Radamel Falcao – The Man that Nobody Wants.


He was once regarded as one of the most lethal strikers in World Football, but the name Radamel Falcao is increasingly becoming a conduit for ridicule and in a very short space of time the Colombian international has become something of a laughing stock, as his reputation as one of finest finishers in the game falls into obscurity.

El Tigre, as he is known in his native Colombia, was once recognised for his pace, power and predatory instincts in the box, that – during his time with Porto and Atletico Madrid – made him one of the most sought after strikers in the game.

In two seasons in Portugal with Porto, Falcao amassed an impressive goal haul of 41 goals in 51 games, before moving to Spain where he scored 52 goals in 68 games with Atletico Madrid. Whilst in Spain, Falcao was top of the class and at times was scoring goals at the same frequency as La Liga goal machines Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.

At his peak the Colombian international cut a lean figure and brought dynamism to both club and country. Prior to the cruciate knee ligament injury he suffered in the build up to World Cup finals in Brazil in 2014, Falcao could do no wrong and looked like an accomplished finisher with a bright future ahead of him.

However, when Falcao returned from a long injury lay-off that saw him miss the finals ins Brazil, the Colombian had already left Altetico Madrid for the wealth of AS Monaco, following the promise of fortune and success that the French club had used to coarse  other big names to Stade Louis at the time.

It didn’t quite work out in Ligue 1, despite scoring eleven goals in 20 appearances, Falcao was visibly stockier and lacking the extra yard of pace and self-confidence that had made him unplayable in the past. The great player that once existed in Falcao was fading, and fast!

In the summer after the World cup finals in Brazil, Falcao’s rehabilitation continued after returning to Monaco for pre-season training,  but on transfer deadline day in 2014, Falcao made an unexpected move to Manchester United and became part of the newly established Louis Van Gaal regime at Old Trafford.

Fighting to rebuild his fitness under a manager with a strict approach to player fitness and sharpness, Falcao always seemed destined to fail under Van Gaal and was used sparingly by the Dutchman in what was to be an underwhelming season for both the Colombian and Manchester United.

During a torrid spell at Manchester United Falcao often looked energetic, but ultimately frustrated, whilst feeding off scraps that Van Gaal’s system and the obvious lack in quality that provided little support not just to Falcao, but any United striker than Van Gaal called upon for moments of inspiration.

Whilst the Colombian’s time at Manchester United was seemingly underwhelming – having scored only four times in twenty six appearances- many could argue that under different circumstances, with the right players around him and if offered more patience and support from Van Gaal, Falcao may  have flourished at Old Trafford.

After a difficult first season in the Premier League, Manchester United seemed unimpressed by the return on the investment that brought Falcao to the North West and the option to sign Falcao on a permanent basis was not taken up. And so the pattern of rejection began for the declining star as he headed out of Old Trafford with a wimper.

With his Old Trafford torment behind him, Falcao was given a life-line in the form of Jose Mourihno and Chelsea and much like the initial opinion when the Colombian signed for United, it seems yet again like the perfect marriage.

However, despite Mourinho suggesting he would be able to get the best out of the Colombian, Falcao scored only one goal in a handful of appearances and has not only fallen down the pecking order at Stamford Bridge, but fallen off it completely as he regularly struggles to even make the matchday squad these days.

On transfer deadline day in January 2016 Falcao was rumoured to be in Spain trying to engineer a return to Atletico Madrid, but it seems that not even his adopted Spanish family want to take a gamble on him – and this is the club that were willing to give a mis-firing, confidence lacking Fernando Torres a second chance.

Where Falcao will end up is anyone’s guess and as he enters his thirties you have to wonder if the free-scoring Radamel Falcao will ever grace the arenas of Europe’s elite again. It is a shame that a player (in similar vain to  Fernando Torres) suddenly declined overnight. In the case of Falcao it seems pretty evident that the ACL injury he suffered in 2014 played a bit part in his rapid decline and the Colombian has never recovered and lost all the assets that made him so punishing.

