Rademel Falcao looks to have lost trust in his body
MYSELF and Radamel Falcao have a few things in common - both male, both studied journalism and both suffered torn cruciates in the sort of innocuous incident that had passed without alarm hundreds of times previously.
Sadly, in terms of Latin good looks, football ability and wages the similarities are way off the mark, but anyone who has been through a long-term injury would have watched Falcao's performance against Chelsea on Saturday with a degree of sympathy as well as some exasperation.
In my case, the torn cruciate cost me my blistering pace and composure on the ball, although it did improve my ability to exaggerate just how good I used to be. What it does, undeniably, is make you question your body in a manner that never even entered your mind previously.
Falcao looks like a player still learning to trust his knee, with every jump, every collision, every kick now having the potential to injure him.
In the run-up to Chelsea's goal, Falcao should have planted his left foot, buried his shoulder into John Terry and controlled the ball with his right foot.
In that scenario, Terry's only option to get to the ball would have been to scythe down Falcao or, more likely, just hassle him to put him off. There should have been no way that Terry could get to the ball.
Instead, Falcao was square to the ball and weak in trying to protect it. There was an argument for a foul because of Terry barging into him but Falcao's legs being apart allowed Terry the chance to put his foot through them and onto the ball. It created enough doubt that the referee allowed play to continue.
'Weak' is a word that would never have been associated with Falcao until 14 months ago when his knee crumpled under a tackle during a French Cup game for Monaco against Monts Or Azergues.
Before then, he had looked one of the most fearsome and powerful strikers in the world, bouncing off would-be tacklers and challenging for the ball with a combination of zeal and strength that often had the effect of a wrecking ball.
The anterior cruciate ligament is the main stabilising joint in the knee and if an athlete in an elite level sport has any doubt about its viability, it creates a similar effect to a Formula One driver trying to go at full pelt around the track while not being certain that his car is in full working order.
The operation, briefly, requires an incision in the knee, the removal of part of the patellar tendon from within the same knee, a hole is then drilled into the top of the shin bone and bottom of the thigh bone, the graft from the patellar tendon is placed into these holes and, hopefully, it all knits back together.
The joint is so weak in the immediate aftermath that rehab begins by placing a cushion under the knee and the challenge is to straighten the leg by moving the heel up by a few inches. For something that requires no effort under normal circumstances, it is incredibly challenging.
In Falcao's case, he hoped to be able to go through all that, do full rehab and be back in full flight for the for the World Cup last summer - in all, he hoped to be back in less than five months.
Given the necessarily slow pace of the rehab, Falcao looks like a player who is paying for trying to rush through the process and, earlier this year, another fellow South American and former United striker recognised his struggles.
"There was pressure on him to make it back for the World Cup last summer with Colombia. Maybe too much, for it was unrealistic," wrote Diego Forlan.
"Because Falcao had built this huge reputation and because he was earning a lot of money, great things were expected, but it was never going to be straightforward. Nobody comes back from a serious injury and is the same after a month or even three months.
"You should play in the reserves. You get your muscle back and regain your match rhythm. Psychologically, you need to build your confidence back up and you hope there are no complications."
One of the biggest complications around Falcao is his wages which, while ridiculous, are constantly used as a stick to beat him with, like they are with so many footballers.
The next team to sign him might get him for cheaper but there were also signs of Saturday of the slinky movement which was the other side to the power of his game when he was at his best.
On several occasions he manoeuvred himself into a position of being unmarked and the ball never arrived, although when it did in the second half, he could only hit the outside of the post.
It was in contact situations, however, where the difference between this version of Falcao and his previous best was still stark. It's not easy facing Terry and Gary Cahill but in virtually every physical battle, he came off second best.
Nemanja Vidic was a similarly dominant force but when he returned nine months after tearing his cruciate he looked physically weaker and struggled against the likes of Nikica Jelavic and Rickie Lambert who, previously, he would have chewed up and spat out again.
Vidic never really reached his pre-injury form but there was enough in Falcao's performance on Saturday to suggest that with a solid pre-season free of injury, some team might start to see the best of him again.
If not, and he really wants to embrace a life of frustration and despondency, he can always fall back on journalism.
Tweets of the week
David Meyler (@DavidMeyler7)
Washing machines live longer with Calgon!
Always good to know what’s going through the mind of a footballer.
Shay Given (@No1shaygiven)
OMG get on @CharlesNzo gear. #wow #WorstEver
Not sure if it’s ok for a man who turns 39 today to use the phrase OMG .. but it’s still cooler than Charles Nzogbia’s outfit.
David Luiz (@DavidLuiz_4)
Deus abençoe a todos
Our Portuguese isn’t great but we reckon, several hours before PSG faced Barca, that this might mean “two nutmegs for me”.
Time will tell...
Can’t beat the unclear tweets from an injured striker.
Tired about some things i Am a geordie and newcastle deserved more.
The Argentine cutting an ever-more frustrated figure in the Newcastle squad.
Emma Byrne (@emmsb30)
My heart is actually broke for Federici
The Arsenal and Ireland stopper puts aside her club bias to stay loyal to the goalkeepers’ union.
Carlton Cole (@CarltonCole1 )
Without faith there is nothing #COYI
Or, as the case proved with West Ham, without a decent attitude or the odd shot on goal, there is nothing.
The question nobody asked
Who was the last team to beat arsenal in the FA Cup?
Arsenal continued their superb recent FA Cup run while also maintaining the theme of struggling to beat Championship teams, having previously dispatched more illustrious opponents.
It’s now over two years since Arsene Wenger’s team lost an FA Cup game when, in February 2013, Colin Kazim-Richards gave Blackburn a 1-0 win at the Emirates, albeit with Arsenal having 26 attempts on target.
Since then, Arsenal are unbeaten in 11 games including some very impressive results against Tottenham (2-0), Liverpool (2-1), Everton (4-1) and Manchester United (2-1).
That, however, has been mixed in with a couple of major struggles against lesser opposition, including Saturday’s extra-time victory against Reading. The run also includes labouring past Wigan Athletic on penalties in last year’s semi-final before, most famously, coming from 2-0 down to beat Hull City in the final.
Bet you should have done
West Brom to beat Crystal Palace, 3/1
They have been in poor form but, with West Brom going back to the former club of their current manager needing a victory, they were a decent price.
Afterwards, Alan Pardew reckoned Tony Pulis used some inside knowledge to good effect but, whatever way they did it, anyone who took the chance to quadruple their money won’t mind.