• Jaidev Tripathy

Ferran Factor: Why Manchester City's Bargain Buy Deserves to Remain an Unboxed Identity

Another fresh face from Valencia's ranks has been turning heads in recent times. It is like history repeating itself. But there is something different about him. It is Ferran Torres's knack for being out-of-the-box which has the potential to add a new dimension to this Manchester City team.


Unpredictability and uncertainty - undoubtedly 2020’s succinct narrative. While the neutrals are wholly entertained, the dial leans slightly towards frustration rather than entertainment for the Manchester City faithful in recent times (arguably the whole of this year). City have been relatively unlike themselves. The gaping void left by our club legends, the title collapse, the heart-sinking Champions League quarterfinals, transfer window negotiations, the lack of pre-season, and the missing signature playing style have been some contributing factors to a frustrating 2020.


But while the number 20 is a seeming jinx, its successor 21 has been a source of constant positivity for City fans, quite famously a symbolic token serving reminder to David Silva. To bring some respite in these uncertain times, our new signing confidently takes over the symbolic number 21. Like David, the 20-year old Foios-born Spaniard is a midfield product of Valencia – a combination quite favouring City. With 4 goals and 2 assists in 9 games for the club, Ferran Torres has certainly made a mark sooner than expected, much to the delight of the club and their fans.


PREFACE

The boy had a knack of making things happen.


On the edges of the pitch is where Ferran most thrived for Valencia, visibly standing out amongst his fellow peers. While 6 goals and 8 assists in 44 appearances aren’t monumental figures for an incoherent Valencia finishing 9th place in La Liga, it is the eye-test which revealed constant flashes of individual brilliance and urgency; enough to charm City to swoop in for him (or ‘seduce’ him, in Pep Guardiola’s vocabulary). Top clubs like Real Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid and Juventus also mirrored this interest.


However, Ferran Torres’s arrival is unconventional in retrospect. He steps inside the blue walls of Manchester in a transitionary period for Guardiola’s men. In a world marred by uncertainty, mega-deals and an impatient & reactionary City fanbase trying to adjust with the grey times, Ferran’s Torres comes in like the momentary breeze on a hot summer, signed for just £21m (lesser than the likes of and Bony). The current elitist trend in football always calls for instant impact and trophies as a true validation for success. Top-level football can be very unforgiving unless both those factors are truly visible in-sight, and there are no better examples than Pep Guardiola and Manchester City themselves at the thick of this dynamic. They are almost victims of their own high standards, judged by trophies in the cabinet and money splashed as success markers rather than essence, style and relationships, equally core parts of top-level football.



And the pattern will tend to repeat with Ferran, its traces already visible in parts. For starters, he has a gaping hole to fill which was once occupied by Leroy Sane, an immaculate impact player, a fan-favourite and quite instrumental to one of the club’s most flourishing phase between 2017 and 2019. To add to that is the no. 21 baton left by David Silva himself, and as ironically stated above, is a combination which excites us a lot due to how much it favours us. Moreover, Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne have established themselves as top midfielders of the game, with genuine young talents like Phil Foden making their way in. Naturally, expectations will be high with Ferran Torres despite the bargain price tag, and it is wishful thinking for him to make that impact in the very first game or adjust immediately.


But fans are quick to take their thoughts to social media about their doubts on a player after a silent game, often overlooking at what he truly offers and trust the club’s process. Plenty doubted Ferran after his first two appearances despite being very new to the club. On the other hand, it is almost natural instinct nowadays to keep expectations sky-high after a good patch of form and label him into categories, consequentially leading to expectations not being met in the long run and eventual disappointment.


The point? Labelling him as ‘the next David Silva’ and ‘the next Leroy Sane’ would be undeserving to Ferran Torres’s true abilities and what he brings to the club. And the focus on filling certain boots or judgement with respect to other players comes at the cost of not being open to what he can offer as an individual. The recent Champions League display is proof that Ferran Torres has the ability to excel in positions even unnatural to him and delightfully surprise us.


This article intends to simply bring to light Ferran Torres as a flexible reinvention, who can potentially add to Manchester City’s current style and set them apart. In four highlights of individual brilliance, we establish a part appreciation for Ferran, and a part reminder of looking at our new £21m summer signing with a fresh outlook deserving of an identity of his own, rather than boxing someone whose standout individual quality is being recognisably out-of-the-box.


