Without getting too much into his precocious brilliance, or my chicken-in-a-speedboat approach to defending, let’s just say in one game he nutmegged me fourteen times. One was a header.
And yet, when I ran into Lambo some 20 years later he looked like one of those strangely dusty, borderline-creepy characters who wander through life just looking for people to tell about the trial they once had at Watford.
The Lambo of Premier League football, if you like, is Radamel Falcao. So recent are the memories of him demolishing defences and scoring goals that took multiple slow-motion television angles to properly comprehend, his anonymous season at Manchester United seems all the more baffling and sad. Yesterday he was a striker who could make great centre backs bleed from the ears; today, he’s a player who can’t even outscore Chris Smalling.
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And now, professional contrarian Jose Mourinho has decided to disagree with every single person who thinks Falcao (or rather, ‘Proper Falcao’) is finished. Not only does he disagree, he intends to actively disprove the theories of Falcao’s career crumble by signing him, albeit on loan, for Chelsea. It’s a jab in the eye for conventional wisdom, a knee to the spine for the cynics and, somehow, it’s probably a punch in the testes for Arsene Wenger too.
On the face of things, it’s a plan that seems as likely to succeed as asking Ryan Giggs not to impregnate your wife. Not only did Falcao score just 4 times in 26 games for United, the stat that he mustered just a single shot on target in his last 12 games is currently flying around like Marouane Fellaini’s pointy elbows.
Add to that Chelsea’s abysmal record for getting the best from fading stars. Yes, both Fernando Torres and Andrei Shevchenko joined when their powers were still fairly ample, but for whatever reason the Chelsea experience effectively trapped them in a van until they’d sweated out all trace of self-belief. For two players who were independently considered to be amongst Europe’s deadliest forwards, their combined goal tally for Chelsea is less than Salomon Kalou managed on his own.
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But considering all of this, and even if you saw Falcao plodding around last season like his legs were made of old dogs, it’s hard to accept that old Falcao is gone forever. This is a player who scored 41 goals in 51 games for Porto and 52 in 68 for Athletico Madrid. It’s also a player who, against Chelsea in the 2012 European Super Club, scored a hatrick that made Gary Cahill and David Luiz look like someone had lazily glued together a bunch of sleepy toddlers.
Mourinho, obviously, is adamant that he can bring Falcao ‘back’. And, despite his reticence and general confusion in front of goal last season, some of Falcao’s movement was still, frankly, incredible. Plop him into a team that created 75 more chances than United over the course of last season and he could, maybe, once again shrink a defender’s nuts down to the size and consistency of wet Coco Pops.
Helpfully, Falcao has also previously played alongside Diego Costa. And while the Spanish striker’s knife-you-in-the-lungs brand of forward play will remain Plan A, Costa’s shaky fitness and a punishing schedule will surely give Falcao more meaningful chances than he had at Old Trafford. After all Loic Remy, with leg muscles made from ginger biscuits, managed 19 league appearances and 7 goals last season.
Whichever case you choose to believe, no one could earnestly claim the skepticism surrounding this move is unfair – whether it’s questions about how a rubbish Falcao could possibly be a better bet than finally giving Patrick Bamford a go, or wondering about Jorge Mendes murmuring slippery words into an influential ear or two.
But, unless John Terry has at some point tongued your mum, it’s likely that most football fans would be at least a little excited to see for themselves a footballer that caused such widespread moistening across European football. And it could work, it really could. Ok, so it might not – but until Falcao becomes a full blown Lambo, eating cold spaghetti hoops and crying into a child’s football boot, I think we all need to have a little more hope.