Tag Radamel Falcao

Tag Radamel Falcao

Striking numbers

February 23, 2015 Tags: , , Reads 11 comments
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So many riches earned, so little return delivered. Manchester United’s three premier strikers – Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Radamel Falcao – cost the club some £60 million in transfer and loan fees combined. Old Trafford’s bean counters will add £43 million to that bill in the now very unlikely event that the Colombian signs permanently next summer. Factor in £830,000 per week – or more than £40 million per season – the club spends on wages between to the lavishly paid trio and United continues to make a stupendous outlay for a hugely disappointing campaign.

The raw numbers tell at least part of story behind United’s failed attack this season. Van Persie has 10 goals and two assists in 26 appearances across all competitions; Rooney nine and four in 25; and Falcao four and four in 19. If United’s ever-changing tactical shape is of little help to the trio, then nor does any  lay claim to personal excellence either. The Englishman’s shot accuracy, for example, is just 50 per cent this season, with Van Persie only three percentage points better and Falcao accurate from 63 per cent of shots taken. None compares favourably to Premier League top goalscorer Diego Costa, who has 17 league goals at a 71 per cent shooting accuracy.

Dig a little deeper and the trio has contributed too little to United’s attack beyond the combined 23 goals and 10 assists this season. Rooney has created a touch over 30 chances over the campaign, with the Englishman most frequently deployed at ’10’ or in an attacking central midfield role. It reflects even more poorly on Rooney that the 29-year-old fails to make the top 20 best passers by accuracy at United let alone in the country.

Van Persie and Falcao fare no better on the creative front. The Dutchman has fostered 23 opportunities this season and Falcao just 13. Neither is heavily involved in United’s build-up either – Van Persie averages just over 20 passes per game; Falcao less than that.

Beyond the numbers neither Van Persie and Falcao, nor Saturday’s pairing of the Dutchman and Rooney, have developed any real understanding. Rooney passed to Van Persie just six times during United’s 2-1 defeat in Wales; the former Arsenal forward returned the compliment on three occasions. Nine passes from a total of 581 United made on the day. It was just seven in total between Falcao and Van Persie when United beat Burnley 3-1 at Old Trafford last week. None of it speaks well of three supposedly world-class forwards that form the backbone of United’s broken strikeforce.

Of the trio only Rooney is guaranteed a place at the club next season – and that has far less to do with the Englishman’s performances over the past eight months than his perpetual status at the club. As a striker the Englishman’s output has declined in recent seasons. The former Evertonian scored 19 and made 17 assists under David Moyes; it was 16 and 13 two years ago; and 35 and five when Rooney was deployed up-front for the campaign in 2011/12.

In midfield Rooney has routinely disappointed, in part with average distribution, but mostly with an apparent inability to adapt to the ebb and flow of United’s game. It is not often, if ever, that United’s third highest record goalscorer controls a match from the centre of the park, with the player demonstrating an unnerving ability to resort to the ‘Hollywood Ball’ when in possession. It is an observation that is all-the-more frustrating for Ander Herrera’s frequent exclusion this season.

Van Persie, meanwhile, is in the midst of a 18-month-long slump. There was a short period over Christmas, a mini burst if you will, when the Dutchman scored five in four games. There have been just two goals in the past nine matches; one of those a penalty.

Indeed, the Dutchman’s performance in south Wales ranks among his least effective for the club. Of Van Persie’s seven attempts at goal only one hit the target, while the striker touched the ball on just 23 further occasions. The evidence suggests a permanent decline even if Van Persie recovers quickly from an ankle injury suffered at the Liberty Stadium.

Then there is Falcao. The Colombian remains a striker of rare pedigree, but one who is fundamentally struggling to recover from a second knee injury of the most devastating kind. Few begrudge the Colombian a little time in a season that has itself been disrupted by less serious injury, but eight months into a year-long loan at the club there is scant evidence that Falcao is the player of lore.

It is not even as if the 29-year-old’s goals this season – all four of them – have come against top class opposition either: Falcao scored against Everton, Aston Villa, Stoke City and Leicester City. His omission from Saturday’s line-up may well be the precursor to more frequent exclusion as the season winds down. The performances hardly merite special treatment. And whatever agent Jorge Mendes’ proclamation to the contrary, few of Europe’s top clubs will be prepared to pay the €55 million fee Monaco is seeking for the forward next summer.

Little wonder United ranks just fourth in the Premier League for goals scored this season despite the lavish expenditure on a clutch of strikers. It is, after all, some 12 goals behind rivals Chelsea and Manchester City. These are striking numbers.

