It has taken three years, two loans and a colossal investment of money, but Monaco are starting to see the best of Radamel Falcao. The Colombian striker looked like he was finished in his two loan seasons at Manchester United and Chelsea, desperately far away from the striker who terrorised Europe at Porto and Atletico Madrid.
This is the striker who Tottenham Hotspur will face tomorrow night at the Stade Louis II, the man who can effectively knock them out of the Champions League. That would have sounded unlikely in the extreme during his two poor years in England, but this is a new Falcao now. He has scored nine goals already this season for Monaco and looks certain to record his best season since he moved to Ligue 1 back in the summer of 2013, when Monaco tried to redraw the world of European football with Dmitry Rybolovlev’s billions.
The Falcao of this season, though, is not the same player who looked like the best number nine in the world after arriving in Europe from River Plate. That explosive power is gone, and he cannot run in behind or terrify centre-backs like he used to. Years of intense work, and that agonising knee injury suffered in a French cup game in January 2014, have put paid to that.
This is a different Falcao, a player known in France as un renard des surfaces, or, as we might put it, ‘a fox in the box’. The speed has gone but the skill and nous remains the same, and so Falcao has reinvented himself as a penalty-box poacher. That is why Leonardo Jardim has disposed of his 4-2-3-1 system to pair Falcao up front with Valere Germain. The French striker spent last season on loan at Nice but now he is Falcao’s crucial foil, doing the hard running that allows Falcao to be a constant threat in the box
The evidence of this season is that merely being on the pitch is enough to make Falcao dangerous for a Monaco side pushing for the Ligue 1 title. On Friday night Monaco travelled to Brittany to play Lorient. Falcao did not start because he had been playing for Colombia during the international break. But half-way through the second half it was still 0-0, so Jardim threw him on. 40 seconds later Falcao had scored, with his first touch.
Falcao could easily have left Monaco last summer, and had offers from China that would have improved his already very generous salary. But he decided to stay, and took a pay cut from €14million to €7m to do so. He feels a keen sense of responsibility to Monaco, which is why he is still there, now captaining a team full of youngsters who respect him for everything he has achieved in the game.
There is a slight frustration there that as Falcao recovered from his knee injury that he tried to adapt to a new faster football in England as well, giving himself very little chance of making it. “The problem for Falcao was not just the knee injury,” explained Jardim recently, “it was also the fact that he went to play for two seasons at Manchester United and Chelsea. He tried to keep playing at the highest level. Although normally, when you have an injury like that, you stay at your club to try to recover quicker. It’s not easy to play and to recover at the same time. Players are not machines.”
Falcao has learned from his two-year English experiment, in which a fearsome player almost became a running joke. He scored four goals for Manchester United and just one for Chelsea and looked like a player who had nothing to offer at the top level any more. This year, by going back to Monaco, he has taught himself how to be a useful striker again. Spurs must know which Falcao they are facing, or they will go out.Reuse content