Well, who saw this coming?
All the pre-deadline day banter, and much of it as the final day began, was about Monaco’s star forward. But, to begin with, all the speculation (including on this site) pointed to Arsenal or Manchester City as being his most likely destination if he were to come to the English Premier League. Will Wenger, won’t Wenger? Can City offload Negredo to make room? These were the critical questions. Then, suddenly, Manchester United, embattled and in need of players (but strikers?) suddenly burst forward as the frontrunners. Falcao was on a plane to Manchester, but it was the red side that he was heading towards. Wenger was refereeing a charity match in Italy, and it had gone eerily quiet at the Etihad Stadium. What a stunning turn of events. A few hours went by. The awaited confirmation from Old Trafford wasn’t forthcoming, and as more hours passed and the Sky Sports News timer ticked down, the world grew tetchy. Most of the medical was reportedly completed in France, and Falcao hadn’t yet been spotted in Manchester. A Twitter furore erupted minutes before the deadline was due to expire, announcing that the Colombian had failed his medical. Failed his medical? A sense of panicked intrigue fizzed, sending waves of uncertainty rippling around the news media universe. The panic was quickly quashed by reports to the contrary. Crisis averted. Then the deadline passed, the timer reached zero.
But as we all know, the official end to the transfer period means very little when multi-million pound deals are there to be finalised. Danny Welbeck was announced as a £16 million signing for Arsenal. This left a definite vacancy at United, so… and then it came, mercifully, eventually. The image of Falcao holding up the red shirt, hair slicked, smiling broadly. A coup, if only on an initial one year loan.
So, now what? Three world class strikers, three enormous salary packages. This is a statement from the 20-times champions, but a slightly baffling one. This is a deal that will cost Manchester United £16 million, when the £6 million fee and Falcao’s £190,000 a week wages are added up. All this money for a year’s renting of a striker coming back from a serious knee injury. But, then again, how irresistible. Let’s try and look at both of the potential sides to this intriguing, and expensive, coin.
Pro: A proven record.
Falcao’s European goalscoring record is, in a word, astonishing. His first step up to top-tier football, at Porto; he scored 41 goals in 51 appearances. Then, at Atletico Madrid; 52 goals in 68 appearances. Then, the bizarre holiday, at Monaco; 11 goals in only 20 appearances. Overall, 104 goals in 139 appearances. Astounding. Knee injury aside, there is little to suggest he won’t continue this sort of strike rate in England. The name Falcao is a byword for goals, and goals can only be good for United. Just like Di Maria, Falcao can only improve this team, even if a selection headache is on the horizon.
Con: A recent injury.
I did say “knee injury aside” in the previous paragraph, but that’s in the past now. Falcao damaged his anterior cruciate ligament during a French Cup match in January of this year. It was a devastating blow to El Tigre, and one that would end his dreams of a home-continent World Cup with Colombia. Every measure had been taken to try and rehabilitate him in time, but he was eventually ruled out in June, with Colombia coach Jose Pekerman calling the day the decision was made “the saddest of his life”. He returned to first team action for Monaco only in early August, coming on as a substitute in an Emirates Cup pre-season match against Valencia. In a later match in the same tournament, he scored a tidy headed goal against Arsenal. But the jury is still out on whether the Colombian can get right back to the apex of his pre-injury form. He was an explosive runner, with a prodigious leap and a high impact style of play. Injuries to knees can often take an age to heal completely and, at 29, time isn’t really on his side. It all represents a risk for United. This is probably why only an initial loan deal was worked out.
Pro: A good two-for-one
Van Gaal has made a wily trade here, offloading Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez to make room for Falcao. Welbeck, while still young and potentially a future star, had been in the first team plans at United for a long time and was still yet to really cement his place. He was so often shunted out wide for a reason, and was never a fully assured finisher for his club. His pace and work rate was really his greatest asset. The time seemed right for him to go, and the reported fee that Arsenal paid has balanced the Falcao expenditure nicely. Hernandez was another who had plateaued in recent seasons. Was the Mexican ever likely to be more than a handy impact substitute? His loan dead with Real Madrid, though eye-catching, won’t shed any light on the question as he’ll certainly be a firm second choice behind Karim Benzema. Many a substitute appearance beckons for him at the Bernabeu. So the balancing of two strikers that have underwhelmed of late, for one of the most sought after strikers in Europe seems like a good trade. The club wage accountant agrees.
Con: Who will play?
The issue with trading in two bench players for a man who is a certain starter at nearly every club in Europe is a problem for United, because they have two other strikers that, until now, were also certain starters. Van Persie, when fit, is one of the best in the Premier League and is a favourite of van Gaal’s. Wayne Rooney, in addition to his monster contract that was awarded last season, was just made the club captain. Which one of them will happily (and their happiness is key) give way to the new loanee? As the old saying goes, it’s a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem. A formation that could accommodate all of them would mean Rooney playing in Juan Mata’s role, a role that doesn’t best suit him, and then, of course, Mata becomes displaced. Will the 3-5-2 formation be scrapped, after bedding it in for the whole of pre-season and the first three league matches? In other news, Daley Blind’s deadline day acquisition, which has been overshadowed by Falcao’s, is a smart one and Blind will certainly sure up a midfield that desperately needs reinforcement. But no centre backs, apart from Rojo? Either a formation change is imminent, or United will be left with a very lopsided squad.
Other upsides to this deal exist, as do other downsides, but we should reserve judgement until Falcao has had time to settle. One conclusion can be drawn from the day’s events however; United have just capped their most industrious transfer period ever with the most spectacular signing of the season.