Indeed, United’s failure at Swansea City on Saturday can be attributed, in part at least, to the profligacy of the team’s forward line. Van Gaal was moved to declare United unlucky in defeat, with the Reds securing a healthy proportion of possession, while the team created 18 chances. Perhaps the key statistic is this however: the visitors managed just three shots on target. It is the story of the season rather than a one-off observation. United ranks just eighth in the Premier League for shots-per-game and seventh for shots-on-target.

Yet, with a nod to those who have an eye for defending United’s errant forwards, Van Gaal’s team ranks just eighth in key-passes-per game, ninth in dribbles-per-game and 16th in fouls-against-per-game. If the forward line is under-performing then there is little attacking foundation elsewhere in the team. Angel di Maria suffered yet another anonymous game at the Liberty Stadium, while fellow creative talents Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj started the game on the bench.

Yet, while United enjoyed a positive spell for 30 minutes after the break, and possession translated into chances created, none were taken. And when it came to the crux, with the Reds chasing an equaliser deep into the game, Van Gaal’s men resorted to agricultural tactics rather than trusting that creative talent might fashion a chance. The Reds launched 50 long passes forward against Swansea – 12 of them coming after Bafétimbi Gomis scored Swansea’s second. It was truly desperate stuff.

Crucially, in the short-term there is little sign that either Falcao or Van Persie will hit a run of form. If may well cost United a place in the Champions League next season. Neither is likely to benefit if United’s Dutch manager continues to rely on the long ball.

Over the longer piece few will brook argument with the observation that Van Gaal should enter the market for one, if not more, new strikers next summer.

In defence of Radamel Falcao

February 6, 2015 Tags: Reads 8 comments
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In seven days the club would have to sell 75,715 pies to cover Radamel Falcao’s hefty £260,000 weekly wage, and therefore it comes as little surprise that those less patient Manchester United fans are calling for the Colombian’s head.

Signed on a season-long loan deal from AS Moncao, the Red Devils have the option to sign Falcao for £43.5 million at the end of the season. But the striker, who missed the World Cup due to knee ligament damage, has had limited impact during his £6 million loan deal so far, due partly to injury.

Having scored just four goals in 14 Premier League appearances, it’s fair to say the twice-Europa league winner is a long way off his former best. Indeed, the days of FC Porto and Atletico Madrid, for whom he cut a god-like figure, seem a very long time ago. Falcao boasts a frightening reputation, earned through hard-work and determination throughout the entirety of his career.

Following an impressive spell with Argentine outfit River Plate, the talented Colombian found himself snapped up by Primeira Liga side Porto in 2009 to replace outgoing star Lisandro Lopez. His impact was immediate, as he fast became one of Portuguese football’s most clinical strikers, netting 34 goals in all competitions.

Falcao’s form continued to improve over the next few seasons and after a blistering 2010-11 campaign, which saw his remarkable tally of 17 goals in 14 Europa League games break Jurgen Klinsmann’s European scoring record of 15 and fire Porto to glory in the competition, he soon established himself as one of the world football’s most formidable centre-forwards.

A €40 million switch to La Liga with Atletico Madrid ensued, for whom he scored 36 goals, including 12 in Europe, in an electric debut season. Undeterred by the pressure of being the most expensive player in the club’s history, he became the first player to win two consecutive Europa League titles with two different teams.

Nonetheless, his triumphs were far from over with Atletico. He signed off in style, with an equally impressive second – and final – season for the club. Falcao began the campaign with a magnificent hat-trick in his side’s 4-1 UEFA Super Cup victory over Chelsea, before inspiring Atletico to a win over fierce rivals Real Madrid for the first time in 14 years to seal the Copa del Rey.

Highlighted as the potential embodiment of Monaco’s rise to the highest reaches of European football – a transition that has ultimately failed to materialize – Falcao made the move to the principality in the summer of 2013 in a deal worth an estimated &eur;60 million. The Colombian’s single season in France saw him score on his Ligue 1 debut against Bordeaux before contributing with a further 10 goals in his next 18 appearances.

Nonetheless, disaster struck, as an anterior cruciate injury, sustained in January during a Coupe de France match against minnows Monts d’Or Azergues Foot, ensured he missed the 2014 World Cup finals in Brazil; a heart-breaking realisation.

Meanwhile, his subsequent rehabilitation has resulted in a less than assured start in the English top flight. Falcao has shown brief glimpses of excellence throughout his first seven months at Old Trafford. It’s evident that he can use both feet and is imperious in the air despite only being 5′ 10”; he also boasts pace, excellent attacking movement and impressive technique. Arguably, the only aspect lacking from his game is goals.

