Falcao’s time at Man United is similar to Carlos Tevez’s stint with the clubAfter securing the 2008-09 Premier League title, Sir Alex Ferguson took to the microphone to address the Old Trafford crowd after his players had just been named champions for Manchester United’s record-equalling 18th time.
With a Champions League final a fortnight away (which United would also celebrate), Ferguson’s annual custom of giving a speech was cut short. “Fergie! Sign him up! Fergie, Fergie, sign him up!” the Stretford End chanted. The chant was sung on repeat, getting louder and louder, spreading around the stadium, until the manager could no longer be heard. He gave a little wave, and walked off the pitch.
Less than two months later, Carlos Tevez, the focus of those chants, was being unveiled as a Manchester City player. His loan deal ended at United and he rejected the club’s offer, joining their hated rivals. In his last season at United, Tevez managed just five goals in the league, which worked out as a goal every 334 minutes on the pitch, or a goal every five and a half hours. So, why the adulation from the United fans then?
It would be disingenuous to suggest that his performances the season before didn’t weigh into the fans’ appreciation of the Argentinean striker. He was the eighth-highest scorer in the league with 14 goals, with one fewer goal than Everton’s Yakubu and one more than Aston Villa’s John Carew. So, he hadn’t set the world alight, but he had scored quite a few goals, with the winners against Chelsea and Liverpool standing out.
Still, Tevez’s selling point had always been that he was a trier. Lots of football fans love a player who works hard. So what if they spend so much time running around because their first touch is so bad that they have to chase the ball down after it bounces off them? At least they show they care, right?
Even Alan Smith, a distinctly average player at United who had come from hated rivals Leeds after kissing their badge and pledging he would never sign for the Mancunian club, was a very popular figure with lots of the fan base. Why? Because he worked hard. In his second season, despite the goals drying up, Tevez’s appeal was aided by the arrival of Dimitar Berbatov. The Bulgarian was “languid” at best, “lazy” according to others, so the fact Tevez had scored half as many league goals as Berbatov was largely ignored.
Berbatov was hardly prolific either, it must be noted, but scored a goal every four and a half hours he was on the pitch, which was certainly better than Tevez’s scoring record that season. But he didn’t run around enough or appear passionate enough to be loved by the fans. Tevez, by contrast, would grab hold of the United badge and he repeatedly gave interviews claiming he wanted to stay at the club forever. And the fans — as football supporters do — fell for it, hook, line and sinker. Fans want to believe that the players feel as strongly about their club as they do, even when that is almost always impossible.
So, what has Tevez got to do with anything at United now? Well, in Radamel Falcao, United may see a similar situation arise.
An expensive loanee, with a poor first touch and inadequate scoring record, who works incredibly hard on the pitch and has aspirations to go where the most money is. Ringing any bells? Despite earning a reported 265,000 pounds a week, yet finding the back of the net three times, the appreciation he receives from the United faithful borders on worship. When Falcao warmed up on the touchline at Old Trafford against QPR for the first time after joining the club, the ground was united in a standing ovation. Some fans missed Juan Mata’s goal because they were so mesmerised by the star signing.
When you consider some of the world-class players these fans have seen, it should suggest they’re not bowled over easily, but Falcao has been adored from the moment he signed. The player gives the impression that this feeling is reciprocated too. Recently, after equalising for United away to Aston Villa, he ran to the away fans, celebrating wildly, tapping the United badge. The Colombian has already said that United is “the biggest club in the world” and that he hopes to stay on a permanent basis. You can take him at his word at that, or you can perhaps be a little more cynical, or realistic.
This is the same player who had his pick of clubs in the summer of 2013 but opted against signing for any of the top teams competing for the Champions League, instead opting for Monaco, who had just finished top of Ligue 2 in France, and had been taken over by a billionaire 18 months earlier. He’s also the same player who tweeted that it was a dream come true to sign for Real Madrid just a couple of days before the United move was confirmed.
Falcao had reportedly been chasing a transfer to the Spanish giants all summer, but the club pulled out after believing he wasn’t worth the astronomical wages. This is something that both Real Madrid president Florentino Perez and Falcao’s father later confirmed. Now, it would be unfair not to mention that Falcao’s third-party ownership has a say over the decisions he makes, with Doyen Sports wanting to make as much money from its investment as possible. But would it also be unfair to presume that he will still be as keen to stay at United if he does enough in the remaining months of the season to attract Real Madrid’s attention?
As it stands, with just three goals to his name, he’s hardly courting Europe’s best clubs, even though his tally is not really a fair reflection of his overall contribution. It should also be taken into consideration that he returned from a serious knee injury five months ago, something that could keep someone from playing for far longer than Falcao was out for, and it’ll take time for him to return to the player he once was. If he is ever to return to being the player he once was, that is.
United now have a decision to make, and it’s a gamble. They can buy him at the end of the season, at least matching the huge wages he currently earns, and hope that next season he will be firing on all cylinders again. Or they can let him go, knowing that he may become the 30-plus goals a season striker that he was at both Porto and Atletico Madrid. However, he turns 29 next month and if the goals don’t start coming soon, Louis van Gaal will need to have an awful lot of faith in the striker’s future ability to approve the signing.
There’s still four months to the end of the season and who knows how many goals Falcao may score in that time, or the importance of them. Imagine he scores the winner for United in the FA Cup. Any suggestion that he was a bit of a gamble will be mocked. But at the moment, regardless of the star quality he has repeatedly shown to have in the past, he’s still struggling at United. The United fan base, by and large, won’t hear it though, pointing to all the hard work he does on the pitch and belief that he is still overcoming the damage from the knee injury. Supporters will rejoice if he returns to being the prolific striker he once was, but they will have to hope that doesn’t push him into the arms of Real Madrid, the club that snap up the flavour of the month, or season, every summer.
But still, Falcao thinks United are the biggest club in the world, so the fans probably have nothing to worry about, right?
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