Radamel Falcao: The dramatic decline of the world’s best number nine.
Before the barrage of abuse regarding this claim that Radamel Falcao is the world’s best number nine, I am speaking of the man who once was the best. A man who petrified and bullied defences, made goal-scoring an art, and was bracketed up there with the likes of the untouchable Messi and Ronaldo less than four years ago.
31st August, 2012, Stade Louis II, Monaco. It was the night of the UEFA Super Cup, where Chelsea, winners of the 2011-2012 Champions League, took on Spanish giants Atlético Madrid, who were crowned Europa League champions that same summer. Chelsea obviously went into the match as favourites, but a certain striker lining up for the opposition had other ideas.
I remember the match as if it were yesterday, and I remember it for one of the best solo performances I have ever seen from a striker; from any footballer in fact. Falcao absolutely tore Chelsea apart, scoring a stupendous first-half hat trick to ensure his side had a 3–0 lead at half time.
Incidentally, all three goals were scored on his weak foot, making the hat-trick even more extraordinary. Atlético went on to lift the trophy thanks to a 4–1 win with their star man taking the man-of-the-match award and the match ball home with him…along with his winner’s medal.
He scored goals that evening that made David Luiz, Ashley Cole and Petr Čech, three of Europe’s finest players at the time, question their existence as professional footballers. To be perfectly honest, El Tigre made them look like complete amateurs.
Radamel Falcao García Zárate began his footballing career with Colombian Categoría Primera B side Lanceros Boyacá at the age of just thirteen. He was then snapped up by Argentinian big-boys River Plate where he joined their youth set-up in 2001, aged fifteen. However life at the club got off to a mixed start. Having scored seven goals in his first seven games, Falcao sustained serious ligament damage to his right knee that would begin a spiral of injury problems lasting for two years.
He finally regained full fitness in 2007 and won the Argentinian title in 2008 under coach Diego Simeone, a manager he would eventually work with again across the Atlantic.
He ended his stay with the Buenos Aires club scoring 45 goals in 111 games in all competitions before completing a move to Portuguese side F.C Porto, where he bagged 25 goals in 26 league games, announcing himself onto the European scene.
Falcao was prolific again in the 2010/11 season as he broke Jürgen Klinsmann’s record of 15 goals in a UEFA Europa League season. He registered hat-tricks against Rapid Vienna and Spartak Moscow along the way before scoring four times at home to Villarreal in the semi-final first leg.
This fine form saw that Falcao finished fifth in a summer 2011 poll to determine the winner of the inaugural UEFA Best Player in Europe Award. How catchy. He then became Atlético’s record signing when he moved to the Spanish outfit a few weeks later for a fee in the region of £30m, although this fee is widely disputed.
Undoubtedly, the striker hit his peak in Spain scoring 23 league goals in his first season, third only to a certain pair of footballing Goliaths:
- Lionel Messi : 46 goals
- Cristiano Ronaldo: 34 goals
- Radamel Falcao : 28 goals
This astounding form saw him complete a move to newly promoted, newly rich, Ligue 1 side A.S Monaco for a sizable €45m.
This move marked the beginning of the end for one of the best strikers I have ever seen, as the troublesome knee came back to haunt El Tigre, keeping him out for large parts of his first season at Monaco with yet more ligament issues.
Despite a season of somewhat mixed fortunes at the Principality club, Falcao secured one of the biggest and most surprising loan deals of all time. He moved to the biggest club in the world by signing for Louis van Gaal’s Manchester United on deadline day on 2nd September 2014, sending fans of the Red Devils into absolute delirium.
The perfect replacement for a waning, aging Robin van Persie it seemed, a hero during his three-year stay at Old Trafford after having single-handedly won the title for United in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final season.
However, United made the fatal mistake of signing an injured player with a track record of career threatening injuries to his name. As a result, he didn’t score his first goal until mid-October and only went onto score three more Premier League goals despite making 26 appearances for the club. He never looked anything like even the shadow of his former self. He was unfit, lethargic, miserable, nervous, and he completely lost his touch and pace which made him the formidable player he had been previously.
Van Gaal had the option of extending the Colombian’s loan but declined on reflection of his poor performances all season long. Nobody whatsoever predicted what came next for our friend Radamel…
In one of the surprises of the season so far, the Champions of England, Chelsea signed Falcao on loan from Monaco. This campaign is turning out to be just as diabolical as his previous season in the North-West. Despite sporting a new, fresh hairstyle, I’m afraid his football hasn’t gone through the same transformation. He has only made nine league appearances this season for the blues, scoring once, and currently, he sits on the sidelines with yet another knee injury. Oh dear.
Despite a lousy club career over the last two or three years, Radamel Falcao has made 63 appearances for his native Colombia and still remains the highest all-time goalscorer with 25.
Few can foresee what is next for Chelsea’s number nine as he looks set to fall further down their pecking order behind new boy Alexandre Pato. Will he return to parent club Monaco? Will be lured to the cash-strapped Chinese Super League and follow compatriots Fredy Guarín and Jackson Martínez? Will he even retire?
The answer is unclear, but what is for sure, is the man once known as El Tigre, The Tiger, has become somewhat of a pussycat, a kitten…with a dodgy knee.