To compound matters further, the arrival of Alexandre Pato has subsequently all but ended the Colombians career at Chelsea (and most likely in the Premier League) as the former AC Milan and Corinthians striker has been registered for Chelsea’s Champions League squad in place of Falcao.

It is sad to see a player like Falcao fall from grace, especially when only last summer I was relishing the prospect of seeing him light up Old Trafford for years to come. However, with Monaco not keen to take him back, Chelsea looking to wash their hands with him and Atletico now rejecting a potential reunion, perhaps China or the MLS will be more realistic options for a striker who until only recently, was regarded by many as one of the – if not hands down the very best – striker in World football.

MCFC save Transfer Deadline day!


Manchester City seem to have today spared the embarrassment of legions of football journalists standing patiently outside football grounds all over the country waiting for something to happen, by announcing that Bayern Munich head coach Pep Guardiola will be replacing Manuel Pellegrini in the summer. 

Although journalists are usually prolific when it comes to picking a players name out of thin air, picking a value between twenty five million pounds and one hundred million pounds and then thinking long and hard about a club that may be in the market for a player or two, on transfer deadline day their sources and knowledge of imminent deals have to be slightly more genuine than usual. As in; not a load of bollocks like every other day of the year. “Lionel Messi is closer to leaving Barcelona these days than ever”, said Guillem Balague cryptically informing us that Leo Messi is never leaving Barcelona….I think!

On a day that has seen very little transfer activity, news outlets across the country have been struggling to scrape together any credible transfer stories and the go-to sources for football gossip – hairdressers, dog walkers and old drinking buddies of big name players – have even gone quiet it seems.

Transfer Deadline day is often billed as one of the most exciting days in the football calendar, where clubs open their cheque books and splash the cash and learn the same lesson as holidaymakers that wait until the very last minute to get a late deal only to find it is more expensive than doing your business early.

However, with only a handful of deals having been secured in England’s top flight, including Alex Pritchard (who?) moving from Tottenham to West Brom on loan and Seydou Doumbia (….errr?) signing for Newcastle from Roma – also on loan – there really is very little to get excited about….unless you’re connected with Manchester City.

Fortunately, the announcement of Pep Guardiola taking over at the Etihad next season has given the football public at least something to talk about, as the excitement surrounding transfer deadline day once again looks to rumble on without any of the intensity of previous years, that Sky Sports continue to cling to and force down the throats of football fans, fooling them into believing that although it is 10:59pm, their club is about to pull off something big.

With several hours to go (as I write this) before the window ‘slams’ shut, a couple of high profile moves could still be on the cards, but it is hard to see any of the big guns taking the plunge at this late stage of a day increasingly becoming a 24 hour window for selling clubs to exploit the desperation of clubs who have started their negotiations far too late.

FIFA 16 Review…and FIFA 17 Wish List


Every year EA’s FIFA series strives to improve on presentation and gameplay in pursuit of creating the ultimate football experience and for the most part they succeed. However, year upon year certain elements remain either untouched or patched over, leaving a largely polished product stale and botched in certain areas. 

Authenticity

An area the FIFA series prides itself on is authenticity. Boasting an extensive catalogue of official licences from various leagues around the world, allows EA to showcase an authentic football experience that brings you closer to the action than ever before. However, despite their impressive armoury of licensing the FIFA series could still do more to capture a continued realism in the long-serving campaign modes and make a new season and various high profile fixtures different from the previous.

What can be improved? Now, I would rarely coin the phrase ‘take a page from PES’s book’ because Konami’s football series is an inferior product, but one element in the Master League mode which I would like to see FIFA adopt is the ability to change the styling of your teams kit. Although this would bring only a minor aesthetic offering to proceedings it would eradicate having to turn out in the 2015/16 kit when you’re 8 seasons into a career with your favourite club.

