The loan signing of Radamel Falcao from AS Monaco on deadline day of last summer’s transfer window had Manchester United fans licking their lips in anticipation.
Widely regarded as one of the game’s elite forwards, even the £6m loan fee – a huge amount to pay for a temporary signing – was seen as a sound investment.
Fast-forward six months and the 29-year-old has netted just four times in 20 appearances for the Red Devils, with his career at the club now hanging in the balance.
Louis van Gaal clearly does not seem to fancy the two-time Ballon d’Or nominee as the solution to what he perceives as a lack of a 20-goal-a-season striker at the club.
He was left on the bench against Newcastle despite both Robin van Persie’s absence and United’s failure to break through until being gifted a late winner.
This represents a stark decline for the Colombian, with the reported £43 million fee to make his deal permanent having previously been touted as a potential steal.
There is no doubt that Falcao is a top-class player when on song, something demonstrated perfectly by his scoring record in recent seasons.
Extraordinarily, the striker’s 45 goals in 105 games for Argentine side River Plate was, until his move to England, his worst goalscoring ratio at any of his major clubs.
He hit 72 goals in 87 matches for Porto and 70 in 91 for Atlético Madrid, and had scored 13 in 22 Monaco appearances before leaving for United.
However, time is quickly running out for him to change his manager’s opinion with just 11 Premier League games left this season.
There is no simple, single answer to the question of why things haven’t (yet) worked out in England for the Colombian.
Undoubtedly a large contributing factor has been his recent injury struggles since suffering a cruciate ligament injury in January 2014 that saw him miss the World Cup in Brazil.
As well as fitness issues he has also failed to settle into any discernible rhythm in England, showing little sign of his previous lethality in front of goal.
In some ways, the Colombian has not helped himself. His typical runs in behind, work rate and all-round athleticism have been conspicuously absent.
However, he has not been allowed to put together a significant run of games in his time at Old Trafford, whether due to niggling injuries or Van Gaal’s team selections.
The Dutch manager has been criticised by many for his tactics, and it is true that his reluctance to play genuine wide midfielders may have contributed to the striker’s stagnation.
For example, £60 million winger Ángel Di María has been frequently played out of position, limiting the kind of service on which Falcao’s aerial ability would surely see him thrive.
Former United midfielder Ray Wilkins, now manager of the Jordan national side, has given a damning assessment of the Colombian’s time at the club.
“Falcao hasn’t shown any of the type of form that we expected when he arrived at Manchester United,” Wilkins told talkSPORT on Thursday.
“His form has been very poor, and we haven’t seen anything like the player who destroyed Chelsea with Atletico [with a hat-trick in the European Super Cup] a few years ago.”
Indeed, with Falcao having turned 29 last month, anything near the quoted £43 million price would undeniably represent a monumental gamble on the club’s part.
Once his astronomical wages – reportedly £265,000 per week, paid fully by United – are taken into account, a better option may be to look elsewhere.
Whatever the case, with Van Persie ruled out for the foreseeable future Falcao has to grasp any chance that comes his way over the next three months.
If selected, he will look to the Arsenal tie as a springboard to contend for a regular run of games and ultimately a permanent deal.
It would be a dramatic turnaround if he was able to persuade the club to spend big to keep him after such a disheartening season.
If he can get motivated, fit and firing over these last few weeks, however, he might just have a future in English football.
Main image courtesy of Sky Sports via YouTube, with thanks.