Radamel Falcao: Manchester United’s nearly man fractions from the player he once was

Radamel Falcao is almost scoring goals, almost reaching crosses, almost beating defenders; his timing is fractionally off but fractions are everything in his business, writes Richard Jolly.

Radamel Falcao misses a great chance to score for Manchester United against QPR on Saturday. Mark Thompson/Getty Images
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Sometimes the only reaction to the impertinence of youth is to marvel.

Consider events in injury time at Loftus Road on Saturday.

Fed by Angel Di Maria, James Wilson broke clear and the 19-year-old striker, a veteran of three Premier League starts, had two teammates in more central positions.

One was Di Maria, the £59.7 million (Dh332.4m) signing who is the most expensive player in the history of English ­football.

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The other was Radamel Falcao, one of the great scorers of his generation and a man whose last permanent transfer cost Monaco £51m.

Wilson ignored the £110m pair, took a shot and, after Queens Park Rangers goalkeeper Robert Green parried the initial effort back into Wilson’s path, he shot again and scored.

When the youngster wheeled away to celebrate, Falcao froze and took a couple of seconds to move in Wilson’s direction.

He had needed time to shake off the sense of disbelief that the substitute had not passed.

But perhaps Wilson remembered the occasion when he did centre, seemingly giving Falcao an open goal, but the Colombian swiped at thin air and missed.

Replays showed Rangers defender Steven Caulker had got the slightest of touches to apply a vital, if barely visible, ­deflection.

Falcao was not at fault but the sight of the Colombian proving unable to finish from four yards seemed to sum up his sudden sense of impotence.

Such is the sad gulf between reputation and reality.

Falcao arrived at Old Trafford with a status as one of the world’s most feared forwards, the scorer of 155 goals in 200 games for Porto, Atletico Madrid and Monaco.

In 14 matches for Manchester United he has delivered three.

United coach Louis van Gaal, who has never been one to accept the judgements of others, dropped Falcao from the 18 for last week’s defeat to ­Southampton.

If that seemed a piece of point-scoring – the substitutes included three central defenders, but only one attacker – it is increasingly hard to argue he merits a place in United’s strongest side.

He was only recalled against Rangers because of Robin van Persie’s absence.

Their time together suggests that two players who lack pace and who want to operate as the main central striker are ­incompatible.

Van Persie is the superior footballer, while Falcao, rather than looking the finest centre-forward on the planet, is starting to resemble the late-period Fernando Torres, another Atletico Madrid striker whose powers deserted him along with his pace after injuries.

Much as Falcao insists his fitness problems are in the past, the suspicion grows that so, too, are his glory days.

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The knee injury he had last January seems one setback too many and because his striking instincts remain – his brain works quickly but his legs do not – he cuts a frustrated figure.

He is almost scoring goals, almost reaching crosses, almost beating defenders; his timing is fractionally off but fractions are everything in his business.

Perhaps, and this is the optimistic scenario, Falcao will be back to his best next season and maybe his loan spell at United will prove recuperative and ­restorative.

The only positive United should derive is that they did not pay £50m up front for a man who soon turns 29.

Rather they secured a one-season loan, at the cost of £6m, with an option to purchase for £44m.

If they do want to extend his stay at Old Trafford – and nothing suggests they should – they at least have the chance to renegotiate his fee: the Falcao of this season is not worth £44m.

His representative, Jorge Mendes, may insist Falcao would get in any team in the world, but this version would not.

The fact that the semi-fit Colombian is even at Old Trafford should show United that, as Manchester City, Blackburn Rovers and QPR can testify, it is dangerous when clubs develop too close a relationship with one agent and Mendes, whose clients include Di Maria, David de Gea and Cristiano Ronaldo, is more of a super-agent.

United were seduced by Falcao’s Hollywood looks, natural charm and enviable scoring record, and ignored the loss of his sharpness.

While his predatory knack means he may yet get a vital goal, the sense is that United would have been better off without Falcao and with Danny Welbeck, the man they traded away in September.

The Mancunian does not have the scoring pedigree but he offered pace, versatility and unselfishness, which Falcao does not.

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