LONDON: Radamel Falcao has been warned that he is running out of time to earn a permanent move to Manchester United after struggling to adapt to the demands of English football.
Falcao, who is on a season-long loan at Old Trafford from Monaco, endured a chastening evening during United's FA Cup fifth-round victory at Preston on Monday with the player failing to register a shot on or off target before he was replaced by Ashley Young after an hour of the 3-1 win.
Having arrived at United in September last year with a reputation as one of the world's most prolific strikers, -Falcao has scored four goals in 19 appearances for Louis van Gaal's team, with the Colombian appearing still be to searching for full fitness following a cruciate ligament injury sustained 13 months ago.
However, with United faced with a pounds 43.2?million fee to sign Falcao permanently - the club have already paid a pounds 6?million loan fee and pounds 265,000-a-week in wages - the prospects of Van Gaal sanctioning such an outlay appear remote.
The former United forward Louis Saha, whose own injury battles ultimately cost him his career at Old Trafford, admitted that Falcao's situation was not helped by the pressure to prove his worth over the final three months of the season.
"Falcao is under pressure because of his contract," Saha said. "As a striker you want to score, but when there is that amount of money involved, you are under pressure. That pressure is not on a defender for instance, so I have sympathy with Falcao. I have no doubts about him and I know how hard it is to be a striker, but there is always a lot of competition at this club.
"When you are in a club and there are only one or two strikers and you are one who will definitely start, it is different. But at United it is not like that. It is a battle, but he has the quality to do a great job here."
With Monaco keen to offload -Falcao due to his pounds 330,000-a-week wages, United may yet be able to negotiate a reduction in his fee should Van Gaal choose to sign him permanently this summer.
Falcao's representative, Jorge Mendes, has insisted that his client will play for one of Europe's top clubs next season if United decline their option to sign him and senior figures at Old Trafford have so far resisted attempts from the player's camp to conclude a deal ahead of schedule.
Saha insists, however, that Falcao can still come good. "You have to adapt," Saha said. "When you are in a different formation or different management then you have to adapt.
"It could take three months, six months or maybe a year before you understand it. It happens to even the best players. It happened for instance to Patrice Evra here. For the first six months, he was struggling because he didn't seem to understand the physical nature of the game in England, but he eventually changed into a terrific player. But coming back from injury is very hard. It is the hardest time in your life.
"You are a footballer and you want to play and you have to really work hard to come back physically right, but also mentally. You have to get back the confidence and it is really tough. You have to have the luck as well. You need to work with a team full of confidence.
"When I was coming back, I had team-mates scoring goals every week so it was easier for me to adapt and just pick up some goals here and there. The pressure wasn't as big for me. When a team is flowing, it is easier to come back in."
United travel to Swansea City on Saturday with Robin van Persie set to return to the squad after missing the trip to Preston due to a minor injury.
With Van Gaal praising the contribution of the Belgian midfielder Marouane Fellaini as an auxiliary forward during the victory at Deepdale, however, and Young's impact on the wing after switching to a 4-4-2 formation, the United manager admitted he could not guarantee an automatic return to the starting line-up for Van Persie, who has scored just two goals in his last eight appearances.
"Van Persie shall be fit for the Swansea game," Van Gaal said. "But it is dependable if I select him."
Louis Saha was speaking at the launch of Manchester United Social Media, powered by KamaGames, available to download www.manutdsocialcasino.com.