Radamel Falcao is expected to complete his move to Chelsea over the next couple of days but the Colombia striker is also at the heart of what is likely to be the biggest decision of this Copa America.
It is a dilemma that does not exactly bode well for Jose Mourinho and is directly relevant to how Chelsea play.
The feeling around Colombia is this: if coach Jose Pekerman drops Falcao for Saturday night’s quarter-final against Argentina, his team have a real chance of recapturing their best form and actually knocking the favourites out. If Pekerman does not, and the 29-year-old is again selected, we are once more likely to see only a pale imitation of the Colombia side that so thrilled last summer’s World Cup.
All the indications are that the coach is still insistent on the latter, and that hands the initiative to Argentina.
As became so clear in his limited appearances for Manchester United last season, and the first three games of this Copa America, Falcao is currently nowhere near the dominant form that made him one of the most feared forwards in the world between 2010 and 2013.
The cruciate injury which cost him a place at Brazil 2014 has also affected his sharpness and, worse, his confidence. Falcao does not seem to have the same trust in his own body. The leap is not so commanding, the finishes not so fierce.
Pekerman’s management of Falcao for this tournament has clearly been an attempt to restore that belief by showing undue faith in the player himself. The Colombia coach immediately made the striker captain again on his return to the side and switched the team’s formation from the mobile 4-2-3-1 of the World Cup to 4-4-2, specifically because Falcao cannot really play without a partner. The latter is not a system that Mourinho has used much at Chelsea.
All of this would be fine if Falcao was even close to his clinical peak, but the best we have seen so far is a tame shot in the 0-0 draw against Peru. He has also blunted Colombia’s attack.
The move to try and accommodate Falcao has taken the brilliant James Rodriguez away from where he is most dangerous, and meant that they do not have the same fast players running off the No 10’s passes, making the whole team so much more functional and predictable.
It is no surprise Colombia looked so much better in the last two games when Falcao came off. Against Peru, when he was replaced by the rampaging Jackson Martinez, the transformation was instant. James was released to start properly damaging the opposition defence and the rest of the attack were finally getting in behind.
It is a surprise, however, that Pekerman has not allowed this to sway his thinking. The very fact he took Falcao off when Colombia thought they needed a goal shows the manager knows it is an issue, but he has so far shown no sign of addressing it from the start of the game.
Pekerman clearly believes that Falcao can find that one moment that transforms his entire outlook, that goal that restores his belief.
The wonder is whether waiting for it represents a wasted opportunity against a team like Argentina, who have under-performed so far, or whether that is exactly the type of match that may fire him. It is a big ask.Reuse content