Gameplay Mechanics

No game should be easy to master and being presented with acceptable and challenging encounters are what make football gaming experiences so rewarding. However, rarely are games lost in FIFA by simply being outplayed by computer AI. In my experience if you find a difficulty setting that matches your playing ability every victory will be hard earned, but (this could be a case of sour grapes) defeats tend to be so frustrating it is impossible to accept defeat gracefully.

If you are a highly competent FIFA player then perhaps you are immune to such trivial frustrations. but if you – like me – find yourself in one of those encounters that you just can’t win then you’ll know exactly what I mean. Suddenly human controlled players get bullied off the ball and not only are the AI opposition clinical with every attacking flurry they spurn, they become superhuman mind readers that snuff out every pass and the ‘keeper manages to pull of a careers worth of world class saves in a 90 minute stretch.

This needs to stop. I don’t have a solution because I don’t know how to program a football game, but EA need to find a way to differentiate the different skill levels without simply adopting the zombies, slightly more intelligent zombies, demi-gods, gods and every player is Leo Messi on LSD and steroids approach to difficulty settings.

The easiest two settings on FIFA are too easy, surely even for those who are either new to the game or haven’t quite mastered it. On the easiest setting you can simply walk around players and on semi-pro you can easily run beyond the last line of defence and be left one on one with the ‘keeper at will. However, the jump from semi-pro to Professional is where all the finely tuned – and I imagine painstakingly assigned – individual player statistics get thrown out of the window. On Professional skill setting and above there is little point picking a team with quick, strong players because it doesn’t matter how quick or strong their stats suggest they should be, the superhuman AI will bully Akinfenwa off the ball and will outpace Walcott and simply outwit you at every turn. They are programmed to and when playing single player against computer AI on one of the higher difficulty (and this is going to sound like a ridiculously obvious statement) it becomes very apparent that you are pitting your wits against a machine….a machine that can react and counteract every button press you make. Hence why playing against other human players either on-line or in the same room is a far more rewarding experience.

  • How about goalkeepers drop or flap at crosses for once. When you launch a cross into the box near the ‘keeper there are two outcomes – they’ll punch it clear or gobble it up with assured hands. ‘Keepers are not that decisive.
  • Computer AI have become too good at retaining possession (especially in FIFA 16) which can lead to several minutes chasing the ball down in an attempt to win it back. Is it me or are the computer AI especially good at keeping hold of posession from the 80th minute when you’re in need of a goal?
  • Referees in real life get a lot of stick and I imagine a main contributor is the moronic decisions AI referees make on FIFA. I rarely use the slide tackle button but I still mange to concede more freekicks in one game than the AI conceded in half a season. Sometimes fouls are given against me that I don’t even know what they’re for.
  • Have you ever played a perfectly weighted through ball only to realise that the player receiving the ball is off-side….? Why is it that through balls only seem to go where you want them to when
  • Stray passes – passing seems to have taken a step back this season with the general pace of passing slowed considerably and through balls are even less effective than previous. A new quick fire or zipped pass has been added but the success rate of the receiving player controlling the ball is pretty minimal.

Career Mode

  • International management – I understand this feature gives players the chance to mix international management with everyday club management duties without having to have a separate campaign for each role, but how realistic is this feature really. If you’re manager of Manchester United you’re probably not going to want to manage Bolivia or Ecuador and even if you did I doubt you’d ever seriously be approached by those types of nations. It feature may really appeal to some players, but I’d like to see an option to disable this feature when creating a new career. There’s little more tedious than having to reject a job offer from some minnow nation every couple of weeks.
  • Ballon D’Or….how about it?
  • Open up the Women’s section of the game to include as many club teams as possible.
  • Expand player career mode for more leagues.

Every year millions of football fans splash out £40 or more on release day and online players cough up obscene amounts of money to unlock players in Ultimate Team and other online modes over the course of the season and although I would never suggest that EA are not trying to improve on the high standards they have already set, it does feel like some years there is little evolution from the previous FIFA instalment.

