In my youth I was renowned locally as a prolific goalscorer in Sunday League football. True story. I did score a lot of goals, mainly because I was exceedingly quick (to the extent that I would get random Joes in the pub betting me large sums of money that they could beat me in a foot race) and a very decent finisher. But there was a reason I was scoring on a pitch in the park rather than in front of a crowd of at least 500 people on a Saturday: 99% of the time I had the touch of an elephant. This didn’t stop me scoring some memorable goals. On one occasion a long goal-kick was headed on by my fellow striker. Twenty yards from goal I controlled the ball in mid air and in one movement volleyed in to the bottom corner. I also recall scoring a Mark Hughesesque scissor kick when the ball was crossed in above head height. Neither goal would have looked out of place in the Maracana. Only the other 99.9999999999% of things I did on a football pitch prevented me from becoming a famous and wealthy international footballer, because Dear Reader, I was, relatively speaking, otherwise pretty sh*t at it.
Which brings me on to Lo Lo Lo Lo Lo, Radamel Falcao. We all, as United fans, want him to become the player he was and to rip sh*t up in the Premier League. Unfortunately he’s clearly not that player anymore. Hell, he’s closer to Carlton Cole. Against Sunderland on Saturday he was, once again, the wrong side of p*ss poor. His first touch looked rather like mine did all those years ago, as did his ball retention. Again. But then, over an hour in, with the Colombian set to be subbed for Marouane Fellaini, the ultimate indignity, he controlled a difficult ball around the penalty spot and with his second touch spun John O’Shea, leaving our former cult hero with little choice but to tug him back. Penalty and a red card for Wes Brown. Obviously. Wayne Rooney scored and a laboured United got the breakthrough that had thus far eluded them due to a combination of bad luck and poor approach play. Louis Van Gaal, noting that Falcao had been utter garbage prior to that, substituted him anyway, prompting boos from sections of the Old Trafford crowd.
Odd, I thought, when a player had performed so poorly bar one moment of brilliance. But then it dawned on me. These boos, it seemed to me, were multifaceted. There were obviously those who felt sorry for him and believed that his moment of brilliance meant that he deserved better than to be hooked for a sh*te giant mushroom heed. But mostly, I think, it was fuelled by the belief that if the Colombian were given half an hour against an appalling Sunderland side with ten men then he might score and the player of old might resurface and unleash the Wrath of Radamel on the Premier League. It’s a romantic image, but one based on nothing but blind faith. Later, when perusing a popular United online forum, one poster stated that that one moment of brilliance demonstrated that Falcao’s ‘world class talents’ were still in there. You don’t just stop becoming a top level player, opined another, ignoring all of those many examples of injury robbing great talents of their abilities.
These arguments are pure folly. Apart from the fact that he has scored four times this season and after each continued to be as sh*te as he was beforehand, even bobbins players are capable of doing something rather special every so often. In the opposition lineup on Saturday was every United fan’s favourite cult hero John of the Shea, of nutmegging Figo fame, who sublimely chipped Manuel Almunia at Highbury with his ‘wrong’ foot. Back in the day, there was me in the park doing a passable impression of Marco Van Basten. Sometimes bad players do sublime things. The key is how often they do it. The last time Falcao was sublime was at Leicester in THAT match. I spend a small part of every day in a state of mild arousal, fantasising that he might explode into form, but then I come to my senses and realise that as hard as he tries and as nice a man as he appears to be, he’s just a busted flush and that’s why LVG canned him. Again. It’s sad, but it is what it is. It’s a hard knock life.