1. A humble prodigy

20 is undoubtedly a young age to feature in a top club’s plan, never mind being an instrumental figure in the first-team squad. But the midfielder is used to starting off young, aged only 6 when he joined Valencia CF’s academy. His exposure and attachment to the Spanish club and football, in general, arrived super early, as he regularly visited the Mestalla with his parents to watch the club’s home games. And starting young allowed him to shamelessly model his game on his inspirations, imitating the likes of David Villa and David Silva, in their prime for Valencia then. (I am sure some of us feel old as we read this).


And from there on his progression was rapid, quickly rising in world football’s most prolific youth systems of all time. Most coaches and players recall him as being simply different from the rest. “He’ll play first division very soon”, said Jose Giminez, the head of academy during those times. And very soon at the ripe age of just 16, he made his senior debut with the reserves in the Segunda Division B. Throughout this phase, it was his hard work and determination to experiment, model and improve on a style which caught everyone’s eyes, and something which can be attributed to his growth. In the current generation of young prodigies bogged down by the glamour of top-level football and getting lost in the competitiveness of the game, he was someone who listened and sharpened the blade with utmost focus.


Launching his way into the senior team at the mere age of 16

(Source: Instagram)


During his meteoric rise in the ranks of Valencia, he also managed to win international accolades, which included the 2017 UEFA European U-17 Championship and the U-19 version too, while also becoming a U-17 World Cup finalist. The pressure, accompanied by the taste of trophies wasn’t unfamiliar to him. And at a young age, dealing and handling such kind of pressure isn’t just admirable, but also serves useful to adjusting to top-level football (even more so in the Premier League now). What set him apart was the desire to grow, instead of the attraction towards the glittering glow of gold and glamour of the sport. He was grounded, just like David himself, and that led to his growth being rapid yet organic in nature, well in display in 97 first-team appearances for Valencia at the mere age of just 20.


2. Empirical Style of Play

Perhaps it is idealism, perhaps bravery, or perhaps just pure determination. His style has become a signature entity throughout his footballing years, basing his gameplay around befriending the flanks and touchline as a natural number 7. He was quick and loved to run behind defences and dribble past his opponent, a skill he has learnt to perfect through trial and error with his movement and body language. In a world of absolutes, he approached each game as an experiment to improve himself through field tests and try a little bit of everything, gradually refining his skills, which isn’t a very common feat amongst many players. Proof of this is his dribbling success rate sitting at 50%. It was the fact that despite not the best at dribbling, he dared enough to keep improving on it, averaging 5 dribbles per game for Valencia, and this led to improving and fine-tuning his technique with each passing game no matter the quality of the opponent. For his age and the level of football he played, it was clear he was fearlessly direct with his approach.


For his age, Ferran Torres dribbled a lot and still managed to have a higher success rate than Lionel Messi (Source: Total Football Analysis)



His took on a defender with ease for his debut Champions League goal for Manchester City against Porto (Source: author)


He also uses his positioning to add to his edge in pace, as he often finds himself in enough space to collect the ball from central midfielders around the half-way line, giving him time to brace himself and move the ball forward with drive using his burst of pace or an extra dribble in one-on-one situations. This positioning and pace served to be even more useful in attacking transitions and counter-attacks as he ran past the defenders with ease for goalscoring and chance creation.


A perfectly timed run against Atalanta, exploiting the opponent’s blindside

(Source: Total Football Analysis)


Despite being right-footed, he uses his two-footedness and his body to not only establish close-control with the ball while maintaining pace but also become aware of the players around him, without compromising on the flow of the game and keep the ball moving. This also helps him to improve on his passing and crossing, as evident in the previous season for Valencia.


As in City’s context, it is well known that Pep is a man of experiment himself, and it perhaps what attracted him to Ferran Torres, whose refined dynamism and directness would be highly welcomed in a squad which would benefit from such direct game-changers. He will also tend to improvise against the most frustrating defences and find space for himself to become a menace, whether it is through his positional awareness, or that extra attempt to take on a defender when required.


3. A versatile technician

An appealing defining factor of Ferran Torres is that he is a hybrid of the traditional winger, who dribbles and cuts inside similar to the likes of prime Robben and Sane, while also being tactically astute to modern football adaptations, a quality natural with many Spanish players and Valencia academy products.


