From being heralded as one of the most feared strikers in the world to the damaged husk that he has become, it has been quite the couple of years for Chelsea’s Radamel Falcao.
The latest development in the Colombian striker’s wretched decline came early this weekend when Monaco vice-president Vadim Vasilyev confirmed that although the club had looked into the possibility of bringing Falcao back to his parent club, the player’s injury made such a deal impossible.
The only update Chelsea interim manager Guus Hiddink could give on said injury is that it is “very serious”, leading to speculation that, one way or another he has played his last game for Chelsea.
Even if fit, one wonders what Monaco have seen in the past 18 months that they would even want him back.
If Falcao’s struggle was limited solely to West London it could superstitiously be put down to the cursed nature of Chelsea’s number 9 shirt – previous inhabitants over the past decade or so have included the generally subpar Mateja Kežman, Hernán Crespo, Steve Sidwell, Khalid Boulahrouz, Franco Di Santo and Fernando Torres – but this a problem that transcends clubs, leagues, even continents. Before he has even turned 30, it appears that El Tigre has been tamed.
The train of thought that led José Mourinho to even consider bringing Falcao in on loan last summer – after the season he had just endured at Manchester United – must be called into question. Was it a show of arrogance by Mourinho – to rebuild the striker where Louis van Gaal had failed? Was it seen as a cheap option as a back-up for Diego Costa? Or was it simply Falcao’s (and Mourinho’s) agent Jorge Mendes sticking his finger in yet another pie?
The mechanics of third-party ownership and the influence of Mendes aside, Falcao’s has been a career where he has been on the verge of true greatness only to see it snatched cruelly from him, a cruciate ligament injury facilitating the crushing descent through the quicksand of mediocrity in which he now finds himself.
So is it a mental problem or a physical one? Is it his body or his mind that is betraying him?
Realistically, it’s probably both. Strikers are a sensitive breed and as much as anything else, confidence begets goals and vice versa. The visualisation of having the ball and blocking out everything else apart from the primary basic objective of putting the ball at his feet into the net in his field of vision, and doing this over and over, is what separates the top strikers from the rest. As former Liverpool manager Bill Shankly once said:
“A lot of football success is in the mind. You must believe that you are the best and then make sure that you are.”
Falcao was at point one of the most predatory, instinctive finishers on the planet – during his spells at Porto and Atlético he was simply unplayable at times – and while the ACL injury will have hampered him physically to some degree, the extent to which his form has dropped indicates a much bigger problem that fitness alone will not rectify.
In every instance since January, 2014, when he has appeared to reach rock bottom, the floor has given way to uncover a whole new level of torture for Falcao.
The injury itself was bad enough because it meant he would miss the remainder of the 2013/14 season. The timing of the injury was such that it gave him little hope of being fit for the World Cup, and in many ways having a little hope was worse than nothing because it made the final decision for him not to participate (which wasn’t made until two weeks before the tournament started) all the more devastating.
It could be argued, and has been in some quarters, that this was the catalyst for everything that was to follow.
His big move to Man United was fraught with fitness issues and dips in form, culminating in a humiliating and confidence-shattering demotion to the Under-21 squad at the back-end of the season.
Psychologically it might be fair to say he has not had the support he needs, the proverbial arm around the shoulder, during his time in England. Van Gaal, a man who frankly doesn’t “do” human emotions, was never going to be able to restore the confidence of an emotionally broken superstar, while he arrived at Chelsea just as Mourinho, who in another era could have been just what he needed, was burning internal bridges with everyone around him.
His next move will be an interesting one; if he does end up going to a lesser league or at the very least into a stable, lower-pressure environment, there is a hope, however small it might appear to be right now, that he can rescue something from the dying embers of his career.
He became something of a scapegoat for Colombia fans during last year’s Copa América and while it is clear manager José Pékerman remains a fan of his former talisman, Colombia’s vast array of strikers means that by the time the next World Cup rolls around in 2018, the then 32-year-old Falcao will have to be in some degree of form to merit his place in being included in the squad (should Colombia even qualify).
Whether or not he even plays again this season, it’s become plainly apparent that his time in the Premier League is destined to end as a failure. In much the same way as the likes of Andriy Shevchenko and Fernando Torres before him, where once he electrified he now only dampens.
A potentially depressing conclusion for a talent that deserved far better.
Simon O’Keeffe, Pundit Arena
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