United needed to look elsewhere at the end of the transfer window.
Manchester United’s frenzied deadline day signing of Colombian striker Radamel Falcao, on loan from AS Monaco, wasn’t entirely supposed to turn out this way – when they rushed him past the Sky Sports News cameras and into Carrington, those in the corridors of power at Old Trafford wouldn’t been praying that it was the pre-injury Falcao that they had signed, rather than the ineffectual player that has pulled on the red kit so far this season.
Signing Falcao always seemed to be an odd move from a purely footballing perspective. United, clearly, needed to strengthen their defensive options and bringing in the Colombian made them even more top heavy, even more of a crudely built footballing equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters. There is an argument that, when a player with the quality of Falcao becomes available, a club of United’s stature cannot pass the opportunity by – but that is not the philosophy on which the club’s success over the last two decades has been built.
Whilst it is true that Sir Alex Ferguson was happy to spend big on established superstars on occasion, with the likes of Rio Ferdinand and Robin van Persie immediately springing to mind, it was always done to either fill a clear gap in the side or, in the case of Wayne Rooney, to secure a player who could become a mainstay of the team for a decade. This reasoning does not apply to Falcao, a player who operates in an almost identical fashion to van Persie and who is no longer young enough to be considered as one for the future. It was a decadent, illogical purchase by a football club who have become insecure since their fall from grace under David Moyes, not longer confident enough to operate in the way that marks them out as a little bit different.
The fact that signing Falcao also sounded the death knell for Danny Welbeck made the move even more absurd. Whilst Welbeck has his flaws as a footballer, he is both unlikely anything that United have on their books, offering a level of raw pace and intelligent link up play that is not offered by their current crop of strikers, but is also one of their own. The sort of player that Ferguson would always keep in his squad, keeping the club secure in their own identity. If sacking their first manager in 25 years was an indicator that United are now just another massive football club, the dual deals for Falcao and Welbeck were the wax on the envelope.
That Falcao is now being troubled by a succession of niggling injuries should be no surprise – the horrific injury that he suffered in a French cup tie in January can end careers and is a notoriously difficult one to return from. To commit the amount of funds that United have on a player with such an uncertain physical future was a huge risk and one that is yet to pay off. It would be a surprise if United do not have a team of extremely expensive lawyers looking at whether they are, in fact, obliged to sign him permanently at the end of the season after all.
Clubs signed much worse players than Falcao in the summer, Aston Villa even bought Joe Cole, but there was no buy in world football that made as little sense as the Red Devils’ decision to bring Falcao to Old Trafford. They are now paying for it, both in terms of a squad lacking in balance and cohesion, but also in the fact that their halo has slipped and the club is no longer viewed with the same aura as it was during Ferguson’s time in charge. Louis van Gaal has a huge rebuilding job on his hands, but if he is to be successful in remoulding a Manchester United side for a new era then lessons must be learned from the summer and a different approach taken to player recruitment. Falcao will, in the future, be viewed as a monument to excess and a lack of thought. An Andriy Shevchenko for our times.