There has been much talk on this topic over the last few days. Many people were surprised to see Radamel Falcao omitted from the side selected to face Southampton and perplexed by his omission from the substitutes list as well. It was inevitable that in the aftermath of a defeat journalists and fans would ask about the player’s omission and almost as inevitable that the United manager would give short shrift to those queries.
Putting aside this one game the question persists; does the player have a long term future at the club?
The decision to sign Falcao on the last day of the summer transfer widow was greeted with great glee by United fans and the player instantly became a cult hero, even before he had played a game. The reason for this was transparent; here was a big name player, one of Europe’s leading goal scorers in recent years signing for the club. United fans were fed up of hearing other clubs fans and the press questioning whether United could attract top players without Champions League football. Well here was one. Ah yes, some said, but he has only signed for you because Monaco need to move him on and no one else will take a gamble on his fitness after last season’s prolonged absence through injury. In Falcao’s case they had a point, but that doesn’t explain how United were able to persuade di Maria to sign for the club.
We digress. The point that must be made is that the decision to sign Falcao on a loan deal with an option to buy was perfectly logical. It gives the club, and indeed the player an opportunity to see if they are suited to each other and critically gives United the chance to access whether the player has lost anything as a consequence of the injury; is he still the real deal. The loan deal then could be seen as a long audition, an opportunity for the player to demonstrate his worth and earn a longer term contract via his performances.
The player has enjoyed a stuttering start at the club, an early injury has limited his match time and van Gaal insistence that players train for a period and build up “match rhythm” via a gradual reintroduction to games has further restricted playing opportunities. But if you look at the player’s statistics from the time he has spent on the pitch they compare favourably with others. Our impression from watching the player was that he doesn’t contribute that much outside the box and is at his best when finishing instinctively close to goal, all his three goals have come from single touches inside the box; a prod home to an angled cross against Everton, a powerful close range header at Aston Villa and a fox in the six yard box strike at Stoke. But actually this isn’t accurate. We had noted on a couple of occasions that he moves well to create space for others and that he was beginning to co-ordinate his movement with van Persie, he does contribute outside the box although he does have the tendency to allow the ball to run away from him at times, (he sometimes seems to need more space than is available giving players the opportunity to whip the ball away). To be balanced you might say that he hasn’t set the world on fire and his performances have been mixed; a bit like the team as a whole then.
The statistics above compare the player’s contribution with those of the other players who have most commonly featured as a striker this year. As you can see the figures are fairly similar across the players, (although we must point out that Rooney has played as a midfield player on several occasions and this will distort his figures). The press have made much of the fact that Falcao has only scored three goals so far, but these statistics are per 90 minutes played. His goal average per 90 minutes bares comparison, he has more shots per 90 minutes and his shot accuracy is actually significantly better.
The stats below look at the player’s general contribution rather than just in terms of goals. This is where Rooney’s period as a midfield player distorts things the most with his number of passes being significantly higher than Falcao and van Persie’s as you would expect. His pass completion rate bares direct comparison to his teammates and interestingly he has delivered significantly more assists and created more chances for other. So he does make a contribution beyond goals.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the player’s agent has entered the debate about his future this week. He is hardly a disinterested bystander and we are in the middle of a transfer window. The audition is only half completed however and speculation about the player’s future is just that. None of us know whether van Gaal will deem that the player has passed his audition next summer; we will just have to wait and see, “because it is just like this” as the manager might say.
In truth it is like that for every player, new to the club or not. Van Gaal moved lots of players on last summer, but that doesn’t mean that he has decided that those that he kept are good enough. Maybe he kept some players that he hadn’t made up his mind about because he wanted to have a longer look before deciding. In that sense maybe this season is one long audition for the whole squad, with the prise being a role in United’s future success?
It isn’t just Falcao who is under scrutiny.