THE anticipation surrounding Radamel Falcao’s debut for Manchester United has been akin to the wait for the biblical floods that had Noah hard at work.
The presumption is that the Colombian will wash away all the nastiness and negativity brought on by a season of under-achievement and a new campaign blighted by a start that has featured an early cup shock and just two points and two goals in the opening three league games. In the minds of the faithful, with a swell of Falcao-inspired goals, harmony is fated to return to Old Trafford, beginning this afternoon against Queens Park Rangers.
Louis van Gaal now has a bountiful cast of attacking options, with Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie, Angel di Maria, Juan Mata and Adnan Januzaj already on board. But, as some among those ranks have had to do previously, it is the 28-year-old, on loan from Monaco at a cost of £6 million, who will shoulder the greatest burden, that of expectation.
The Dutch coach is already rattling the piggy bank, looking ahead to next summer when United will be permitted to make the move permanent. It would cost them in excess of £40m but, after just one training session at Carrington, Van Gaal saw enough to vindicate his belief it would be money well spent.
“When you can hire or buy a player like Falcao then I don’t have doubts because he is, for me, one of the best strikers in the world. When you see his record it is unbelievable.
“At training he got one ball and it was in the goal. He confirmed it in his first session with me. But when I say that, I put too much pressure on him and that’s not good.”
But Falcao has experienced pressure before. A £48m record signing for Monaco last summer, he was a relatively late arrival to the European leagues, given his goal scoring record and undoubted potential. At only 13, he became to youngest ever debutant in the Categoria Primera B, Colombia’s second tier. He scored his first goal aged just 14 and then commanded a US $500,000 fee to move to River Plate in Argentina, who fought to keep him for as long as they could, reportedly rejecting multi-million pound offers from AC Milan, Fluminense and Aston Villa before he eventually joined Porto.
There he helped deliver Portuguese cup wins and league titles as well as Europa League success in 2010-2011, breaking the competition’s goalscoring record with 17 in 14 games.
When he moved to Atletico Madrid at the end of that campaign, he was the club’s record signing and became the first player in history to win two consecutive Europa League titles with two different teams.
It is that ability to deliver and deliver quickly that has Van Gaal and the Manchester United support placing such faith in him.
He’s the guy that Messi said he would love to play with one day but he is also the guy who refused to give up hope he would make it to the World Cup in Brazil, after sustaining a cruciate ligament injury, vowing to defy the odds and almost succeeding. But he is also the guy who, on being told he could join the squad despite not being 100 per cent, made the choice not to go, saying it felt wrong to take up a position and deny someone else.
Having scored 220 goals in 356 games, 104 in 139 since he moved to Europe, the self-belief is there but – and this is music to Van Gaal’s ears – he still wants to improve.
Strong in the air and two-footed, the man nicknamed Tiger in his homeland has explosive power and an ability to rip apart defences with the efficiency and hunger of a jungle cat. Considered a natural goalscorer and a traditional No.9, he squanders few chances. That is, perhaps, the happy by-product of backyard games against his father, Radamel Garcia, who was a professional footballer and defender in Colombia, and who, apparently, did not want to give up bragging rights to his son too easily.
The bragging rights have long-since been Falcao’s but he leaves it to others, such as Van Gaal, to dwell on such matters. It was the manager who talked about a new hierarchy in the United dressing room. And who asked the assembled press corps to show their appreciation for the new arrival at his first press conference last week. It was Van Gaal who was praising his football and lingual skills and he was the one singing from the rooftops about a CV that compared favourably with previous United players. There is no disguising he is a fan.
Falcao was more grounded but just as assured. He stated he wanted to improve as a player and make history with Manchester United. But he also addressed the issue of his knee, saying he had confidence in his physical form. With three goals in 217 minutes of football for Monaco in the past month, the mental form is also in rude health, apparently, with the Colombian stating that the self-belief garnered from goals is as important to him as any striker. But he warned that with so many new faces – as well as Falcao, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo could also make their debuts today – it may take time for the squad to gel.
“However, you are talking about about a lot of top quality players who are all very intelligent so I’m sure they will be bright enough to assimilate any plans or tactics the manager has in mind,” Falcao said.
If they can, they may just wash away the discord, and see sunshine replacing planes trailing banners and ill-intent in the skies above Old Trafford.