Fans are yet to see the infallible composure in front of goal that Falcao has become renowned for throughout his career, as, unfortunately for the Colombian, the chances have fallen few and far between. Even the most casual observer of the modern game will agree that the striker’s scoring deficiencies have transpired from fortunate goalkeeping and a genuine lack of opportunities.

In fact, Falcao has managed just 21 shots at goal all season – that’s just over one per match – from which he has hit the target an impressive 71 per cent of the time. It is also far fairer to judge the player on the games in which he has started, rather than those appearances he has made as a substitute. He has been involved in seven league goals (four goals and three assists) in nine starts for the Red Devils. In truth, the statistics ain’t that bad!

By comparison with Angel Di Maria, a man who also demands substantial wages, and a significant transfer fee to match – £59.7 million to be precise – Falcao’s performances have not been too far off the mark. The Argentine has only contributed to nine goals (three goals and six assists) in 15 appearances this season, despite averaging more than 20 minutes of extra playing time than his Colombian teammate, per game.

Falcao notched his fourth goal of the season in United’s 3-1 victory over Leicester City, the weekend just gone. This was by no means the most inspirational of strikes, but he showed excellent desire and movement before scrambling the ball into the back of the empty net. He was afforded just the single opportunity against the Foxes and he failed to disappoint, despatching with ease.

During the Dutchman’s post-match interview, Louis Van Gaal admitted Falcao has been in greater needed of a goal than club top scorer Robin Van Persie, who opened the scoring against Leicester.

“I am more happy that Falcao was scoring because Robin has already scored enough goals. Falcao needs that goal more than Robin. It is fantastic that they scored – and beautiful goals also,” the Dutchman said.

Clearly there is a genuine desire among the Old Trafford coaching staff, the players and even the majority of fans, to see Radamel Falcao succeed as a United player. Of course, there are those advocating for Falcao’s dismissal upon the expiry of his loan agreement this summer, but for the most-part, the feeling towards the Colombian is overwhelmingly positive.

But ultimately, it is the opinion of one man that matters the most – Van Gaal. The overseers at United have given the Dutch head coach huge room for manoeuvre – especially financially – since his arrival, and the chances are this will continue to be the case. Just as long as Van Gaal is able to maintain the club’s push for Champions League qualification.

Yes, Falcao’s time in England has largely seen the striker fail to live up to the reputation that proceeds him, but this is not to say he cannot return to former glory. Falcao has recovered from a career threatening injury twice previously, and on both occasions has comeback more prolific than ever – a sentiment that should fill the Old Trafford faithful with hope.

£43.5 million is a substantial outlay for any club, but relatively unconstrained by Financial Fair Play regulations – for now at least – it is a gamble United can afford to make; especially if it pays dividends. Falcao is a player with world class ability, it is just a question of whether or not Van Gaal envisages the 28-year-old as the man to lead his new-look team to glory.

United’s identity under scrutiny – twas ever thus

September 8, 2014 Tags: , , Reads 25 comments
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Identity. It is a topic on many lips in the wake of Manchester United’s spending spree this summer. United unloaded around £150 million on six high-class imports during the window, and yet the deal that generated most copy was Danny Welbeck’s departure to Arsenal. The end of more than 130 years of youthful tradition or the reaffirmation that United remains among the world’s élite?

On the face of it the answer is simple. In a global game United simply swapped Welbeck, an inconsistent academy graduate with 29 goals in 142 games, for a proven class in Radamel Falcao. The price differential says as much: Welbeck cost Arsenal £16 million, Falcao north of £45 million when he signs permanently next summer. There is, after all, no room for sentimentality in the hunt for success.

Yet, United’s is a history replete with the fruits of youth development and Welbeck the leading player in a contemporary academy cohort that is symbolic of more than simply ‘who is best on the pitch.’ Youth, some say, is United’s essence, its soul, the raison d’être. This was consistently Sir Alex Ferguson’s line during his 27-year tenure at Old Trafford.

The player’s sale, amidst United’s conversion to the world’s leading sports marketing platform in a globalised brand economy, says much for the club’s priorities – the maintenance of commercial interests remains just as paramount as success on the pitch.  Or in other words, while Falcao represents an upgrade for Louis van Gaal’s team, the Colombian’s profile also serves to feed a commercial entity more voracious for star names than ever.

