This World Cup has served up some wonderful moments in the last eleven days; the reigning World Champs falling to a spirited Mexico side, Switzerland’s emotional comeback against Serbia, Croatia’s humbling of Leo Messi’s Argentina…there have been a multitude of delicious sub-plots to invest in so far, and not a 0-0 in sight, either! Wonderful stuff.
Colombia added their own exciting narrative into the mix with an emphatic 0-3 win over Poland at the Kazan Arena. A win was seemingly essential for both sides, having lost their opening Group H fixtures against Japan and Senegal respectively, and Los Cafeteros looked a side revitalised as they tore into a sloppy Polish defence. Juan Cuadrado’s breakaway finish was lovely, and Yerry Mina’s first half header was nicely converted. But there’s surely no contest for goal of the night, not when Radamel Falcao’s involved.
The Colombia captain’s goal, having been slipped through by Juan Fernando Quintero wasn’t a spectacular finish; it was simply a lovely moment for a man who deserved one. The former Atletico Madrid and Chelsea striker missed out on 2014’s edition of this competition in Brazil after a nasty ACL injury whilst playing for AS Monaco, and his celebration against Poland seemed to exercise some significant demons. And, once again, he offered a reminder that he remains one of the most disappointing casualties of modern-day Manchester United.
It’s not like we aren’t used to seeing exciting attacking talent flounder at Old Trafford, almost as if the club is some sort of degenerative succubus that feeds on creativity. Adnan Januzaj, Angel Di Maria, Memphis Depay, Alexis Sanchez, Anthony Martial…expectations have been high for each of these players over the last few years, and few have lasted long. There’s varying degrees of circumstance to apply to each one, but with Falcao, rarely has there been such a collective will to see a player succeed, only for him to struggle so.
Falcao’s signature was a stunning surprise on deadline day of 2014, with ever-reliable coffee connoisseur Tancredi Palmeri breaking the news after receiving a tip-off from a Colombian journalist. United fans scarcely believed it until Falcao’s beaming face was pictured in a United shirt, and his sweet, eloquent MUTV interview aired. He seemed humble, charming and sickeningly likeable. After injury had curtailed his involvement in Brazil, it seemed a gamble to resurrect his career in the famously unforgiving Premier League, but few strikers in world football were as deadly as Falcao on their day, and given United’s need to rebuild after David Moyes departure, it was impossible not to be excited. Rarely has a loan signing provoked this much joy, as the club’s fans set about learning the player’s simple and addictive chant.
It’d be a stretch to say that this was as good as things got for Falcao, this excited generated by his arrival in Manchester. But his time at United was rough; the team were frequently disjointed under Louis van Gaal, with Di Maria and Robin van Persie two other high-profile casualties of the Dutchman’s style and demands. As mentioned, the decision to try and kickstart a career after a serious injury is always a tricky one, but as this season, and a subsequent year at Chelsea proved, the Premier League was a step beyond Falcao at this stage. Simply put, it was a level beyond him, and that certainly wasn’t through want of trying. The Colombian put himself about, as is the English expectation, and worked his socks off in the process, but the physicality, the speed and the intensity of English football seemed to be too much.
The image of Falcao trudging through an FA Cup tie with League One Preston North End represented a particularly sad low for his time at Old Trafford, and one that summed up his time alarmingly well.
It wasn’t all bad, at least. His first goal for the club, after several weeks of intense attempts and performances, was a wonderful moment, diverting a low drive by Di Maria over Everton ‘keeper Tim Howard in a 2-1 win at Old Trafford. As with Sunday night’s delicious toe poke beyond Wojciech Szczęsny, the goal was a release of tension, wildly celebrated and deeply enjoyed. Badge grabbing, fist-pumping, a slightly-sloppy-if-endearing knee slide and a bear hug from the ever-wonderful Juan Mata; perfect, really.
Falcao’s time at United only featured four goals, but each were worth savouring. At the risk of getting overly gooey-eyed over a player who was only at Old Trafford for a relatively brief loan spell, it’s rare that a player so intensely likeable and carrying such pedigree comes through United’s doors, and whilst it all ended in disappointingly flat fashion, his return to AS Monaco has at least brought with it a wonderful return to something approaching form; 54 goals in 79 appearances since 2016 isn’t to be sniffed at, even if it is in Ligue 1.
Here’s to you then, Radamel. It might have been a bit rubbish, but we still loved you at United.