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Fernando Torres can end Liverpool's long wait

Fernando Torres can end Liverpool's long wait

In the days when Yorkshire cricket was divided between the Boycott and Illingworth camps who detested each other with a ferocity the Montagues and Capulets might have envied as their team fell apart, the club still referred to itself as 'The Champion County'.

They might not have won the title since the days of the 10-shilling note but they had won it more times than anyone else and they took comfort in their history. You could say much the same about Liverpool. But at Anfield, soon to make way for a new heavily sponsored stadium in Stanley Park, history is beginning to run out.

Fernando Torres
Striking ambition: but can Torres bring the title to Anfield?

There have been several times since Kenny Dalglish's team paraded the championship around Anfield to applause his players thought strangely complacent that it appeared Liverpool might be on the cusp of domestic greatness.

The brilliant, brittle team Roy Evans assembled but which always found itself outmanoeuvred by Manchester United gave way to the continental efficiency of Gerard Houllier, who found his ambitions ground down by the resources of Old Trafford and the desperate beauty of the football played at Highbury.

Liverpool might have their history but they had been overtaken by events. Former chairman David Moores, was the last of the old-style owners; a fan who walked away from the Ataturk Stadium, Istanbul, after the remarkable 2005 European Cup final in a state of beery bliss, but who looked hopelessly out of place in the age of Roman Abramovich. The takeover by the American pair of Tom Hicks and George Gillett may have broken the club's links with the city, but it has provided Rafael Benitez with the resources to compete.

There were two defining moments last season that showed Benitez at his rawest. The first came in January, a 6-3 Carling Cup defeat by Arsenal that was as humbling as anything Anfield had seen since the days when Liverpool was the hub of the Empire's trade.

Arsene Wenger fielded a side of expensively assembled teenagers, Benitez fielded a few products of their own youth academy stiffened with some first-team members. The result was a massacre. Benitez announced he was tired of the club not having the resources to compete for the best young talent emerging from Africa and the Americas and lost patience with the Kirkby Academy, whose director, Steve Heighway, had produced Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher and Steven Gerrard but little in recent seasons.

The second defining moment came in Athens in the aftermath of Liverpool's second European Cup final with AC Milan, a game that, unlike the one in Istanbul, Liverpool deserved to win but did not. Benitez was overflowing with exasperation. He wanted to spend some Texan money, and he wanted to spend it now.

Thus far, some £40 million has gone out of Anfield on footballers that unlike those recruited by Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United, are not about potential but immediate impact. However, at 20, Ryan Babel - young, Dutch and compared to Thierry Henry by his national manager, Marco van Basten - would have gone to Arsenal in summers gone by. That thought would give Benitez some satisfaction.

None would have a heavier burden than the 23-year-old striker, whose slim, youthful figure earned him the nickname 'The Kid' in the Vicente Calderon Stadium. Fernando Torres will wear the number nine shirt that once graced the backs of Robbie Fowler and Ian Rush. If he performs like the former - the last Liverpool player to manage 20 Premiership goals in a season -the £24 million fee will be justified. If he scores goals like Rush, the 18-year wait for the championship will be over. The fact that he, like Gerrard, turned down Chelsea last year, should provide a fillip to his popularity on the Kop before a ball has been kicked.

There are one or two dimly flickering reservations about Torres, mainly that because of Atletico Madrid's relatively feeble domestic record he has had little exposure to the Champions League and that there might be too much expectation on him.

However, a judge as sound as Dalglish believes that the less-heralded Yossi Benayoun, who can give Liverpool the width and drive from the flanks they seldom possessed under either Houllier or Benitez, might have the most immediate impact when the season starts.

Liverpool will have to start it running. If the Premiership season ran from October to May, they might have won the trophy already. But Benitez has never been good at beginnings - at Valencia he won La Liga with late, steamrollering runs.

His previous three campaigns on Merseyside have at least been symmetrical. His first seven games in each of them brought 10 points. The trouble is that Manchester United and Chelsea (twice), who finished as champions, started with 16, 21 and 17 points respectively.

There is also something else that might concern Benitez and it lies on his face. If you want to find the last bearded manager to win a championship, you would have to go back to the days when discussions in Yorkshire cricket revolved not around Boycott and Illingworth but whether WG Grace was a cheat.


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