It is Louis van Gaal’s habit to peer intently at the player sitting beside him at a press conference table. He loves those who have powers of self-expression – a valued part of the Dutch totale mens principe, or "total person priniciple", so fundamental to his philosophy.
He was pleased to see Radamel Falcao breezing into his first public appearance as a Manchester United player – “Good afternoon to all, to everybody,” the Colombian said – and it was the player’s willingness to embrace and speak in the English language which most delighted him. “What do you think about his English..?” he said, like the doting father. “Because I had the same situation in Spain. In my first year I spoke English, in my second year Spanish. And he is coming here and he is speaking English for you. Yeah, ok … the spontaneous round of applause which burst seemed only natural.
Van Gaal, who has never generally taken language lessons and communicated abroad by navigating the local language local around Dutch grammatical structures, was also talking about the single goalscoring opportunity he had seen Falcao presented with on the Carrington pitches, when training resumed yesterday. The prodigious finisher buried it. “He gets one ball and it was in the goal, so he confirmed [his ability] in his first training session with me,” Van Gaal beamed, exuding that vast self-confidence which makes every point he makes seem incontrovertible.
Falcao shared the air of authority. There was barely a glance at his translator, a neat sidestep around the fact that United where by no means the club he fancied most, and a quality of English way beyond anything that other South American nomad of these parts, Carlos Tevez, who was still mono-lingual after ssven years in England.
But the truth of it is that neither of them really knows what lies ahead. Falcao’s return to football after a six-month layoff with cruciate ligament damage has made him “nervous” about what is to unfold, he declared earlier this week. He disguised this issue well but there will only be transparency when the football starts. United have degraded to a far worse state than Van Gaal anticipated when he took them over. Though he insisted that Falcao’s signing was not to make up for a Robin van Persie who is physically over the top of the career curve, United have had no dynamic goalscorer for over a year. Hopes of redemption lie at Falcao’s feet. No pressure.
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