COMMENT: Chelsea are thought to be close to securing a deal for the Colombian forward but Mourinho should look to get more from his January signing instead
By Peter Staunton in Santiago
Even the most ardent Colombia supporters are beginning to agonise over Radamel Falcao. Once, they watched the player who they believed to be the very best striker in the world. He has plainly not been the same player since joining Monaco and his cruciate knee ligament injury in the run up to last year’s World Cup effectively ended his prime.
Colombia fans once would once have excused anything Falcao did on the pitch. If he misplaced a pass, took a bad first touch or was bullied off the ball with his back to goal then they would think “don’t worry, it’s Falcao.” Now, as those passes go further astray, those first touches run further from his feet and that upper body strenth betrays him, they accept the reality of the situation. Their captain is done. They’ll whisper it but will admit that he scarcely deserves to start any more. Yes, he is their top scorer but Jackson Martinez appears to be a far better option these days while Carlos Bacca deserves his shot as central striking option.
Falcao, since his injury in January 2014 has scored five goals for Colombia; one each against El Salvador, Kuwait and Costa Rica and a double against Bahrain. He had one shot in 90 minutes against Venezuela on Sunday in the first match of the Copa America. Now if his most loyal fans have as good as given up on him, what is it that makes Jose Mourinho believe that he can find the best in Falcao after securing a season-long loan move to Chelsea?
That the two share a representative in Jorge Mendes is more than co-incidental and it will no small favour to the Portuguese superagent that his most high-profile client has found himself yet another high-profile club willing to take a punt despite the overwhelming evidence that his day has come.
Falcao scored only four league goals but those figures barely scratch the surface of his struggles. He was hardly on the same page as his Manchester United colleagues all season long. Balls bounced off him, he made the wrong runs. Had a youth team player come into the team and performed as Falcao did, then Louis van Gaal would be sending him straight out on loan. As it stands, Falcao has landed on his feet and secured a move to the English champions.
“It really hurts me that people in England believe that Falcao is the guy they saw at Manchester United,” Mourinho told DirecTv Sports last week. “He’s a player I know, one that I’ve followed since Atletico Madrid and if I can help Falcao arrive at his level I will do it.”
Despite what he says, Mourinho has no intention of making Falcao his starting forward next season. He never plays with two strikers at Chelsea and Diego Costa, should he stay, will remain first choice. Falcao will feature as a substitute or replacement in the lower-priority matches. Mourinho will not have a lot of time, then, to find the elusive Falcao of Porto and Atletico Madrid. Nonetheless, he has made the pledge to nurture him back to form. Anyone who watched how Fernando Torres continued to flunk under the Special One would feel rightly skeptical about that one.
Instead of flogging the dead horse that is Falcao, Mourinho would do well to pay attention to the Toothless Tiger’s compatriot, Juan Guillermo Cuadrado. To watch the winger in action for Colombia is a joy. He would have fitted seamlessly into the carefree attacking Colombian unit which boasted Freddy Rincon, Faustino Asprilla and Carlos Valderrama in the 1990s, widely seen as the best Colombia of all time.
He feints, shimmies and dribbles but it is all done with a purpose. He goes by defenders, drawing “olés” from his adoring support like you’d expect at a bullfight when the Matador dodges the bull with his cape. It is not superfluous. It is done with the express intention to find the right place to cross the ball in or play a through pass. Purposeful elegance.
Cuadrado has played this type of electrifying football for as long as Falcao has been inefficient. For Colombia and Fiorentina, that is, because under Mourinho his club football has regressed. There has even been talk about him moving back to Italy with Inter barely six months after joining from la Viola.
“Cuadrado is not going anywhere this summer,” Mourinho has said of the 27-year-old. “People don’t know Cuadrado yet, I have seen him many times when we were both in Italy, me at Inter and him at Udinese.
“Because of that I have a lot of hopes for him for next season. I hope in the Copa America he can regain his self-esteem, his ego and that he has that joy of playing.”
The fact of the matter is he has contributed one assist in his time at Chelsea and has, at best, appeared to be a time-wasting substitute for Mourinho and no more. He is in danger of being marginalised. He is in danger of having his career stand still.
Vincenzo Montella built his formidable attacking unit at Fiorentina around the considerable talents of Cuadrado. To extract the best from him, he needs to be a focal point, as he is for Colombia and was for Fiorentina. Watch Colombia’s Copa America defeat to Venezuela again and you will see quite clearly that Cuadrado was the only attacker worth his reputation.
That is the sort of performance that Mourinho must coax from him next season. To neglect him would be deterimental to Chelsea’s chances of taking the Premier League title again; to do so in favour of finding Falcao, the man that isn’t there, would be downright foolish.