Jose Mourinho clearly still sees something bright burning in Radamel Falcao.
Not many positive points will have been accrued since the Colombian left Atletico Madrid for Monaco in the summer of 2013. Even fewer in the subsequent season, when El Tigre toiled during a turbulent loan spell at Manchester United.
Nonetheless, the Blues have acquired the forward’s services for a year on loan after striking a deal with Falcao’s Ligue 1 employers and naturally, those in the soccer cognosceti are searching for Mou’s motivation for signing the Colombia skipper.
Is he thinking back to the spades of goals Falcao scored during his spell in La Liga? Maybe the manner in which he, as Real Madrid manager, had to make bespoke plans to nullify the Colombian’s razor sharp predatory instincts? Perhaps. But it could be even simpler than that.
The Copa del Rey final in 2013 was effectively the death knell for Mourinho in his role as the Los Blancos boss. Atletico landed a win over Real for the first time in 14 years in a clash that was rife with tension, angst, anger and violence. But amidst all the unsavory antics of that derby match, one memory of class stands out.
With Real 1-0 up thanks to a Cristiano Ronaldo goal, Falcao trapped a pinged pass into his feet from Miranda. He nutmegged his marker, spun away from another expertly, before dragging the ball back with an enchanting panache. Then he threaded an exquisite through ball into the path of Diego Costa, who leveled things up expertly for Atleti.
It was an instance that turned the game and although it’s a facet of Falcao’s skill set he isn’t usually revered for, a raw, world-class bit of play. And you just wonder how deeply that moment, given the significance of the evening, is etched into Mourinho’s consciousness.
Because, within reason of course, players may lose their legs, their energy and their reactions. But that instinctive ability to alter the course of a match is often preserved throughout the duration of a career and at 29 years old Mourinho may feel as though it’s something in Falcao he can nurture to back to health.
“It hurts me that people in England think that the real Falcao is the one we saw at Manchester United,” said Mourinho earlier this month, per Tom Dutton of the London Evening Standard. He may as well have said “I know something you all don’t.”
It’s a gamble. Not even the staunchest supporter of Falcao would deny that. But even though the Portuguese takes a cautious and pragmatic approach to the overwhelming majority of his team, when it comes to strikers, Mourinho’s distinguished managerial career has shown us that he clearly feels as though he can role the dice.
During his time at Real Madrid he signed Emmanuel Adebayor, lest we forget, and in his past two seasons at Chelsea he’s drafted in Samuel Eto’o and Didier Drogba; ageing players, but men that still possessed a ruthlessness in front of goal when chances materialized.
Even some of his big money centre-forward signings like Diego Milito, branded too old and too slow by many before signing for Internazionale, and Costa, whose detractors pointed to a solitary season of prolific goalscoring and a poor injury record, have usually been calculated risks.
Some of those moves have worked out, others haven’t. But it adds a bit more clarity to a transfer many have been suggesting is an uncharacteristic risk from Mourinho. After all, if the Chelsea boss can expedite a turnaround in Falcao’s fortunes, he’ll be getting a tremendous player. But even with Jose’s managerial acumen considered, is it beyond him?
There are certainly some extenuating factors to consider from El Tigre’s time at Manchester United. Don’t forget, this was a team which began matches in a mish-mash of different systems during the early stages of Falcao’s career at Old Trafford, often keeping possession merely for the sake of it. For a forward who thrives on a direct supply line, in hindsight, it was a stylistic nightmare.
Chelsea play in a much more fundamental and functional manner. While they possess some of the most skillful players in the Premier League, if there’s a chance to put a ball into the box, the kind of service Falcao thrived off at his best, then the Blues will do so. Those little interchanges in the channels and cut-backs from the byline were also food and drink for the forward during his Atletico days.
But there are clearly some big concerns that accompany this move. Namely, given Mourinho’s penchant for fielding one striker and the rampant influence Costa had last season, will Falcao get the requisite minutes that’ll allow him to rediscover his best form? It looks doubtful at first glance.
In addition, should Mourinho be bringing in a lucrative loan signing when Chelsea have an extraordinary crop of young players in the academy? After all, if the Blues are going to have a player in reserve on the substitutes bench, why not give prodigious youngster Dominic Solanke, who scored over 40 goals for the club’s youth team last season, a chance to impress?
They’re sensible points, but the romantics will point to the fact that Falcao is a fantasy player. In this generation there have been few goalscorers quite as ruthless as him, few who celebrate striker with such passion and not many who looked so slick doing so. Just imagine if he did come good?
That’s why United fans loved the Colombian despite his struggles and when he dons that all blue kit with the No. 9 emblazoned on the back, why Chelsea fans will feel an inherent reflex for the forward to score goals. Indeed, it’s an urge that even Mourinho himself hasn’t been able to keep at bay.
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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