Of all the No 9s to face this weekend, Radamel Falcao would be the last on Jose Mourinho’s list. With 13 goals in 12 games and 50 goals for Atletico Madrid in a season and a half, the man they call “The Tiger” will be a major threat to Real Madrid in his first appearance at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Were this a Formula One team, Jorge Mendes could instruct the Colombian striker to bow to rank and not cause Mourinho too many problems. But the agent for both men will feel he can’t lose as two of his greatest assets face up to each other.
More worrying for Real than Falcao’s current form is his record in big games. The Uefa Super Cup hat-trick against Chelsea at the start of the season is one of the reasons why he remains their No 1 transfer target. His coach, Diego Simeone, was so confident of how well his forward would perform in that game he asked for his shirt before the match.
“Before the Super Cup final I asked him for his shirt because I knew it was going to be his night and that he was going to do something special,” said Simeone.
“He scored the hat-trick and he gave me his shirt which I have at home. I will always cherish it.”
At times Simeone talks like a man who knows his player-coach relationship with Falcao will not last too much longer. “He will be the best in the world because he will keep on getting better,” said Simeone. “I say that as someone who has known Radamel since we were together at River Plate in Argentina. He has an intuition and a level of accuracy in front of goal that I have only ever seen in Hugo Sanchez [the former Mexico striker].
“As a finisher, he is like Hugo but he is a more complete player. And he has another great virtue; in every game he goes out to do better than the last one. It’s that kind of attitude that will make him the best.”
Diego Godin, an Athletico team-mate, rates Falcao even more highly than Real’s main attacking asset, Cristiano Ronaldo. “As a goalscorer he is incredible.,” said Godin. “You give him a metre and, if the ball drops to him in that space, he will score. His finishing is incredible. If you compare Falcao and Ronaldo, right now I think Falcao has the edge. Cristiano is a little bit more predictable.”