He can tend to become a nuisance in half-spaces, in fact even unpredictable at times, adding to his flexibility. His tactical awareness of half-spaces combines with his vertical influence and awareness of the traditional no.7 role, as he cleverly identifies the right moment to drive at a defender or link up with more central players. Most other players in this situation would play it safe with the passing or end up being dispossessed with slow decision making. This trait can make him extremely useful in Pep Guardiola’s system, while flexibly adapting to what the game requires him to do, both centrally or out wide.


While dominant on the right, he occasionally drifts into half-spaces wherein he combines with forwards and create goalscoring chances for himself (Source: Sofascore)


And this is perhaps the trait which encouraged Guardiola to use Ferran Torres as a No. 9 in City’s games, where positional awareness, vertical drive and goalscoring instincts have led to some impressive performances against Sheffield United and Olympiacos. The Spaniard had 5 shots against Chris Wilder’s men, with 3 on target and was the first glimpse of a promising respite to striker-less City who are yet to find a knack for explosive goalscoring.


However, it was against Olympiacos when a second chance in the same role paid off. The 20-year old got his fourth goal in his 6th appearance for City with an exquisite touch and a striker’s finish, impressing everyone who witnessed the goal to shower the best of praises and comparisons on him. He already has 3 goals in 3 appearances for Manchester City in the UCL with an xG of 1.4, also managing a goal for each shot on target, showing how clinical he is in the no. 9 role despite being a natural winger. He garnered praise from Aguero, Gundogan and Pep himself after the game, undoubtedly the best set of people to witness Torres’s magic from up-close.


And his charming smile would certainly be the widest on hearing Pep’s thoughts after the game. “He moved really well, with the ball and without the ball”, said Pep, who also sung praises for his finishing ability. It was the master tactician and fellow countryman, in fact, who influenced Ferran to join City in the first place. Synonymous with a desire to grow, the flexibility and versatility have already struck gold, and the path ahead looks promising with this rising graph.


4. A disciplined personality

Still early days, Ferran Torres has kept a low profile at City unlike Valencia, and silently worked hard off the pitch, contrary to his ambitions reflecting brightly on it. Technically gifted Spanish players have taught Ferran a great deal in football, but his physicality has been talked about on certain occasions. While Silva broke the stereotype of the Premier League characterized by its physicality, his ‘successor’ has taken a slightly different approach. Naturally thin, he has felt the need to work on his physique early on, often finding himself amongst older and stronger players throughout his life. He also cites Cristiano Ronaldo as one of his inspirations.


In a fresh start at Manchester, this personal work-ethic has been taken up a notch as revealed quite recently. According to Marca, he has increased his workload on his personal training plan with a military-like training regime. A young Premier League footballer at the age of 20, he is already dedicating extra hours aside football to work on his physical fitness and strength, something he also takes pride in. He is working on gaining a much more resistant lower body and build on some muscle to tackle headstrong the physical aspect of the English league. Guardiola would be even more proud with this work-ethic, who also shares his chef with Ferran Torres, with a strict diet prepared for him. The Ronaldo-esque work ethic is testament to his sky-high ambition to take care of his body and use it to his advantage in an ambitious football career.


CONCLUSION

We love Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Yaya Toure and Vincent Kompany not just because they performed consistently and took the club to new heights, but also because they were appreciated and liked for who they were, a combination of personalities and influences which make them unique. So much so, that even a bad game barely garnered doubts and slander on them. They contributed to the club by simply being themselves, as they were expected to, and that is what we most enjoy in football, also helping us develop a closer relationship with players as role models. And with Ferran Torres, he is another one of those players who are ‘different’, and continuously working on learning and bettering themselves with each passing game without compromising on their style. These four highlights of individual brilliance and flexibility simply serve as a reminder of what his versatility can bring to the table. He is best enjoyed when appreciated for what he truly is – unboxed, unpackaged, unconforming to the thumb rules of footballers.


Throughout his young career, Ferran has been a brave character, constantly experimenting with styles, patterns and traits to help develop an understanding of the self, a very rare feat in football these days. Some patience, perspective and understanding will play a part in a period of flourishing transition for both the player and the club. What is important, is that the ingredients are all there to something a lot more valuable than simply being the best player in the world – a player with a unique identity embodying the true essence of the club with unconditional support. What would trump perfect monumental statistics, would hopefully be a sense of sweet joy witnessing his efforts on the pitch after you read this article and watch him play, truly knowing who he is. The next David Silva? The next Leroy Sane? The next Cristiano Ronaldo? We would prefer, as the cliché goes, the very first Ferran Torres, all for just a mere £21m.


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