In defence of Radamel Falcao
In seven days the club would have to sell 75,715 pies to cover Radamel Falcao’s hefty £260,000 weekly wage, and therefore it comes as little surprise that those less patient Manchester United fans are calling for the Colombian’s head.
Signed on a season-long loan deal from AS Monaco, the Red Devils have the option to sign Falcao for £43.5 million at the end of the season. But the striker, who missed the World Cup due to knee ligament damage, has had limited impact during his £6 million loan deal so far, due partly to injury.
Having scored just four goals in 14 Premier League appearances, it’s fair to say the twice-Europa league winner is a long way off his former best. Indeed, the days of FC Porto and Atletico Madrid, for whom he cut a god-like figure, seem a very long time ago. Falcao boasts a frightening reputation, earned through hard-work and determination throughout the entirety of his career.
Following an impressive spell with Argentine outfit River Plate, the talented Colombian found himself snapped up by Primeira Liga side Porto in 2009 to replace outgoing star Lisandro Lopez. His impact was immediate, as he fast became one of Portuguese football’s most clinical strikers, netting 34 goals in all competitions.
Falcao’s form continued to improve over the next few seasons and after a blistering 2010-11 campaign, which saw his remarkable tally of 17 goals in 14 Europa League games break Jurgen Klinsmann’s European scoring record of 15 and fire Porto to glory in the competition, he soon established himself as one of the world football’s most formidable centre-forwards.
A €40 million switch to La Liga with Atletico Madrid ensued, for whom he scored 36 goals, including 12 in Europe, in an electric debut season. Undeterred by the pressure of being the most expensive player in the club’s history, he became the first player to win two consecutive Europa League titles with two different teams.
Nonetheless, his triumphs were far from over with Atletico. He signed off in style, with an equally impressive second – and final – season for the club. Falcao began the campaign with a magnificent hat-trick in his side’s 4-1 UEFA Super Cup victory over Chelsea, before inspiring Atletico to a win over fierce rivals Real Madrid for the first time in 14 years to seal the Copa del Rey.
Highlighted as the potential embodiment of Monaco’s rise to the highest reaches of European football – a transition that has ultimately failed to materialize – Falcao made the move to the principality in the summer of 2013 in a deal worth an estimated €60 million. The Colombian’s single season in France saw him score on his Ligue 1 debut against Bordeaux before contributing with a further 10 goals in his next 18 appearances.
Nonetheless, disaster struck, as an anterior cruciate injury, sustained in January during a Coupe de France match against minnows Monts d’Or Azergues Foot, ensured he missed the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil; a heart-breaking realisation.
Has Falcao been unlucky at Old Trafford?
Meanwhile, his subsequent rehabilitation has resulted in a less than assured start in the English top flight. Falcao has shown brief glimpses of excellence throughout his first seven months at Old Trafford. It’s evident that he can use both feet and is imperious in the air despite only being 5′ 10”; he also boasts pace, excellent attacking movement and impressive technique. Arguably, the only aspect lacking from his game is goals.
Fans are yet to see the infallible composure in front of goal that Falcao has become renowned for throughout his career, as, unfortunately for the Colombian, the chances have fallen few and far between. Even the most casual observer of the modern game will agree that the striker’s scoring deficiencies have transpired from fortunate goalkeeping and a genuine lack of opportunities.
In fact, Falcao has managed just 21 shots at goal all season – that’s just over one per match – from which he has hit the target an impressive 71 per cent of the time. It is also far fairer to judge the player on the games in which he has started, rather than those appearances he has made as a substitute. He has been involved in seven league goals (four goals and three assists) in nine starts for the Red Devils. In truth, the statistics ain’t that bad!
By comparison with Angel Di Maria, a man who also demands substantial wages, and a significant transfer fee to match – £59.7 million to be precise – Falcao’s performances have not been too far off the mark. The Argentine has only contributed to nine goals (three goals and six assists) in 15 appearances this season, despite averaging more than 20 minutes of extra playing time than his Colombian teammate, per game.
Falcao notched his fourth goal of the season in United’s 3-1 victory over Leicester City, the weekend just gone. This was by no means the most inspirational of strikes, but he showed excellent desire and movement before scrambling the ball into the back of the empty net. He was afforded just the single opportunity against the Foxes and he failed to disappoint, despatching with ease.
During the Dutchman’s post-match interview, Louis Van Gaal admitted Falcao has been in greater needed of a goal than club top scorer Robin Van Persie, who opened the scoring against Leicester.
“I am more happy that Falcao was scoring because Robin has already scored enough goals. Falcao needs that goal more than Robin. It is fantastic that they scored – and beautiful goals also,” the Dutchman said.
Will Van Gaal sign the Colombian to lead the United attack?
Clearly there is a genuine desire among the Old Trafford coaching staff, the players and even the majority of fans, to see Radamel Falcao succeed as a United player. Of course, there are those advocating for Falcao’s dismissal upon the expiry of his loan agreement this summer, but for the most-part, the feeling towards the Colombian is overwhelmingly positive.
But ultimately, it is the opinion of one man that matters the most – Van Gaal. The overseers at United have given the Dutch head coach huge room for manoeuvre – especially financially – since his arrival, and the chances are this will continue to be the case. Just as long as Van Gaal is able to maintain the club’s push for Champions League qualification.
Yes, Falcao’s time in England has largely seen the striker fail to live up to the reputation that proceeds him, but this is not to say he cannot return to former glory. Falcao has recovered from a career-threatening injury twice previously, and on both occasions has comeback more prolific than ever – a sentiment that should fill the Old Trafford faithful with hope.
£43.5 million is a substantial outlay for any club, but relatively unconstrained by Financial Fair Play regulations – for now at least – it is a gamble United can afford to make; especially if it pays dividends. Falcao is a player with world class ability, it is just a question of whether or not Van Gaal envisages the 28-year-old as the man to lead his new-look team to glory.