Man Utd to return Radamel Falcao: replacements and reflections

Manchester United (9/2 with Coral to win the 2015/16 Premier League) will not be making misfiring forward Radamel Falcao’s season-long loan at Old Trafford permanent, with the goal-shy striker set to return to parent club Monaco.

“Falcao is a top professional and a good human being. I would like to wish him well for the future,” said United coach Louis van Gaal in a statement on the Red Devils’ website.

In what proved to be a costly and fairly fruitless experiment, Falcao arrived having missed the 2014 World Cup with Colombia, as he recovered from a serious knee injury, and failed to recapture his previous prolific form.

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Expectations were high for the potent forward, who is the Coffee Growers’ joint all-time top scorer and had hit an impressive 155 goals over 199 appearances for former clubs Porto and Atletico Madrid plus Monaco, since moving from Argentine giants River Plate in 2009, to become one of Europe’s most formidable frontmen.

It would be unfair to dub Falcao’s stint in Manchester red an outright flop, as the tenacious attacker’s tireless and tiger-ish performances certainly contributed to the club’s fourth place Premier League finish and snatching of the final Champions League spot.

Quite the fan favourite, there was palpable disappointment and frustration in the air at Old Trafford whenever hesitancy, a stumble, or lack of sharpness saw Falcao fluff his lines, rather than antagonism. There was certainly an awareness that here was a fallen giant, lacking in confidence but not quality.

However, despite his terrific toiling efforts, eagerness to hold up the ball and track back, a goal haul of just four in 29 for Man Utd was clearly sub par for the price mooted.

Falcao’s United highlights:

Perhaps perceptions would have been different had United shelled out the rumoured £43.2m required to acquire his services, although there is still every chance Falcao can return to greatness.

Having just recovered from an extended stint on the sidelines, perhaps a work-in-progress United side struggling to forge a new identity and adapting to Louis van Gaal’s precise playing philosophy was not the best stage for a superstar striving for form and fitness.

All of United’s recognised senior strikers failed to hit previous heights this season, as injury-stricken Robin van Persie and skipper Wayne Rooney combined to contribute a paltry 22 between them, so Falcao was not alone in his difficulties, though quite simply he failed to convince.

Since arriving and shipping out squad players such as Javier Hernandez and Danny Welbeck, it has been clear Van Gaal takes no prisoners, and certainly no passengers.

With rumours of a reunion with Atleti doing the rounds, or a lucrative switch to another Premier League club prepared to take a punt on him, there is hope yet that Falcao, at 29, still has enough gas left in the tank to find success elsewhere.

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Clearly missing that explosive extra yard of pace, and not quite as strong on the ball as his previous bullish performances used to illustrate, the once powerful poacher has work to do if he is not to become a pale imitation of his former self, with unflattering parallels drawn with fellow Atletico old boy Fernando Torres.

As for United, rumour has it Van Gaal has plenty of funds in the coffers once again. Though, this time, if he is to make a permanent purchase, the Dutch coach must show more caution and identify a player who is a perfect fit for his system.

On too many occasions this term, square pegs have been shoehorned into round holes, and Man Utd, focused on a new possession-based style have lacked speed and incisiveness up top. The arrival of Memphis Depay should help solve those problems but, when compared to the to top class Barcelona triumvate of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez, it is clear the Red Devils need reinforcements to return to the next level.

To allow Rooney to play in his preferred position up top, flexible forwards who can play wide or deeper are required. Serie A star Paulo Dybala looks destined for Juventus now, but there are an array of interesting and adaptable attackers potentially available this summer.

Lyon and Ligue 1 top scorer Alexandre Lacazette would be a shrewd purchase, while Villarreal starlet Luciano Vietto could be plucked away from Spain for a fee of around £14.5m if reports of his release clause are correct.

Relatively young and unproven they may be, but as history shows, the Red Devils success stories are usually players bought and developed for a modest fee, rather than pre-established and expensive superstars.