Radamel Falcao: El Tigre presents Louis van Gaal with a welcome dilemma
It was a relatively quiet end to the January transfer window for Manchester United as deadline day was marked by the sole incoming of Andy Kellett on loan from Bolton, a left-back who will now be given a chance to impress in Warren Joyce’s under-21 side, and the exits of Wilfried Zaha to Crystal Palace, Darren Fletcher to West Bromwich Albion and Anderson to Internacional in Brazil.
Jesse Lingard and Saidy Janko were allowed to join Championship clubs on loan as manager Louis van Gaal trimmed the edges of his squad, but it wasn’t quite the frantic rush of September’s trolley-dash for Daley Blind and Radamel Falcao while an 11th hour sale of Danny Welbeck to Arsenal was pushed through in order to balance the books.
The £6 million loan of Falcao was met with cynicism at the end of a summer where United’s transfer business resembled a scatter-gun approach, rounding it off with one last instance of reckless over-indulgence as they desperately spent to equip themselves with a squad capable of returning to the Premier League’s top four after the disastrous tenure of David Moyes.
With Real Madrid and Manchester City refusing to justify the £16.4 million total it would have taken to borrow Falcao from Monaco for the year, United were left to foot the initial fee as well as his £265,000 weekly wage. Desperate to return to the Champions League after being forced into a year hiatus after David Moyes’s failure, the astronomical price may have been rationalised by the Colombian’s undoubted capacity for prolific goal-scoring.
Here was a striker who scored 41 goals in two years at Porto before moving to Atletico Madrid to hit 52 goals in the same amount of time in La Liga, certifying his place amongst the elite in the European game and earning a bumper £50 million move- engineered by ubiquitous super-agent Jorge Mendes, to AS Monaco. Falcao would score 9 times in France before suffering cruciate ligament damage to his left knee which caused him to miss 178 days of action, including last summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
Though United gambled on a belief that the brilliance he showed with Porto and Atletico wouldn’t be diminished by such a period out of the game, with Van Gaal convinced by his quality.
“When a player of this calibre becomes available, it is an opportunity not to be missed” – Louis van Gaal in 2014
Mendes would utilise his close links with United to facilitate the move for his agent, requiring a top-level club to aid his rehabilitation from his long lay-off, while United required a prolific scorer to partner Robin Van Persie, Wayne Rooney and James Wilson in attack. With Monaco’s finances strained by the growing impact of Financial Fair Play and Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybovlev looking to ease the lavish wage-bill he had built-up over a short period, it looked like all parties would benefit despite the complexities of a move that could have, with Falcao at the age of 28, been classed as high-risk.
Such risk was negated somewhat by a clause that would allow United to make the temporary deal permanent for £43.5 million, less than Monaco’s £55 million valuation, should his year at Old Trafford become a success.
Is Falcao worth the money for Manchester United?
Now the dilemma for Van Gaal, with United and Falcao into the second half of their year’s trial with each other, is beginning to grow on whether the Colombian will be worth the money. So far 14 appearances have yielded 9 starts and 4 goals in a season that has been interrupted by a calf injury, a low ebb occurring in the recent 0-1 defeat to Southampton when Van Gaal omitted the striker from the squad for perceived attitude issues.
The Dutch coach tried after that game to justify that decision to exclude him and rued that decision though it could not mask the growing suspicion that patience is beginning to thin on the striker who, in the midst of a fitful season is struggling to reflect the investment United have plundered on him.
Though faith on him hasn’t been lost yet, with Van Gaal handing Falcao 3 starts since the January 11th loss to the Saints and a goal came in the weekend’s win over Leicester. That would please Van Gaal, who saw signs that the partnership between Falcao and Van Persie were beginning to flourish, while he said that the Colombian’s goal would act as a big relief.
“I am more happy that Falcao scored because Robin has already scored enough goals. Falcao needs that goal more than Robin” he said.
The goal, an instinctive reaction to a rebound off Mark Schwarzer after the Australian has saved Angel Di Maria’s shot, was significant as it followed indications in the last couple of games that his sharpness is returning, albeit without reward. Clever movement against Cambridge in the FA Cup presented a few opportunities which were denied by Chris Dunn’s heroics, while QPR’s Rob Green repelled a series of chances in the following week’s victory at Loftus Road.
At QPR, with a bit more luck Falcao would have had a hat-full, it is the fortune that often comes in tandem with red-hot form that is deserting the Colombian at the moment.
With 3 months of the season to go, more displays like the one at Leicester will convince Van Gaal that Falcao should warrant more chances to prove his worth as he grows warm to the idea that Van Persie and Rooney can be fielded alongside the 28-year-old. His lightning-quick reactions, as shown with his strike against Everton back in October, will inevitably bring goals while matches will bring sharpness, a deadly combination in a player like Falcao as Van Gaal will be aware.
The striker will know he will have to finish the season strongly with United embroiled in a fight for Champions League qualification, as well as facing a pivotal period of his individual career in which the next few months may decide his fate for future seasons.
Improvement will have to continue if he is to return to the top-level of the Champions League with Manchester United, anything less and he will find himself struggling for suitors among the elite as football moves on at an unforgiving pace.
Written by Adam Gray