Falcao and the transfer race

The Colombian is a Manchester United player after a mad scramble to meet the deadline

Falcao and the transfer race

As the midnight deadline for the buying and selling of players passed in Europe last week, some of the world’s most prized talents remained in limbo. Manchester United needed extra time to seal its deal for Radamel Falcao, who at his best is among the most predatory of finishers in the game. The player was willing to be traded, and the club was desperate to get this one over the line.

It is effectively a season-long loan from Monaco, though United does have an option to buy the player at the end of the season. While the move may be temporary, it could not be signed off until the accountants, lawyers, doctors and agents had poured over every last detail of the multimillion dollar transfer.

And while Falcao waited, so did others hundreds of miles away. Monaco had received other offers, reportedly from Real Madrid, Manchester City and Arsenal. By the time the private jet taking the Colombian striker from Monaco to England was airborne, two other United players – Javier Hernández and Danny Welbeck – were already heading in other directions.

Last weekend, Falcao had tweeted (and hurriedly deleted) a message that his dream move to Real Madrid had come true. “Hala, Madrid” the message ended. Hello and goodbye. The player denied he had ever posted the message, said it was a fake.
Hernández, like Falcao, can snatch a goal and win a game, in his case often off the bench. On Monday, Hernández could use those same words that Falcao had deleted after he joined the Madrid giants.

As for Welbeck, he had been a United player since his school days. Little more than 18 months ago, Sir Alex Ferguson, the manager who built and rebuilt the team at Old Trafford, described Welbeck as the future, the evidence that United still believed in nurturing its own players, not just buying at the top of the market.

But since Ferguson retired in June of last year, there have been two coaching changes at the club. And Welbeck, a World Cup player for England, has struggled to get time on the field.

On Monday, the day of reckoning before the transfer window closed, he was offered to various clubs. Again United favoured a loan deal, but Welbeck, now 23, wanted more certainty in his life and in his career. He found a suitor in Arsenal, whose own need for a central striker became acute last week when the Frenchman Olivier Giroud injured his ankle.

One man’s bad break is another’s turn of fortune in the business of football. Arsenal made an offer, reported to be around 16 million pounds, to take Welbeck on a full transfer, not a loan. United accepted the fee, but the deal was put on hold, pending the capture of Falcao.

And that was a microcosm of midnight in the madhouse, of how England’s clubs do business.

The transfer window had been open since June. While Germany, for example, shuts up shop at a sensible hour (6 p.m. local time) on the last official day of deals, England conducts a full-scale hunt right up to the midnight deadline in Europe for the must-have merchandise in football.

Few of us ever truly know what fees, or what salaries, are negotiated in that frenzy. Deloitte, the global accounting giant, boasts a specialised unit on football deals, and it reckoned that by midnight Monday, some 835 million pounds, or about $1.38 billion, had been spent just by English Premier league teams during this transfer window. It dwarfs the estimates of the amount spent in Spain’s La Liga ($705 million), Italy’s Serie A ($431 million) Germany’s Bundesliga ($415 million) and France’s Ligue 1 ($166 million). The cash disappears more quickly than the vanishing spray now used by referees to mark out positions for free kicks. The sums are recycled between the richest teams of Europe who, thanks to huge television and sponsorship deals, can spray the wealth around to attract to the best players from other continents, such as Africa and Asia, but particularly South America.

Born in Colombia, Falcao is an exotic example of that. The son of a defender, he was given the name of a famous Brazilian midfielder and soon surpassed his father as a professional player. His lithe, quick movements earned him the nickname “El Tigre” long before he moved to Argentina, Portugal, Spain, France and now England.
With a player as quick and decisive as Falcao, there is always the danger that opponents will catch and kick him, not necessarily deliberately. That happened in France this January, when a mistimed tackle wrecked the anterior cruciate ligament in Falcao’s left knee.

Careers can hang on such a slender thread. Falcao missed the World Cup after undergoing surgery, and he was just three games (and two goals) back into his routine with Monaco when the auction for his services arose. If his skills are still intact – not the least of which is the decisiveness that takes him into scoring situations that few other men ever will see – he will get to choose his next move.

Now 28, married and with a small child, a fully fit Falcao will be courted again next summer. Manchester United will have the first option to cement a deal, for just another 43 million pounds or so. Monaco would thus recoup what it paid last year to buy him from Atlético Madrid.

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