Torres bid tests Liverpool and Chelsea
Chelsea's pursuit of Fernando Torres - and how this attempted transfer is concluded over the coming days - will tell us much about the hunger of Roman Abramovich and his new counterparts at Liverpool.
Abramovich has been accused of taking his eye off the ball at Stamford Bridge and presiding over an ageing and declining squad after pulling in his purse strings. At worst he has been charged with losing interest in the club he once funded so lavishly.
The first stirrings that Abramovich may be ready to rekindle his desire to back coach Carlo Ancelotti came with the move for Benfica's David Luiz, but a better measure will be provided by how seriously he goes for Torres after an offer of about £35m was rejected by Liverpool.
Abramovich's arrival on Anfield's doorstep is also a test for Liverpool's new owners, who make up the Fenway Sports Group, as they attempt to shape a new era and philosophy.
One of the many black marks held against the sacked Roy Hodgson was his vague, almost submissive, response to speculation about Manchester United's interest in Torres rather than the "over my dead body" riposte Liverpool supporters would have demanded.
FSG's response has been more robust and in tune with what the Kop expects - but reports from Spanish sources that Torres wants Liverpool to continue negotiating with Chelsea casts a dark cloud over their attempts to keep the 26-year-old.
This will encourage Chelsea to continue the chase if Abramovich and Ancelotti truly believe the capture of Torres will represent the first major renewal of a new era at Stamford Bridge.
The timing of Chelsea's offer has an oddity about it. If Abramovich and Ancelotti were convinced about Torres to such an extent, surely the time to make their move was early in the month when his form was poor, Liverpool's stock was low under Hodgson and the price tag may have been lower?
Indeed, there may have been a body of opinion among Liverpool's fans earlier this month that exchanging a fat cheque for Torres may not have been such a bad idea, ridding Anfield of a discontented player and providing funds for the reconstruction programme ahead.
Torres' body language was almost as telling as the performances - discontented, isolated and sulky. But a little love and attention from new manager Kenny Dalglish, arguably the greatest player in Liverpool history, has helped to restore some of the Spaniard's reputation.
Since Hodgson's sacking, Torres has shown signs of sparking into life under the more sympathetic tactical handling of Dalglish, who has offered support to the striker on the pitch - as opposed to the previous ploy of leaving him isolated - and delivered glowing testimonies off it.
The price tag has edged back up above £35m and the dilemma for Liverpool is whether they may actually deem accepting a £50m bid as sound business and a financial base for future deals given Torres' injury record and form over the last 18 months.
Torres has flickered recently rather than delivering irrefutable evidence that he is back to being the force he was before injuries dimmed the brilliance that illuminated so many of Liverpool's better feats under Rafael Benitez.
He has shown enough, however, to make any wavering Anfield followers believe his exit - and certainly if it led to him joining Chelsea - would be a serious blow.
Liverpool's owners FSG, and their figurehead John W. Henry, will not want one of their earliest signals to be such a bad one by presiding over the departure of one of the club's two world-class players - the other being Steven Gerrard - to a club they will expect to rival in coming seasons.
If FSG stand firm - and whether they can is another matter, with conflicting reports about a £50m buy-out clause in Torres' contract - it will be a statement of ambition and future optimism.
With the group's Anfield tenure in its infancy, FSG could demonstrate their intentions as much with the players that are kept as the players that are signed.
Standing firm and keeping Torres will show that the American hierarchy means business.
Chelsea would strike a blow to their rivals should they land Torres, but the same element of gamble would apply to Abramovich as it would to Liverpool.
Are they buying the Torres of 18 months ago, who has simply endured a period of ill-fortune? Or are they purchasing a player who - while still an outstanding operator - is not quite the stellar figure he was back then? More evidence is needed, a lot more, before it can be said the old Torres has returned.
This is the balancing act, the decison, that faces both Chelsea and Liverpool in the days before the transfer window closes - and possibly again in the summer if business is not done now.
Abramovich's next move will show whether Chelsea really see Torres as the symbol of an era beyond the one inhabited so successfully by John Terry, Frank Lampard, Didier Drogba and company or whether it was a vanity move by an owner desperate to show he still cares.
What the move does emphasise is the failure of Chelsea's recent attempts to produce enough young talent of their own to replace the old guard and save Abramovich from switching course from his recent policy of parsimony.
The suggestion that Torres expects Liverpool to consider Chelsea's interest means this could be the story of the transfer window. The outcome will have a telling effect, stretching the 200 miles between Anfield and Stamford Bridge.
UPDATE FRIDAY 28 JANUARY AT 17.15PM.
Liverpool have announced that they have agreed a deal of around £22m to sign Ajax striker Luis Suarez. It is the first major transfer move by FSG - but it remains to be seen how this changes the Anfield landscape.
Will he be a partner for Fernando Torres or a replacement? And how will this gifted Uruguayan striker adapt to the Premier League?
All the noises coming out of Spain suggest Torres wants Liverpool to continue negotiations with Chelsea over a move to Stamford Bridge. The arrival of Suarez will at least show him there will be renewed ambition at Anfield under the club's new American owners.