It’s funny how this lean period has dragged United fans down to a level of player analysis previously only reserved for Liverpool fans, that being vastly overrating or over-estimating their own players. On the previously mentioned United forum there are threads for discussion of the performances of each individual player. I was drawn to the Chris Smalling one, largely because I like to rubber-neck at accidents. Now, Smalling was pretty decent against a Sunderland side who didn’t even try to score. However, imagine my surprise when I read that “he has so many qualities that Ferdinand had and, like him, he’s been much maligned for mistakes early in his career”. Cue many posts in agreement. Another posted that, “His potential is scary”. More approving noises followed. This was a Chris Smalling inspired Mongolian Clusterf*ck. I certainly find him scary, but for totally different reasons. But maybe I’m wrong. You see, in the second half against Sunderland Smalling chested down a high ball forward from the visitors, controlled and in one high-class movement guided the ball away from the striker, who was in very close proximity indeed. By the same logic with which some judged Falcao and his moment of magic, this means that inside Captain Gormless a modern-day Franz f*cking Beckenbauer is waiting to be unleashed.
Perhaps pretending that many of United’s players are not bang average and just out of form is the easiest way to deal with the bobbins that we are currently being made to watch every week. We can, at times, persuade ourselves that after spending £150m last summer the team doesn’t need another transfer window of total overhaul (it does). Of course, there are some talented players hopelessly out of form, Di Maria being the most obvious example. Van Gaal may be part of the reason why the Argentine is performing so poorly, but the manager can’t be held responsible for his appalling first touch and basic mistakes. Whilst I think that the Dutchman is making some huge blunders of his own which may well cost us a Champions League place, hooking Di Maria at half time and replacing him with the excellent Adnan Januzaj was a brave and ultimately justified move. So big up 2 u fam.
As for the rest, there is a sea of moderate talent, the odd truly terrible footballer (come in Jonny Evans, your time is up), a few with genuine but as as yet unfulfilled potential, Wayne Rooney, David De Gea and Ander Herrera. This will get you past Sunderland at home with a bit to spare, particularly if our very own Mr Potato Head is played as a striker, where he tend to score goals. Who knew? The Mackems rival Villa for the most truly pointless team in the Premier League. They do nothing worth watching, ever. They came to Old Trafford, did nothing, and went home again. United huffed and puffed and finally got over the line, totally dominant in terms of possession, territory and attempts on goal, but still managing to look sloppy and laboured. This is fairly standard, but tends to be found out away from home. Which is annoying, because to win ‘The race for top four’, as United called it in their spam emails to me this week (oh how standards have fallen), they are going to have to start winning some away games. Ar*es. I give it three weeks before those spam emails are titled ‘The race for Europa League’.
Post-match a brief discussion was had on Twitter about United’s best out-field player this season. Our conclusions were that ‘best’ was a misnomer. The ‘least inadequate’ was perhaps more appropriate. Anyway, we decided that Ashley Young has been decent, that Ander Herrera has been excellent on the relatively few occasions that he’s started, that Daley Blind has been quietly effective as a defensive midfielder despite being horribly slow and that Marcos Rojo is ace because he tries really hard, tackles a lot and isn’t as flawed as his fellow defenders. After that we struggled, which is remarkable. How on earth are we fourth? Anyway, my own personal conclusion is that we need to build a team around Herrera. Sorry Juan, Ander has stolen the key to my heart.
Now, in between having regular delusions that some of our players are world-beaters waiting to come out, we’re going to have to huff and puff and sigh and grimace our way through a run of games which starts at St.James’ Park and takes in Spurs, Everton, Chelsea, Liverpool, City and Arsenal. I’m currently struggling to comprehend or admire Louis Van Gaal’s ‘philosophy’, but if he gets through that lot with a top four place then I give him permission to send me a s*it in the post. If he doesn’t then it’s very likely that the whole internet will be sucked in to a quantum singularity from which it can never return and we’ll never get to find out if the Glazers exterminate him in the dressing room after the final game of the season, Woodward and Rio style. I’m hoping for the excrement, but am expecting the black hole shizzle. Whatever, the fact that Falcao did one pretty good thing doesn’t mean he’s regained his superpowers. And no, his sh*tness cannot be excused by a ‘lack of service’. This does not justify an inability to control or shield a football, to run fast and make intelligent runs or to shoot straight. I feel for him, but he’s w*nk. Like Captain Gormless, Beaker and Jonny Evans. If you feel differently, say it to the hand, girlfriend.