It’s fair to say, unless you have lived under a large football shaped rock, you will already know United’s most famous and iconic shirt is the number seven; Worn by some of the clubs greatest players, from the likes of George Best and Eric Cantona, right through to Cristiano Ronaldo in more recent years. You would also know that, although throughout the years it has graced the shirts of some of United’s most illustrious players such as Tommy Taylor, Andy Cole and the legend that is Sir Bobby Charlton, the number 9 shirt is one that has rarely been spoken about. After two years of the shirt being vacant, it was on September 1st, 2014 that Manchester United surprised the football world and signed Columbian striker Radamel Falcao; A player who was signed under very similar circumstances to the squads previous number nine, Dimitar Berbatov. Falcao had been expected to sign for Real Madrid towards the end of August, however come transfer deadline day morning, Falcao was on a plane from Monaco, heading to Carrington to complete his medical and sign for United.
Manchester United’s new manager Louis Van Gaal, more than likely, wasn’t looking at Falcao as one of his main transfer targets; it is no secret that defensive reinforcements are what were, and still are, the main focus area at Old Trafford, but once the unexpected opportunity arose, chances are it was one he really couldn’t turn down. As good a finisher as Javier Hernandez was and still is at Real Madrid, the Mexican just isn’t in the same league as Falcao. Nicknamed ‘El Tigre’ which is translated to ‘The Tiger’, United’s new number nine is exactly that. He is busy, energetic, skilful and deadly. In many ways he has a similar style to a former United player Carlos Tevez but with bags more talent and ability. You only have to look at Falcao’s vast array of goals to see just how talented the Colombian really is. He is not just a ‘typical number nine’ like say a Michael Owen or a Gary Lineker, he offers so much more to the team and has the ability to make things happen for himself rather than relying on other players creativity.
All the signs are that, for the seasons ahead, Manchester United could, potentially, have a fantastic new number nine; some would say ‘world class’. That is assuming the reds decide to stump up the £43 million Monaco want to make the deal permanent; but just how lethal is Falcao? And is he better than United’s previous number nines, of which a few could be considered United Legends? No matter how many goals Falcao scores for United, this move has probably come a little too late in his career for him to become a club ‘legend’; Most of United’s legendary players have either come through the youth ranks within the club or have been signed at a relatively young age in order for them to have the time to improve to a greater extent as their careers gather pace i.e. Ryan Giggs, George Best, Bobby Charlton and Bryan Robson; The only possible exception to this is Eric Cantona, but of course, in terms of Aura and persona the Frenchman was a one of a kind.
To date, Manchester United’s most successful number nine in terms of goals to games was the late, great Tommy Taylor, achieving a remarkable 131 goals in 191 games at a ratio of 0.69 goals per game before having his life tragically cut short due to the Munich Air Disaster in 1958. Dimitar Berbatov, the man who wore the shirt before Falcao, managed 56 goals in 149 games, a ratio of 0.38 goals per game, for the club but the former Tottenham Hotspur striker only showed glimpses of what he was capable of in a red shirt and never endeared himself to the United faithful due to a perceived lack of effort as a result of his languid style. Andy Cole signed for the club in January 1995 but it wasn’t until the start of the 1996-97 season that he managed to claim his favoured number 9 shirt. In the five years Cole wore the number nine he fired 121 goals in 275 appearances, a ratio of 0.44 goals per game, before moving to Blackburn Rovers on account of losing his place in the team to Ruud Van Nistelrooy.
The former Newcastle United striker was a major part of United’s treble winning campaign of 1999 but never hit the goal scoring heights he did at St James’s Park. United’s most successful and iconic number nine is, without question, Sir Bobby Charlton. The clubs record goal scorer with 249 strikes and second highest appearance maker with 758 games with an overall ratio of 0.33 goals per game is, without doubt, along with Giggs, the clubs greatest servant. A survivor of the Munich Air Disaster, winner of United’s first ever European cup in addition to holding a place as director at the club for 30 years, the man is quite simply a legend of not only the club, but the game. Although under no circumstances can Falcao be considered any sort of United legend yet, since moving to Europe in 2009, the striker has clocked up a strike rate of 0.76 goals per game for four different clubs, in four different leagues and in four different countries; A statistic that seems to be a cut above any of the preceding number nines and one that emphasises the belief that United may just have found themselves a true top class player.
Due to the spectacular performances last season of Luis Suarez, Gareth Bale and even Angel Di Maria, and in part down to Falcao’s serious knee injury and questionable career move, the Colombian escaped most people’s minds when discussing the best players in the world. However it was only 12 months earlier he was the third name in the queue after Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi and when you look at his record at Atletico Madrid, it’s easy to understand why. 70 goals in 91 appearances is indeed, exceptional. Beyond that, granted they were weaker leagues, 72 goals in 87 appearances at his previous club Porto and 13 goals in 22 appearances for Monaco just shows the consistency of the man. His career at United hasn’t started spectacularly with just the one goal against Everton in five outings for the Red Devils, all be it with two assists in those games.
It was disappointing not to see Falcao start against West Bromwich Albion, this was reportedly due to jet lag during the international break but given his energetic cameo off the bench and given the success of Marouane Fellaini and his physical presence in the match, you have to believe that given more time he would have been on the score sheet. United pumped a lot of balls into the box during the match without much end product and no real focal point to the attack as Robin Van Persie was generally coming deep, so Falcao would have had plenty to get on the end of and given his aerial ability could have had a lot of success. Radamel Falcao is, without question, a top class striker and Manchester United are extremely lucky to have a player of that quality in their ranks. The Colombian has proved over the last few years that no matter what country he plays in, he scores goals and fantastic goals at that. United finally have a number nine of genuine world-class standard and if Louis Van Gaal decides to make the move permanent he could be the man who fires United back to the top, not only in England but in Europe as well.
That permanent transfer all depends on his performances this season. It would be unlikely that United would sign the striker if they don’t finish in the top four, not only down to finances but also the players age, which we are lead to believe is currently 28 and not 30, which recent reports had suggested. If the addition of the Colombian is successful in bringing United back into the Champions League then the club will have the finances to sign possibly the best number nine in the world; something he will have demonstrated by taking the 13 time Premier League winners back to where they belong and in the process making him a hero to the fans and a hugely memorable Manchester United number nine.
This article was written by Gary Driver. You can follow him on Twitter.