Seán O’Neill argues that Radamel Falcao’s time at Manchester United is nearing its conclusion, as the Colombian struggles for form in front of goal.
The biggest sporting spectacle of the year, Superbowl 49, takes place this weekend. The man the famous NFL trophy is named after, Vince Lombardi, once said, “The dictionary is the only place that success comes before work. Work is the key to success, and hard work can help you accomplish anything.”
As two major entities of world sport battle it out in Phoenix on Sunday, across the Atlantic another major franchise has an ongoing battle of its own as Manchester United struggle to re-instate themselves as one of the top sides in Europe.
If the Red Devils’ squad is looked at in the cold harsh light of day, they should be challenging their neighbours in Eastlands and Jose Mourinho’s men for the crown of best side in England.
The scars of last season remain though. From Champions to mid-table mediocrity was a fall from grace nobody expected, with or without Sir Alex Ferguson.
Despite the pressures and bedding-in period expected with Van Gaal, more could have been expected this season.
Proven, world-class talent has arrived along with contenders to the throne of the Old Trafford palace.
World Cup stars like Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind along with Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera added depth to side that had won the Premier League by 11 points just 15 months earlier.
Add the marquee signings of Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao and the Van Gaal revolution looked to be materialising.
The doubt that lingers around Old Trafford, and down to the AON Training Complex in Carrington, appears to be a product of the fraught relationship between former Dutch manager and his expensive Colombian front-man.
But the signing of the South American pair has failed to ignite things along Sir Matt Busby Way. The former Barcelona and Bayern Munich manager’s side remain uncertain of their fate as a top four place hangs in the balance.
After a cruciate knee ligament injury and playing in England for the first time, Falcao could be excused for a slow start. But goals will inevitably follow hard work and Van Gaal is currently questioning both.
After being left out against Southampton and the failure to complete a deal for the 28-year-old sharpshooter in January, sceptics see only one outcome from Falcao’s trial in the Premier League.
Van Gaal has nothing to gain by signing Falcao half-way through the season. The former Atletico Madrid and Porto man would only be delighted to sign a monstrous contract and move into the tranquil surroundings of the Old Trafford comfort zone.
The former Dutch manager knows he must retain control of his players. A major personality in the group such as Falcao cannot dictate to him. If he doesn’t earn his permanent place then why should he receive an extended deal.
The manager has at times displayed evidence that he isn’t anxious about securing the full-time services of the South American superstar. Being substituted early in games along with warning the bench has hindered the on-loan Monaco striker.
After these early teething issue though, Falcao appears to be receiving his opportunity to earn a long-term stay. He must grab it with both hands.
Three goals by February was not the return the Old Trafford faithful and Van Gaal were hoping for from a player who scored 83 goals in 113 games between 2011 and 2014.
The pressure of his ongoing examination at United appears to have gotten to Falcao though. The spotlight remains on him after shooting blanks along with a series of misses at QPR and at the lowly League 2 Cambridge United in the FA Cup.
If all parties have a desire to complete a deal between now and the summer, it will happen. But if El Tigre doesn’t justify his price tag of £43.5 million, along with his mammoth salary, his Dutch manager will not hesitate in letting him return to the principality along the French Riviera.
Manchester United as a club and the Colombian both enter a crucial few months to decide their respective fates for next season.
The double Europa League winner appears as if he wants to remain part of United’s rebuilding process. He stated this from the outset as he impressively spoke in English at his first conference after signing.
“I think Manchester United are building a big team this season and the future seasons and I would like to be here and part of this project.”
The question remains over how big an impact the knee injury which ruled Falcao out for over 6 months, ensuring he missed the World Cup, has had.
He appears laboured at times in his running. His burst of pace off the mark doesn’t bare a resemblance of the powerhouse who destroyed then European champions Chelsea with a hat-trick in the 2012 European Super Cup.
But like similar South American superstar Ronaldo proved, cruciate knee ligament injuries can be overcome.
As the Colombian marksman moves towards his 29th birthday he enters the peak of his powers. He must somehow find his form to fire a Manchester United side in purgatory back onto Europe’s biggest stage.
The question is, will he leading the line next season in the famous red, and more importantly for Louis Van Gaal, in the Champions League?
Vince Lombardi’s statement had no hidden messages. Success is simple. It’s all about working hard. Falcao must start now or face expulsion from Van Gaal’s master plan.
Sean O’Neill, Pundit Arena.