The curious case of Radamel Falcao

When the news of Radamel Falcao’s surprise deadline day move broke I stared at my mobile with a feeling of discontent. My preconception was that Falcao was a mercenary. His choice to join Monaco over one of Europe’s elite clubs told me all I needed to know about him. To place a cherry on top of the worrisome cake, he just recovered from an ACL tear. I wasn’t optimistic, to say the least.

As I feared, Falcao was ineffective and plagued by injuries. His build-up play was questionable at best, his goal scoring record only slightly more respectable, and his future at United looking increasingly bleak.

Yet, despite his performances I wasn’t annoyed, upset, or even frustrated with him. To my surprise I was frustrated for him, and even felt sympathetic toward him. Falcao had endeared himself to me.

How had this happened? He wasn’t the cold-blooded mercenary I expected him to be. He seemed a cheerful and pleasant bloke, worked his socks off for the team, and was passionate down to the core.

Despite every piece of tangible evidence suggesting the reverse would be true, the fans love the Columbian. For whatever reason, we don’t see the bad touch or the wayward pass, we only see the effort. We rejoice with him when he scores and share his pain when he misses.

Conversely, when Robin van Persie, who’s played for the club over 100 times, scored almost 60 goals, and dragged the team to a league title, plays poorly it’s an entirely different narrative. No punches are pulled when Van Persie fails to impress, yet when Falcao performs equally unsatisfactorily the fans are more inclined to give him a consoling hug than a right hook.

When Falcao scores, we sing his name. When Falcao misses, we sing his name. When Van Persie scores, we sing Falcao’s name.

I can’t recall a time in recent history in which the fans have wanted a player to do well to such a degree. Every time Falcao squares up to goal, we hold our breath and will him to score. The potential for Radamel Falcao at United is astronomical; he could quite literally reach a Cantona-esque standing with the fans.

So, what is it about El Tigre that evokes this unwavering desire for him to do well?

It’s an absurdly strange case and one in which it’s difficult to point to a specific factor. He didn’t come through the youth system, he isn’t English, and he hasn’t played particularly well. Of course, he works hard, but so do others who fail to receive a comparable amount of support.

Is it the image of Falcao rather than the man himself? Is the allure of a longhaired, Columbian centre forward simply producing a level of man-crush that we haven’t experienced before?

Or if it isn’t a strange feeling of homoeroticism, maybe it’s the fact that we know he can perform at a level alien to what he’s shown thus far. We’ve seen the highlight reels and the wonder goals, so maybe we’re sympathizing with the frustration and pain of a player we know can perform so much better.

Regardless of why we hold Radamel Falcao in such high regard, the daunting truth is that if he doesn’t begin to show Louis van Gaal why he’s worth keeping around, no amount of hair will convince the club to spend upward of 60 million pounds on him.

The curious case of Radamel Falcao is an unfinished story, and it remains unclear whether it will end with a cult hero or a disappointing flop.

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