The Week At United: Time To Build On The On-field Bobbins
Radamel Falcao is a beautiful man. His Latino hair (of which, alas, there is now significantly less), his rugged jawline and six o’clock shadow, his bull-like physique and the fact that he and his wife seem like thoroughly nice people. He’s clean living, fabulously rich and was born with a gift for goal-scoring.
“Hello sailor!”, we all thought when Ed Woodward pulled off his signing late in the transfer window last summer. And yet it has all now ended, because Falcao has lost the one attribute which matters more than most, playing football. Bad one.
Fitness long since expired as a relevant mitigating factor, as did the Kagawaesque idea that United were somehow not playing to his strengths. Falcao’s strengths of old were pretty much everything: explosive pace and power, movement, touch and technique, speed of thought and mind, running with the ball at pace and finishing with deadly accuracy.
A lack of confidence can affect all of these to a degree, but it cannot explain dramatic physical decline. When you watch a once great footballer on the pitch and feel sorry for him then matters are quite bad indeed. And Falcao has been pretty bad, like a competition winner from Fylde.
There is little room in football for sentiment, particularly when such sentiment would be costing you getting on for £12m a year, so Van Gaal has banished him to Monte Carlo, where the money has run short and AS Monaco, who thought they had his wages off the balance sheets for good, now find themselves in desperate need of a wealthy club with little common sense to ride to the rescue.
United fans largely wish him well, but a few seem to believe that the evidence of the season now concluded was a mirage and that at the right club, under the right manager, he may flourish. Indeed, he may find a home where he manages more than the paltry four goals he bagged for United, but the old Falcao is gone. You don’t commit tens of millions of pounds ‘just in case’. So thank you for your efforts Radamel, particularly the day you signed. That was ace. After that, not so much.
Van Gaal, claims the Telegraph’s Mark Ogden, has now bogged off on hollibobs and has already decided who in the United squad shall live and who shall die. Judging by another largely pathetic performance at Hull on Sunday it’s going to be a bloodbath.
The rebuilding of Manchester United
The Dutchman has stumbled through this season with a squad and team without a spine. There is no dominant centre-half, a powerful midfielder or world class striker.
There is not much of a rib-cage either. Valencia remains a liability at right-back and Ashley Young and Juan Mata’s relatively inconsistent performances in wide positions demonstrate that there is significant room for improvement there too. Essentially, this is another huge summer for the club. Maybe the biggest of all.
If Van Gaal has any sense he’ll build a side around the wonderful talents of Ander Herrera, the one outfield player other than Young and the routinely absent Carrick to have done themselves any justice this season. Memphis Depay will unquestionably help out wide, adding pace and directness to a slow, ponderous attack and a fully integrated and motivated Angel Di Maria would provide the quality we know is hiding in there somewhere.
Those who remain will have to improve significantly on their injury records, particularly Luke Shaw, Carrick and every defender at the club.
New additions need to be given as much time as possible to bed in and United cannot afford a repeat of last summer, where four of the six incoming players did not arrive until the end of the transfer window. With David De Gea still mulling over a move to Real Madrid in between Twitter rants about Eurovision a new goalkeeper may also be required, to add to the essential defenders, midfielders and forwards.
Sheesh. Victor Valdes’ strengths and weaknesses at the KC Stadium were obvious. The brilliant shot-stopping is still there, the Spaniard at least twice denying Hull with wonderful reflex saves. However, his struggles with crosses almost cost two goals. It is impossible to judge him after a single game following 14 months without a top level start.
Van Gaal will have already decided whether he can be trusted to start next season, but it seems unlikely that Valdes signed without the promise of a shot at first-team football in the near future. So many questions and so few answers.
The Hull match provided few if any clues. United were bilge, again, and it is a relief that a deeply underwhelming season, six wonderful games aside, is over at last. Three goals in the final six games is nothing short of pathetic. Now we wait to see how the club plan to put it right. They have the time and resources to do so. I think they will.
Comparison to Liverpool
Perspective is, of course, always important. I mean, we could be Liverpool, with a man who idolises himself and revels in touching people’s faces at the helm, a squad of deeply average footballers, Rickie Lambert and/or Mario Balotelli up front, a points total worse than that which Moyes achieved at United and a transfer committee convinced of their own novel brilliance in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
In addition they’ve forced out their ageing, waning figurehead and made him look an absolute t*t during his farewell tour. “This 6-1 is for you Stevie.” The slip, the red card, the rapid general decline of his own powers and those of his team, Gerrard’s final months at Liverpool have been absolutely wonderful to observe. Beating the Scouse may never be as satisfying again. Or maybe it will, I hope.
Anyway, there’s not much more to say. It’s over. At last. But thank you for Anfield, the Derby at Old Trafford, the laughably undeserved win at the Emirates, the home win over the Scouse, Spurs and other bits and bobs amongst a sea of things I’m not very thankful for.
There has definitely been the restoration of some pride and forward steps have been taken, but it’s a job no more than 30% done. I think this summer may well see some fairly surprising exits and some exciting acquisitions and by August the squad should be much stronger. For Van Gaal there will then be no more excuses for continuing struggles and comedy Awards Night rants will no longer suffice.
His experience and charisma demand our patience and support, but it will not be eternal. Being mediocre is ok in the context of the state of the club that Moyes (and to a certain extent Fergie) left behind, but two summers of vast spending demands a title challenge. Time for Ed to buy all the players again, but maybe he can do it a little more swiftly this time. Then we’ll be set.