Radamel Falcao is brilliant at scoring goals. He is also pretty good when it comes to avoiding the Champions League.
Two seasons ago he played a massive part in putting Atletico Madrid into the competition but then left the club, missing out on a campaign in which they reached the final in May. He moved to Monaco to play in front of 8,000 supporters and no European Cup football and then, when they made it to the biggest club tournament in the world, he joined another side in European exile.
Manchester United is an obvious upgrade on Monaco but, with his Champions League draft-dodging, it is almost as if playing on the biggest stage and winning medals are not the most important things any more.
Falcao’s curious career path is in stark contrast to another player who moved during this transfer window. Xabi Alonso is approaching his 33rd birthday in November and can look back on winning the European Cup twice.
He had the courage to join Liverpool in 2004 before every other Tomas, Ricardo and Enrique was doing likewise, and his reward was a starring role in arguably the greatest final ever in 2005 as Rafa Benitez’s side came back from three goals down to beat Milan on penalties. At Real Madrid, although he missed last season’s win in the final over Atletico through suspension, he played in the 5-0 aggregate win over Bayern Munich in the semis.
Now he is at Bayern and who would bet against him winning the trophy for a third time – before Falcao has even made his debut in the knockout stage?
Alonso’s latest move is inspired by the belief that under Pep Guardiola he will play more than at Real with Carlo Ancelotti, who is obliged to pick the new signings before him. The midfielder has wasted not a single season of his career and he can take his memories of playing for three of the biggest clubs in Europe into retirement.
Alonso has been the master of his own destiny. Alongside him Falcao, at times, seems to have been a pawn in a bigger game. Quite why he went to Monaco last year remains a mystery. The answer perhaps lies somewhere in the uncertainty about who exactly has owned him during his career.
Back in 2011 Atletico were forced, by huge tax debts, to sell Sergio Aguero to Manchester City for €45m (£38m). They were obliged to hand over a large portion of that fee to Spain’s Inland Revenue and yet they still managed to sign Falcao for €40m (£34m) almost immediately. They could not have done it without the help of a sports investment company.
Whether that company, understood to be Doyen Sports Investment, then owned half the player or just loaned Atletico the money to buy him is not clear. Either way he was sold as soon as Monaco put their €60m (£51m) on the table.
When I spoke to Falcao before the World Cup he seemed to have a genuine passion for the game but little clue as to where his career will take him. The “Hala Madrid” tweet a day before arriving at Old Trafford sums that up.
Meanwhile, Alonso is an example of a player who always took his own decisions and always for football reasons. He did it for the glory, which as someone once said, is what the game is all about.
Cristiano Ronaldo on his way next?
Cristiano Ronaldo told Real Madrid precisely what he thought of their transfer policy this week with an “I would have done it differently if I were in charge” shot across the bows of the big-spending, big-selling European champions.
Once a player starts publicly questioning Real there can only be one endgame. If at the end of the season Manchester United are still buying strikers for record fees don’t rule out an emotional return.
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