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You have to admire, in some ways, Colombian patriotism. Among each other they may bad-mouth their country and criticise its many ills, but when it comes to outside ‘attacks’ they seem pretty good at closing ranks and rallying behind Colombia’s cause, whatever that might be.
This is especially so the case in the sporting arena. In last summer’s Fifa World Cup, for example, the nation focused its wrath on the Spanish referee who ‘robbed’ Colombia’s football heroes of what would have been a historic semi-final spot. Not much, however, was said of the rather timid first-half display from a team that up to that point had set the tournament alight.
Of course Colombia made it to the last eight without the man who had been their talisman in qualifying for the tournament, a certain Señor Radamel Falcao. As we all know, a new star and national, nay international, hero announced himself on the world stage at Brazil 2014, James Rodríguez. But much adored as he is, Falcao is still hugely respected and revered here.
So Colombian pride has been hurt by the way he has been treated at his loan club this season, Manchester United. The Dutchman at the helm at Old Trafford, Louis Van Gaal, is very much the villain in these parts. And if Colombians needed justification for such a view, they got it recently from none other than the great Diego Maradona, who on a visit to Bogotá called Van Gaal ‘the devil’. A strong endorsement that; a united Latino front or more a case, perhaps, of the crafty Argentinian playing to the gallery.
But the English club’s manager may not be the one in the wrong here, if anyone is at fault at all.
OK, it can be argued with good reason that Falcao hasn’t been given sufficient opportunities to prove himself in Manchester. Game time has been limited, even when he has been fit to play.
Yet, of the chances he did get to show us his undoubted quality, the latest coming in the recent league defeat at Chelsea, he hasn’t been that impressive to say the least. What’s more, United have found a system and — more importantly — winning form without him. For a manager who was under the cosh just a few months ago, with the non-deployment of Falcao a regular stick to beat him with, Van Gaal now has solid results to throw back at his critics.
For sure, it appears the relationship between the striker and gaffer isn’t great and at times it seemed like Van Gaal wasn’t playing the Colombian purely out of stubbornness. Whether that’s the case or not, you can’t find too much fault with the manager’s selection of late (the Chelsea game excepted); and the reality is that Falcao is, at this moment in time anyway, a bit part in the United revival.
The goals he recently netted on international duty show he still has his predatory instincts, while they also added more fuel to Colombian annoyance at how he is being treated in England. Although scoring against Bahrain and Kuwait in friendly fixtures isn’t the greatest yardstick to judge a top-class striker on.
At this remove, it’s unlikely he’ll hang around Manchester once this current loan spell expires at the end of the season. The best move for all concerned, you’d have to think.
A trip back to club football on the European continent, after what both he and Colombia will hope to be a successful Copa América, might be just what El Tigre needs to rediscover his mojo.
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