It is this economic evolution of the club, the game and those that follow it that feels uneasy for many. Perhaps, even, this observation is at the root of criticism from within, even if naked resentment is the fuel from without. Not everybody is comfortable with United’s quickfire conversion for parsimony to plunder.

“Is it better to look at the instant rather than the future?” said former assistant manager Mike Phelan last week. “It is a difficult one because youth is always the future. Maybe this is the start of a new way of doing things at Manchester United and maybe that is the way football is going.”

United reacted strongly to the accusation that youth has taken a back stage, briefing media that 12 academy players are registered in the club’s wider Premier League group. More, indeed, than any other club in England. In James Wilson, Tyler Blackett, Reece James, and Jesse Lingaard, Van Gaal has already demonstrated faith in youngsters this season.

It is a familiar line. The difference between United and the club’s competitors? “Not spending fortunes on proven goods,” said Sir Alex in 2012. “That’s the difference between United and the rest – we can play 18-year-olds because it’s part of our history. It’s like a destiny for us. No other clubs can do that.”

Yet, there are also powerful forces driving the club to a future that is tied not to the academy but global recognition. Indeed, the club’s recent sponsorship deals with Chevrolet and adidas will push United’s annual revenue beyond £500 million in the coming years. Add more than 30 further global and regional sponsors to the roster and the hunger for success may now only be part of United’s culture. Stardom drives United’s commercial needs and, perhaps, future player recruitment too.

It is an observation that has led to the conclusion in some quarters that United will now seek out the most expensive players on the planet. Far cry from the austerity of the first eight years of Glazer ownership when debt bit deep into United’s investment and Ferguson ran his team on a comparative shoestring.

But with commercial revenues on the uptick, and debt interest at circa £20 million per year, executive vice chairman Ed Woodward has many reasons to feel emboldened in the market.

Further cash is seemingly available in January too, with potential recruits said to include Kevin Strootman that will take the club’s annual spend beyond £200 million for the year, including Juan Mata last winter. No longer a burden, so goes the spin, player recruitment is now an investment in United’s brand equity.

In the midst of this discussion it is easy to forget that Welbeck is also a very fine player, not just a local recruit. The Longsight-born striker has never been one to lead the goalscoring charts, perhaps, but those who champion the 23-year-old’s cause point to other qualities beyond goalscoring. Indeed, six goals in as many games last Christmas point to a player capable of scoring more frequent if given the opportunity in a more central role.

“He’s a real threat to defenders and, if Arsenal use him right, he will be very dangerous for them,” said former United defender Rio Ferdinand.

“I cannot believe United let him go, especially to Arsenal. That seems mad to me. Danny has everything to be a top player. English football has yet to see what he can really do because he hasn’t been getting a run of games. At Arsenal, he will be the main man and I have no doubt he will flourish.”

Welbeck’s departure, together with a dozen other players, including Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Ryan Giggs, has come amid the most rapid evolution in United’s playing squad for two decades.

Indeed, Van Gaal’s challenge – to knit together what is effectively a new team – is one that no United manager has faced since Ferguson sold Mark Hughes, Andrei Kanchelskis and Paul Ince in 1995. The following season Ferguson integrated Nicky Butt, David Beckham, Gary Neville and Paul Scholes into the United side to much success.

Yet, in the years before 2005 Ferguson also broke the British transfer record eight times, just has Sir Matt Busby had done for Dennis Law in the wake of the ‘Babes’ destruction at Munich in 1958. Youth and investment – hasn’t the club always played both games? Scrutiny, too, has always followed.

Yet, as the Glazer family’s parsimony cut into the United’s competitiveness from 2005-2013 it was also Ferguson who left a squad in far from “the strongest possible shape.”  The Scot stood back in retirement and watched Rome burn. The club, it seems, is now trying to rebuild in a day.

“It is a change of direction for United letting one of their own go,” adds Ferdinand. “Traditionally, this was not their way, adding so many players in a short period of time and having such a radical overhaul. Normally, as with me when I joined in 2002, it was about adding one piece to the jigsaw.

“Some fans still romanticise about their success and the way they brought through so many home-grown players. Unfortunately, you can’t always have that fairytale. Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria are world-class players and they have added quality in Anders Herrera, Luke Shaw and Daley Blind, but I do wonder if they will live to regret not keeping Danny.”

That story will play out in the year to come; Welbeck’s performance at Arsenal and Van Gaal’s ability to get the best out of £150 million worth of new talent.

As ever it will not only be United’s success on the line, but the club’s ‘identity’ too. Twas ever thus.