Radamel Falcao is a striker of rare vintage. Is he a luxury signing? Or is he the statement of intent Manchester United need to make after finishing seventh last season?
“When we were at our very best, we had four great strikers” – Sir Alex Ferguson
The buzz of excitement that accompanied the signing of Radamel Falcao has reignited Old Trafford. After a dismal season, one that ended with the mediocrity of a seventh-place finish and no cup success, signing one of the elite strikers in world football has sent a message: Manchester United are back, and we’re on the attack.
It would be easy to look at the weaknesses elsewhere in the squad, but the championship win of 2012-13 showed that a hard-working unit with a great striker can triumph over less unified teams with more individual stars. With Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Falcao, backed up by Angel Di Maria and Juan Mata, Manchester United have three of the best match-winners in football, as well as the players to create the opportunities for them. In Falcao, Manchester United have a proven finisher for when those opportunities arise.
There is concern about how Falcao will affect Rooney and Van Persie, but this is misplaced. It is important to remember that Van Persie has had fitness issues throughout his career and Falcao is returning from a cruciate ligament injury. As captain, Wayne Rooney’s place in the team is secure. This means, in a two-man frontline, there is one other space. Van Persie and Falcao can alternate this role, allowing them both a chance to protect their bodies and extend their career for a few years. Rooney himself could benefit from a rest occasionally, and having Falcao and Van Persie to step in makes it easier to do that.
The last time Manchester United were champions of Europe, it was with a frontline of Rooney, Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo. People doubted Sir Alex Ferguson, the way they doubt Louis Van Gaal now. A similar outcome this season is impossible, but Van Gaal’s tactical knowledge and flexibility is well-renowned. Should he be given the three years he has asked for, the vastly-experienced Dutchman will find a system that accommodates all three of his star strikers, or he will replace them with someone more beneficial to the future success of Manchester United.
The Tevez comparison is the best way of predicting Falcao’s chances of success at Old Trafford. Physical similarities aside, both are hard-working, tenacious and have a knack for of scoring crucial goals in big matches. Both signed for Manchester United on an initial loan deal, with the prospect of a permanent signing should the arrangement be a success. However fans opinion of Tevez has changed since he left the club, his on-field success is indisputable, as is the downward slope the club have been on since Tevez and Ronaldo have departed.
A player of the calibre of Falcao is a rare vintage; the opportunity to sign him for such a small initial fee is unmissable. As Van Gaal said, he had to be signed. To allow him to go to Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea or Arsenal would have been a bigger obstacle to our recovery than the loss of a few million pounds. To a club like Manchester United, that fee is pocket change. It’s not even half of the Danny Welbeck money, yet Falcao is three times the player Welbeck will ever be. Should the deal be a failure, then the club have the option to spend no further money on Falcao. If he plays a part in our return to the Champions League, he pays the transfer fee himself. It is a deal with nothing to lose and everything to gain.
It’s on the field where Falcao will be judged, and his talent cannot be denied. Powerful, accurate and deadly with both feet, he can win football matches with a half-chance every week. 200 goals in 305 club appearances, spread over four contrasting leagues, is testament to his predatory nature. Along with James Rodriguez, Falcao is one of the key factors behind the resurgence of Colombia as a force in world football. His international record of 20 goals in 51 games could improve, but for a striker in a team that is fighting for South American supremacy with Brazil and Argentina, it is still an impressive ratio. His Europa League record of 17 goals in one campaign is staggering, hinting further at the potential that Falcao offers Manchester United on the pitch.
Leaving aside the finances and the defensive part of the team, ask yourself this: Is a front five of Falcao, Di Maria, Rooney, Mata and Van Persie better than a front five of Hernandez, Welbeck, Rooney, Van Persie and a 40-year old Ryan Giggs? When you break it down, as a fan, that is the only issue that matters.
Sir Alex believes a great team needs four great strikers. With the signing of Falcao, Manchester United are one step closer to being great again. The transfer fees, the wages, the contract clauses – they are irrelevant when the teamsheet goes up on a Saturday afternoon. All that matters is the eleven men representing the famous badge on the pitch.
With Falcao in our ranks, we become a better team. With Falcao leading the line, we have someone who can win any match. By signing Falcao, Van Gaal sent out a message: Manchester United are far from finished. We’ve barely even begun.
Radamel Falcao, Manchester United’s number nine. If that doesn’t fill you with a sense of excitement, you should stop watching football. Falcao may be only one piece of the puzzle, but it’s one step closer to Manchester United getting back to where we belong – the top of the league.