This year with FIFA 16, we were treated to gameplay ‘improvements’ that have made the game less exciting to play and more even more tedious. A new ‘revolutionary’ touch-less dribble system (does anyone actually use it?), pre-season friendly competitions and womens football were billed as the big changes on the much improved FIFA 15 instalment. The latter is probably the most welcome and revolutionary of the additions, but the rest fall rightfully under the meh category.

Are these adjustments, slight tweaks enough to justify having to put our hands in our pocket and pay full price for a new game when FIFA titles are essentially becoming version .5 of the previous instalment.

Progress is not always in small measures with FIFA. In fact, the jump from FIFA 14 to FIFA 15 was astounding. The inclusion of Sky Sports-esque presentation combined with the first true next gen (or current gen – I can never understand the difference) visuals lifted the FIFA series to new heights and delivered the closest football experience to date. Playing the demo for the first time and indulging in the authentic Premier League presentation and incredibly photo-realistic cast literally tearing up the turf filled me with an excitement that has been missing for several years. With every new FIFA title purchased I simply accepted that it wasn’t much different to its predecessor but an improvement nonetheless. FIFA 15 raised the bar considerably and perhaps wrongly, this level or improvement is what I have come to expect. Subtle changes are no longer enough and aren’t going to cut it when I now know what EA can achieve when they put their minds to it…and now that the PES series is finally being recognised as a serious FIFA competitor.

As FIFA 16 arrived I felt a pang of disappointment on my first play and even now after a month of exposure I can’t help but see FIFA 16 as inferior to its predecessor. Not only does it look and feel the same as FIFA 15 (which can in some way be seen as a positive), the new gameplay mechanics and improved AI have actually made it a more frustrating experience. Computer AI are more robotic than ever, whereby they intercept even more passes than before, making it increasingly difficult to play a killer pass in the final third. At times the AI are borderline mind-readers, snuffing out and predicting the trajection of passes far quicker than a human ever could.

Possession is easily kept by AI too. In FIFA 16 you will spend long periods being passed around like Barcelona, only Stoke and the less attractive footballing sides will be capable of high tempo ball retention for long periods. This means that when you have possession you have to make the most of it and deters from trying any play that could end up with you losing possession. Careful and calculated build up play is now essential as you try and engineer an opening by drawing a rigid defensive line that holds formation how an AI controlled defensive unit only could. Lack of discipline and lapses in positional awareness is almost non-existent so carving an opening in FIFA 16 is incredibly difficult and begins to feel like a tense game of Chess, every time you mount an attack.

Defences are much improved because of this and scoring has become more difficult as a consequence, but its a detriment to the free-flowing and exciting playing experience that FIFA has previously delivered with such gusto.

FIFA in recent years has become something of a marmite gaming series and anyone who has played FIFA for long periods will no doubt understand my meaning. When all is going well and you’re playing with confidence there are few gaming experiences that can match FIFAs enjoyability and longevity. Considering gamers tend to talk about huge RPG and adventure titles that amass 100-200 hours gameplay, FIFA can easily absorb well over those measly figures. However – going back to my marmite analogy – whilst FIFA can be incredibly rewarding it can also be frustrating, border-lining on the cusp of torture, during those sittings that defy all logic where defeats mount up and you fall out of love with football for a brief moment, only to thrust yourself back into your next fixture.

The Verdict

When twelve months pass in gaming improvements are expected to be made and perhaps EA’s efforts for FIFA16 are misunderstood and improving on last years instalment was going to be a big ask.

Pros

Inclusion of womens football is a first for the series and a welcome addition
Pre Season Tournaments add minor depth to a stale career mode
Official licencing for the Bungesliga brings even more authenticity

 

Cons

Improved player AI restricts spontinuity and results in tedious build-up play and careful ball retention
Referees still seem biased and inconsistent when giving free-kicks
Underwhelming career campaigns need fresh ideas

Decent – 8