It was never supposed to pan out like this. Radamel Falcao’s reputation as a world-class striker lies in ruins, six months after joining Manchester United on a season-long loan deal from AS Monaco.
The almost comical footage of the Colombia international squinting to see if it really was his number that was being held up by the fourth official on a cold Monday night at Deepdale will be the abiding memory that many Manchester United fans are left with of the striker when he leaves Old Trafford at the end of the season.
Falcao will be categorised alongside the likes of Fernando Torres and Andriy Shevchenko by fans of the Premier League - formerly world-class strikers who suffered spectacular falls from grace in England’s unforgiving top flight.
Falcao will always be a true great
Manchester United fans were desperate for the Falcao deal to work out - and understandably so.
This is one of the best No. 9s of his generation; a goalscoring machine who not only scored goals for fun, but made sure fans remembered his strikes by scoring some of the most stunning goals of the previous 10 years.
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In terms of a spectacular goals back catalogue, very few strikers are able to compete with Falcao. Southampton legend Matt le Tissier is probably the only other forward who runs the South American close when it comes to goals of breathtaking beauty.
Capable of scoring off either foot, from any range, and truly magnificent in the air - watching the current version of Falcao shouldn’t just upset Manchester United supporters, it should upset football fans in general.
Manchester United have no time for sympathy
But despite the heartbreaking sight of a formerly great player now struggling to even pull off the basics on the pitch, Manchester United do not have time to be overly sympathetic or sentimental.
And for this reason, Louis van Gaal must be ruthless and decide that Falcao’s time as a Manchester United player is already over.
United must finish inside the Premier League’s top four and, ideally, secure the FA Cup too. In order for this to happen they need Wayne Rooney back upfront in place of the under-performing Colombian.
Wayne Rooney must be United's main striker
Rooney showed against Preston that he is undoubtedly Manchester United’s most dangerous and effective forward, while his passionate celebration after scoring his first goal since December indicated the experienced England international may have been a little frustrated with his midfield role in recent weeks.
And who could blame him. Watching Falcao and the equally disappointing Robin van Persie slog it out upfront has been torture for Manchester United fans, so lord only knows what it must have been like for Rooney - who was in great goalscoring form for both club and country before being asked to do a job in the middle of the park.
Ander Herrera's impact
Rooney moving forward also allows Ander Herrera to come into the team. The Spanish midfielder once again showed on Monday night that Van Gaal has been foolish to overlook him over recent months, scoring the all-important equaliser which kept Manchester United’s FA Cup dream alive.
Falcao, because of that dastardly knee injury, is finished at the very top level and has no business being at Manchester United.
Falcao will hinder United's chances of success
That might sound harsh but it’s true. Van Gaal will only hinder Manchester United’s chances of finishing inside the top four or winning the FA Cup by naming the Colombian in his starting line-up again this season.
Manchester United fans: should Falcao ever play for Manchester United again? Have your say in the comments below.