Kevin Levingston argues that it’s time to plug the plug on the experiment.
I love Radamel Falcao. You love Radamel Falcao. We all love Radamel Falcao. That is to say; we all loved the Radamel Falcao who fired both Porto and Atletico Madrid to Europa League glory in consecutive seasons. We loved the Falcao that for three years (2010-2013) in domestic and European football was only outscored by Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. We loved the Falcao that tore Chelsea apart in the 2012 European SuperCup final. One ill-advised transfer to France and knee injury later; that version of Falcao has been conspicuous by his absence. The deadline day, out-of-nowhere loan signing of the Colombian frontman left United fans giddy. It seemed the biggest no-brainer in football. Expensive? Yes, but it wasn’t our money. It was a high profile signing straight out of the Football Manager handbook and seemed to signify a new dawn at Old Trafford. We had secured one of the best strikers in the world and the good times were on their way back. For a number of reasons it hasn’t really worked out so far for Falcao. Despite occasional flashes of Falcao-2012; mostly we have been treated to a player desperately out of form and devoid of confidence. The question no longer seems to be whether or not United will pay the alleged £43million to secure his services permanently, but rather just how long this experiment will be allowed to continue. For many reasons; the arguments for closing the book on project Falcao grow in strength with every passing week. Listed below are the main reasons it’s time to call it a day.
Unsuited to the System
Putting aside all the discussion about the terms of his deal at Old Trafford and the ramifications therein; Falcao has seemed thoroughly incompatible with every version of the new United “philosophy”. The striker is at his best when playing right on the shoulder of the defenders, running in behind and feeding from the service in fast paced attacks. He is better suited to a lone-striker role than in a partnership and for goodness sake don’t expect him to contribute anything meaningful outside of the attacking third. One of the best headers of the ball in world football, his predatory instincts in the box remain. Unfortunately at United he’s been asked to drop deep and contribute a lot more to build up play. Falcao with his back to goal is a far more ordinary prospect than his goal-facing alter-ego. Combine this with the pondering pedestrian pace of United’s attacking play and the increased physicality of premier league defenders and you have a player who is a pale imitation of his former self. What is required to turn this around? A drastic change in system, a lone-striker role, a team set up to supply him with chances and – crucially – time. You sense that time is running out.
Poor Goal Return
Whatever way you look at it; Falcao has not scored enough goals. There have been mitigating circumstances. Attempting to return from a career threatening knee injury in a new league is difficult enough without playing in a team that is struggling to create chances for its forwards. However Falcao has arguably performed the poorest of all United strikers with just four goals in twenty appearances. Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney have eleven and ten goals respectively to their name whilst academy product James Wilson has scored twice from limited starts. Injury and the equally poor form of Van Persie along with Rooney’s stint in midfield have granted Falcao a stay of execution but with the skipper recently making a goalscoring return to the frontline you feel it won’t continue. Our system makes it difficult for our strikers but with Rooney and the more dynamic Wilson up top we have a much better chance. Against Tottenham and QPR Falcao was taking up fantastic positions but finishing poorly. Now you have to work hard to recall the last time the Colombian was even in a position to miss a chance. Concerning for all parties.
Becoming a Liability
In a combination of tactics and a desire to impose himself upon the game; Falcao has been dropping deeper and deeper each week to get involved in play. Having brought with him a touch reminiscent of a brick wall he unfortunately tumbles down at the slightest nudge. He’s obviously working hard but that has never been his game and lately his every endeavour has resulted in a loss of possession and his face on the turf. You begin to hope the team can somehow manage to get the ball up the field without him getting involved. Surely somebody, anybody, could do better. Certainly Rooney has and you’d imagine James Wilson would too.
Unlikely to Sign Permanently
With every passing game the chance of Falcao signing on a permanent deal diminishes. His form is plateauing at best, deteriorating at worst. It may only be the start of March but with just eleven league games remaining it would take an extraordinary turnabout in form for there to be any chance of the striker remaining at Old Trafford next season. If you accept his departure as an inevitability then questions about his place in the team follow. If there is no chance of him securing a permanent deal and he is in such poor form then the reasons to continue playing him are running out.
Top Four Battle and Overall Team Progress
In fact; continuing to play Falcao in the faint hope of a dramatic upturn in form may ultimately cost us a Champions League place. There comes a point where you abandon a failed project and move on. United have reached that point. There is also little sense in continuing to bed in a player that won’t be here next season. It’s time to give the game time to players that are going to be at the club next season. Whether that’s a change in system or the introduction of James Wilson; long term the team will be better served by developing players that have a future at the club. United fans will hope it’s not already too late this year.