FEATURE | Au revoir El Tigre, one of Ligue 1’s greatest strikers in the 21st century, thwarted by bad luck

Radamel Falcao Garcia Zarate. A name to strike fear into the hearts of opposition defenders, fans and coaches. The name on the lips of the footballing world… if you had disappeared from the planet in 2012/13, these are the thoughts that would have be in your mind if you had been even a casual observer of European football. But we are in 2019, and in those six or so seasons things have changed; a trajectory that seemed intent on taking the Colombian striker to the very, very top of world soccer has not followed the predicted path.

Before his arrival in Monaco, Falcao scored 128 goals in all competitions in 217 career games. Taking Porto and Atletico Madrid alone this becomes an even more impressive 93 goals in 119 games, leading those sides to a considerable hoard of trophies, both domestically and in the Europa League. It was these statistics along with his aggressive style of play, and the fact that Atleti had form for taking in forwards, turning them into world class operators and selling them on for big profits, meant that the biggest and best teams in Europe were circling. He seemed destined to lead the line at one of those clubs, probably in Spain, England or Germany, and to shine in the Champions’ League, so obviously he turned up in Monaco, to play at the Stade Louis II.

Falcao was supposed to herald the new beginning at AS Monaco; freshly promoted after winning Ligue 2, Monegasque pockets were filling up under the weight of even more cash following new investment in the club. The challenge was firmly thrown down to PSG and the Qataris, surely Falcao would spearhead this, and revitalise the French footballing scene, domestically – and what better place to do that from than Monte Carlo?!

Like so many that possess a superlative talent, circumstances often contrive to play their part, and a serious ACL injury at the start of 2014 meant that the Monaco career of Falcao stalled early on. He would miss the rest of that season and the subsequent World Cup, ensuring mean that fans of Les Rouges et Blanc would not get to see the best of their new hero.

Despite missing so much the 2013/14 campaign and with no summer tournament football to shine in, Falcao was still a much wanted man and two loan spells at Manchester United and then Chelsea were supposed to alleviate some of the financial pressures behind the scenes at Monaco. Instead, perhaps it was because of the knee, he flopped, and flopped hard – the well-trodden path, trail-blazed by Juan Sebastian Veron much earlier, did nothing to benefit the player in a footballing sense – quite the opposite – and nothing to benefit Monaco, with no permanent transfer (and the associated fee) materialising after a meagre return of five goals in 36 games in England.

Falcao was supposed to be a symptom of the malaise of the new regime at Manchester United (see Angel Di Maria et al.) and the way that Chelsea deal in the market at times, but the result was that there simply were not any takers for the former hotshot’s services – a net yearly salary of over €9m probably a contributing factor here, also.

And, here is where we come to the conundrum of Radamel Falcao; he returned to France, neither he, nor his employers fully thrilled at this prospect, but Leonardo Jardim hands him the captain’s armband and we go on to have the 2016/17 miracle of Monte Carlo.

A thrilling young team, choc-full of swashbuckling talents, coached to within an inch of their lives to burn brightly for a solitary season on the Mediterranean coast. Falcao did not only contribute, he led this team and bagged 30 goals in 42 appearances that year. A player transformed, perhaps reborn with the feeling of youth around him, and an in an environment in which to impress upon his younger charges his experience, he delivered.

Fate again though conspired – of course no established European superpower could possibly permit a side like that at Monaco to endure – and the changing winds in the halls of power at the Louis II meant that the Russian ownership was more than happy to take the money on offer for their stars. Except Falcao.

And so to ordinariness we revert – relatively of course. 65 goals in 107 Monaco games remains a seriously impressive tally. But this player cost €60m to buy and €9m a year in salary, and those goals and games are spread over six years, including last season where a return to Ligue 2 looked on the cards.

We never truly saw the best of Falcao since his big money move, and even though he will end his career a wealthy man, with a decent enough medal drawer, when he looks back on his French sojourn he will know that it never consistently worked.

Radamel Falcao will be remembered as one of those players – one that went for financial reasons rather than sporting. Yet for fans of French football, his arrival sparked interest in both a club and a league that had badly needed something new, something big, and Falcao felt like that thing – the blue touch paper to ignite and spark the arms race with Paris.

For one, wonderful, beautiful season he conducted the orchestra of those boys that now sparkle in the top clubs around Europe, winning titles and trophies, but no move for Radamel, despite his moments of brilliance against Manchester City and others. For him, the thought remains what could, what should have been.

As El Tigre leaves the Principality to join Aslan in the wild of Istanbul, truly no other player has “represented” his club more fully. He has been the living embodiment of AS Monaco’s journey since 2013 – the highs, the lows, the controversies, the successes and the failures.



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