The heartwarming tale of Radamel Falcao's spectacular rebirth
The trophy-winning upsurge of a club powered by an oligarch’s billions is not often the place to look for an uplifting story of human struggle. Yet set amid the private casinos, gleaming yachts and charitable tax rates of Monte Carlo is exactly that.
Monaco may well be the plaything of Dmitry Rybolovlev (personal fortune: $7.3bn, personal art collection: $2bn) but the club have also facilitated a spectacular rebirth of one of the great pure goalscorers of the modern age – a rebirth that is all the more magnificent for being utterly unforeseen.
Three months ago at the Etihad Stadium, when Radamel Falcao thundered onto a long pass, muscled John Stones to the floor and planted an exquisite chip over Willy Caballero into the back of the Manchester City net, it was almost laughable to think that this was the same striker who'd spent two years trundling around in the Premier League with the kind of forlorn lethargy which spelled out in no uncertain terms that his career at the top had been consigned to history.
Indeed, the Colombian’s time at Chelsea and Manchester United was so depressingly fruitless, his powers so obviously diminished, that his place within those club’s squads was generally accepted to be a sign of his agent’s incredible abilities rather than his own.
For those who had witnessed his colossal displays at Atletico Madrid in 2011/12 and 2012/13, it was difficult to watch. For two seasons in the Spanish capital, Falcao was a magnetic spectacle, a centre-forward who was both wholly modern and gloriously old-fashioned.
In an age of false nines and multi-faceted forwards, Falcao was a pure, pared-back No.9, who pursued his remit of scoring goals with a single-minded barbarity that brought to mind the great centre-forwards of the '90s: Batistuta, Shearer, Ronaldo.
Yet as much as he was a throwback he was also at the game’s cutting edge, able to lead the line on his own, to score any and every type of goal ("You have to be as complete as possible, you have to be able to do everything, or you won't score goals,” he once said) and in possession of the sort of bronzed, muscle-bound physique that spoke of the most modern application of conditioning, nutrition and sports science.
His highlights reel from those two years – a full 70 goals in total – is a thing of visceral beauty, notable for his admirable commitment to celebrating every goal like it's the decisive strike in the World Cup final (call it Inzaghi Syndrome), but also for how varied his repertoire of finishes is.
He possessed the uncanny ability to summon either savagery or subtlety depending on what the situation demands (his penchant for a chip was plenty obvious back then, too).
"This is a historic night. Falcao is the best striker in the world," said Diego Simeone in December 2012, having witnessed the Colombian score five in a 6-0 win over Deportivo – and he was far from the only one to hold that opinion about a player who seemed indestructible.
A year later, though, Falcao proved that his knee ligaments were, in fact, as fragile as the next man’s – a heavy challenge left the striker, who had joined an upwardly mobile Monaco six months earlier, in a crumpled heap in the penalty area and with that most feared of injuries: a damaged cruciate.