, but he has a point in claiming his players need to start sharing some of the responsibility.
“A minority of fans are voicing their opinion and rightly so,” said Brown. “We let in 10 goals in a few days and they can’t support that. I accept criticism and won’t back away from my responsibility.
“Certain people in the dressing room are backing away from their responsibility you have to be a blind man not to see that.
“Our character has been tested, you build your foundations on big characters like Jamie Carragher and John Terry. We had that character in the first half but we need to show that over 90 minutes.
“The most important relationship in any club is between manager and chairman, but the relationship between manager and players is important too.
“It has taken a battering to a certain extent with harsh words flying around. But there are one or two solid characters in the dressing room and it is up to them to step up to the plate.
“Defensively we have to step up to the plate – we have made mistakes.
“It is the biggest challenge of my managerial career but I am confident we can confront it head on and win this challenge. We have good players and we can get it right, we just have to defend better.”
REFEREE: Peter Walton (Northants) 8: Little to do, but what he did, he did impeccably.
MATCH RATING: **** A high rating for the virtuoso performance of Torres.
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