Chelsea last night made a dramatic bid to sign Fernando Torres, a move which forced Liverpool to quickly deliver an immediate rejection but which, with Roman Abramovich so clearly prepared to reinforce, leaves Kenny Dalglish's club braced for an increased offer.
The bid for Torres is believed to be in the region of £35m – half the sum they offered for the Spaniard in May – and demonstrates their resolve to regain some momentum and make up the 10-point difference Manchester United have opened up on them at the top of the Premier League. Liverpool insisted late last night, though, that their prime asset would not be leaving Anfield this month. "Chelsea have made an offer for Fernando which has been rejected. The player is not for sale," a spokesman said. Chelsea declined to discuss their transfer business.
Torres reached an informal understanding with Liverpool before the New England Sports Ventures (NESV) group took over in October that he would be permitted to leave at the end of this season if Liverpool had again failed to qualify for the Champions League and a good offer came in. When that understanding was reached, Torres did not know that Liverpool would collapse to a position so far adrift of the Premier League elite.
The return of Dalglish, who has recorded consecutive wins and palpably restored Torres to something resembling his top form, could now prove critical if Chelsea are intent on following up their bid with a more serious bid for the player. If Chelsea returned with a bid closer to £50m, the effect on the player may be destabilising, with Liverpool resigned to the fact that they will not achieve one of the Champions League positions this Spring. Director of football strategy Damien Comolli told French television last week that even one of the Europa League spot may be out of reach.
There is also uncertainty as to whether Dalglish will even be at the club beyond May, at which point a new manager may wish to rebuild once again. Moreover, Manchester City covet having the player at Eastlands and may well return for him this summer, especially if Carlos Tevez moves on. A successful move now may head off a bidding war this summer which even Abramovich may lack the resources to win. These are factors which might have persuaded Chelsea to make their move for the 26-year-old now now.
Liverpool, who last night had a second, £15m bid for Ajax's Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez turned down, would certainly not contemplate allowing Torres to go and only a knockout offer that resembled the £70m tabled last May would seem likely to generate the remotest interest at Anfield. The move comes just at a time when the club feel Dalglish's restorative effect on the player is starting to take effect. The new manager suggested on Monday that the Spaniard's training routine had been altered, to good effect. "We have done training the way we think it should be done. Fernando is doing better than before," he said. Dalglish may need all his powers of persuasion and inspiration to keep Torres on course, with this renewed knowledge of Chelsea's interest.
Abramovich has been relatively quiet in the transfer market by his own extravagant standards since Jose Mourinho left, though this transfer window has seen what appears to be a last burst of spending before the club begin to prepare for the financial fair play regime. Chelsea also continued negotiations yesterday for the Benfica centre half David Luiz though that it also proving difficult, with the Portuguese club now appearing to want a straight payment of £30m – rather than £25m plus a player. It had been known that a striker might remain on Chelsea's radar in this window, though the move for Torres will take the football world by surprise today.
The Luiz deal is far from complete. The Benfica board is keen to cash in as a soon as possible but the club's president Luis Filipe Vieira, who has supremacy over its members, is contending with the unpopularity among fans of the decision to sell the player with the club's fans. Vieira now appears to want to sacrifice the prospect of taking Chelsea midfielder Nemanja Matic, who is currently on loan at Vitesse Arnhem, as a makeweight valued at £4.3m. He wants the £30m to be agreed by tomorrow.