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Why Radamel Falcao Deserves Another Season at Manchester United

Paul Ansorge@@utdrantcastFeatured ColumnistJanuary 29, 2015

STOKE ON TRENT, ENGLAND - JANUARY 01:  Radamel Falcao of Manchester United  celebrates scoring his team's first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Stoke City and Manchester United at Britannia Stadium on January 1, 2015 in Stoke on Trent, England.  (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)
Gareth Copley/Getty Images

While Radamel Falcao was warming up on the touchline ahead of his Manchester United debut against Queens Park Rangers, the excitement around Old Trafford was such that several fans in the ground missed Juan Mata's goal, as their attention was on the imminent arrival of the Colombian superstar.

His chant, a gleeful, life affirming sing-along, adopted from Atletico Madrid fans, rang round the stadium as he warmed up that day. It has done so fairly consistently ever since.

Falcao said of the "Lo lo lo" chant, per the Manchester Evening News"It’s magic. It sounds like thunder inside the stadium."

Jon Super/Associated Press

That excitement—also represented by the countless replica shirts with his name and number on the back being worn in the ground—was stirred up by the knowledge that United had signed one of the world's best players.

This was not simply marketing hyperbole—the kind that describes any player to have once worn a red shirt as a "club legend." No, this was a bona fide, authentic great of the modern game. His scoring record in Portugal and Spain, domestically and in European competition, was superb. He rivalled Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in the Liga scoring charts.

Unfortunately, the player who left Madrid for Monaco was not the one that arrived in Manchester. The best part of a year out with a knee injury had taken its toll on his match sharpness. He looked incredibly anxious to impress, sometimes appearing to snatch at chances through overeagerness, notably against Everton.

He broke his duck in that game and celebrated scoring as if his life had depended on it.

Jon Super/Associated Press

In spite of some ring rust, though, his initial impact was significant—an assist in his first two starts and a goal in his third.

Just as he was hitting his stride, a calf injury reduced him to bit-part status, and he did not start a game between 5 October 2014 and 20 December 2014.

He marked his return to the starting XI with a goal, followed up with an assist in the next game, missed some crucial chances against Tottenham Hotspur in the subsequent game, then scored again against Stoke City on New Year's Day.

He has not scored or provided an assist since, but nor has he been terrible. United's creative players have hardly been providing adequate service to their strikers. Falcao only had 24 touches of the ball against Cambridge United, a statistic that is symbolic of the Red Devils' lack of penetration in that game.

Matt Dunham/Associated Press

The Colombian has clearly been working hard but does appear to lack for some confidence, as evidenced by the uncharacteristic lack of incisiveness in his finishing. It is still, however, much too soon to write him off.

There have been too many glimpses of his quality shown, and he has reached such lofty heights during his career to give up on him after a mixed half-season. Especially since that half-season has been spent battling injury and finding a place in a side that has struggled to find an identity and playing style that suits its attacking players.

It would certainly be a gamble to extend his contract, given that he has not offered incontrovertible proof that he will get back to his unstoppable best. When making a gamble, there are key questions that have to be considered. First, it is important to consider whether there is a realistic chance of it paying off.

Jon Super/Associated Press

In this case, given that he has actually been quite productive in what has been a difficult season, there is some evidence to suggest there is. He has directly contributed to 37.5 per cent of the goals that have been scored in games he has started. This compares favourably with Robin van Persie (30.3 per cent) and is a close second to Wayne Rooney (38.71 per cent).

Ben McAleer of WhoScored.com put together a detailed look at Falcao's statistical contribution to United and concluded that "the loanee is providing a focal point in the attack, and his work off the ball suggests he brings more to the game than Van Persie."

His injury disrupted him, but he has come back and played consistently with no visible ill effects. He may have lost some of his explosive pace, but his footballing intelligence should be enough to see him learn to compensate for that.

Rui Vieira/Associated Press

If there is a chance of it paying off, the next question is about the value of the gamble. Is the upside big enough to risk the price of the bet? In this case, given Falcao's exceptional ability, the potential positives are certainly great enough to warrant the risk.

The final question is unanswerable to the outsider. It is important when taking a gamble to consider whether it is affordable. United must not over extend themselves in order to secure El Tigre's services.

If it is going to significantly limit their ability to invest in the squad in other areas, then it may be that discretion is the better part of valour and the beautiful dream of a successful Falcao at United will have to be let go. That is a decision for the people with detailed knowledge of United's books.

However, if there is room in the budget for a big gamble, this is one United should take. He has shown enough promise and has enough quality that ending his United adventure prematurely would feel like a missed opportunity.

Jon Super/Associated Press/Associated Press

When his chant is sung, it sounds like thunder. It is still possible that a spark of lightning will ignite his season and in three months time keeping him will not seem like a gamble at all. Even if it is, it is probably one worth taking.

All statistics per WhoScored.com