#007 – El Tigre: The King of the Jungle
It is hard to imagine dedicating your life to your craft and seeing yourself become one of the world best within it, only to have everything come crashing down in a mere moment. On the 23rd January 2014, Radamel Falcao went down under a last-ditch challenge in a Coup de France tie against Monts d’Or Azergues. Until that point Falcao had scored 70 goals in 91 appearances for Atletico Madrid and had taken to life well in Ligue 1 with AS Monaco. In that challenge Falcao ruptured his anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee putting him out for the rest of the season. Lamentably for Falcao, this would mean missing the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Falcao’s home nation Colombia impressed at the tournament but ultimately went out to the hosts in the quarter finals. One wonders what the nation could have achieved with Falcao’s lethal finishing on top of an already talented squad. In a heartbeat, ‘El Tigre’ had gone from being one of the worlds’ most elite strikers, to watching his friends and teammates play without him on the biggest stage in the world. Football can be cruel.
From a young age Falcao’s talent was outstanding for all to see, at the age of 13 he made his debut for Lanceros Boyaća in the Colombian second division (the youngest player ever to do so.) When reflecting on my own life at 13, I too was busy playing football with professionals, the only difference between myself and Falcao was the PlayStation controller I had in my hand. It takes an elite mentality and sacrifice to achieve dreams of playing professional football at such a young age, a mentality that would accompany Falcao throughout the rest of his illustrious career. Falcao was signed by River Plate of Argentina for £500,000 in February 2001 and joined their youth set-up. Over the next 4 years Falcao honed his craft, ultimately being given his professional debut aged 19 in a match which saw his side win 3-1. In this time Falcao had never stopped picturing himself at the pinnacle of the sport he so loved. He sums it up earnestly himself: “If I’d stopped dreaming, I don’t think I’d be here; I’d be somewhere else” (‘BrianyQuote’.) In many ways, this quote perfectly encapsulates Falcao; quick, efficient and to the point.
It was at Porto in the 2009/10 season where Falcao first properly announced himself to the world. Falcao hauled Porto to a 3rd place finish. 8 points away from eventual winners Benfica. Falcao had netted 34 goals in 42 appearances for the Portuguese outfit and only missed out on the top goal scorer award by 1 goal. Porto’s second highest goal scorer was left marooned on 11 goals in all competitions. It was evident his team couldn’t match Falcao’s scintillating form.
Falcao spent another season in the coastal town before leaving for Atletico Madrid in the summer of 2011. Los Rojiblancos, broke their record transfer fee to sign the Colombian for an initial €40 Million, rising to €50 Million in performance-based add-ons.
He restored their faith by returning a career-best spell of 79 goal contributions (70 goals and 9 assists) in 91 appearances. Under Diego Simeone, a pragmatist of the highest calibre, Falcao established himself as one of the world’s most elite strikers and spearheaded their 2011/12 Europa League victory.
Falcao’s second season in Spain began right where the previous had left off with a 4-1 victory over Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup. It then ended with further success culminating in a 3rd place league finish and another impressive 28 goal haul for Falcao. It is crucial to remember that Falcao’s best years coincided with an era of Real Madrid and Barcelona dominance with both sides achieving 100-point seasons respectively. This makes ‘El Tigre’s’ exploits doubly as impressive as he was enabling Atletico Madrid to become the powerhouse, they later morphed into during Simeone’s tenure. Unfortunately for Falcao, the summer of 2013 saw Atletico Madrid sell him to AS Monaco for a fee of €60 million, a solid statement of intent from a newly promoted team! This meant he missed out on Atletico Madrid’s historic league win in the 2013/14 La Liga season. Falcao had once again facilitated a team’s later success at the detriment to his own trophy cabinet. This theme is a quiet cloud that seems to encapsulate a career like few other.
It was during his time at Monaco where Falcao suffered the ACL injury that he never really recovered from. This isn’t to say there were never highs after. Far from it. But that his lethal finishing and world elite claim were never really the same. Ill-fated stints at Manchester United and then Chelsea appeared to hammer Red and Blue nails into a once great career with Falcao only managing to find the net 5 times in 36 appearances during his time in England. The pub fan claimed his time was over and that to hang up his boots would be ‘the decent thing to do’ but it takes more than that to keep a Tiger down.
In the 2016/17 season, Falcao, once again in his Principality home of Monaco, lead The Red and Whites to their first Ligue 1 title in 17 years dethroning the dominant Paris Saint Germain side who had become synonymous with winning. Under a young, exciting manager in Leonardo Jardim, AS Monaco romped to the league title with 95 points (30 wins, 5 draws and 3 losses.) For the first time in 6 years, Radamel Falcao had been part of a title winning side again and deserved all the accolades thrown his way once the parties had ceased. It should come as no surprise that he finished as his club’s top goal scorer once again.
Falcao fondly spoke of his manager in this period referring to him as “a very smart coach who reads matches perfectly”
AS Monaco’s title win was a beautiful underdog tale and at the front of it all was a man who had overcome great adversity and ridicule to taste the sweetest of victories. In true fashion, Falcao’s veteran status and his calming influence over the young squad paved the way for a generational wave of talent to flourish at Monaco during their title winning season. Household names including: Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva, Benjamin Mendy, Fabinho, Thomas Lemar and Tiemoue Bakayoko all cut their teeth during this historic season. A season that not only saw them claim domestic silverware but also reach the Champions League semi-finals where they were finally knocked out by Juventus. This run saw them beat Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund. Bernardo Silva and Benjamin Mendy put themselves in the shop window during their 6-6 clash with Manchester City with the pair joining the following summer.
Radamel Falcao now applies his trade for Galatasaray in the Turkish Süper Lig. It seemed fitting on his 34thbirthday to remember the exploits of a truly great football player. I think it is testament to the power of social media when looking at Falcao’s public image during his time playing in the premier league. No-one deserves to become a ‘meme,’ least of all a man who dedicates his life to bringing magical moments to millions of people across the world. Time and again we see stories of players being hounded on the internet and rather than use the platform to encourage and motivate their teams, fans decide to go after players families and friends when there is a downturn in form. It’s an unacceptable trope in football that needs to stop. I think it’s fair to say that Falcao’s best footballing days are behind him but the memories he brought to fans around the world will live on evermore.
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