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The Half-Life of Failure Is Forever

Strikers play the apex of an attack in soccer and for that their miscues are magnified.
Photo via FoxSports Asia

The ties between humiliation and narrative come in .GIF form these days.

Chelsea striker Fernando Torres learns this anew whenever his shots shriek past, around, and anywhere-but-toward his 192-square-foot target. Torres is now known for his horrible misses the way Emile Heskey once was, and maybe still is, or the way Jonny Evans is known for this kind of bad thing. It's a very 'You had one job' situation for Torres and those of his infuriating ilk.


It doesn't help Torres that a close shot attempt in soccer not only manifests itself obviously and viscerally, but also renders context obsolete by the time the bright Branded ball stretches past the goalmouth. And it's especially unhelpful when, as Torres does, you miss so loudly and so often.

On its own, a close miss is cruel enough—goals in soccer are so scarce that nearly having one is agony concentrated. Finding the back of the net is fucking hard and not reliant on any single moment or player—it's the sum of countless creative decisions and interchanges and runs and formational inquiries from an intersecting web of time. Eventually, the variables line up just so and the striker gets his chance. It's at that moment that teammate and fan alike monologue some version of you better score this goddamn thing, because it took a lot to get here, and none of us want to go back.

So yeah, missing a good chance sucks, especially so for a striker. Once the ball ends up in a place it's not supposed to be, the week's pretty much ruined for the soul who struck it. If that same player manages to score, or the team wins, cutthroat Wayne Rooney-lite lookalikes might forgive the transgression. If not, well, ignore the papers and streets of Sunderland for a few days. They have harsh standards off Abercorn Road.

This brand of angry toxicity surrounds Torres like a seething cloud—and it has for years. His time with Chelsea has done nothing to change his status as king of The Terrible Soccer Moment—a title he holds over the likes of Heskey or Roberto Soldado or Jozy Altidore or any of the desperately miscast strikers unable to produce flowing streams of golazos for the Oatcake Fanzines of the world to celebrate. Torres is the archetype, the permanent meme of famous skill and petulant bloopers, alluring and tragic and, most painful of all, a great source of #content in the vein of laughing at and not with.


Here, some irony emerges—strikers are the most criticized and trumpeted players in soccer, and yet, no position relies on the spine of a team more than a striker. Other than the odd transcendental types (the Lewandowskis, the Falcaos, the Cattermoles) most strikers are dependent on service for sustained success.

This is the danger in spending tens of millions of euros and dollars and pounds for players so dependent on the performances of others for their own success. A great striker's rarity is simultaneously the source of their value and the eventual downfall of the team built around them.

Some would say this is the cost of playing in the Premier League, the price of doing high profile, lucrative business that affects millions. And it might not feel like much of a cost for the players—individuals making large sums of money with problems more pressing than the anger of a 23-year-old sitting on a sweaty stool in a dive bar just north of Southampton—who absorb it. But that doesn't lessen the cacophony or the discord it brings, bland tomes of vaguely poisonous criticism reinforced by its readers, again and again. They care, and they feel, and that's good, but there are countless better ways to consider Fernando Torres and the legion of strikers like him, those who will continue to fail for forever.

Soon, Torres may be gone, and his Chelsea experiment will end. All parties—the player and the corporation and the fans and your Uncle Giles—will claim to be better for the change. There will be little surprise felt in the streets of London and New York and Madrid. Departure is inevitable, and the striker, floating from place to place in the hopes that dumb luck and skill will someday fortuitously meet, is just a visitor.

Follow Conor Huchton on Twitter.