Villarreal thought they were safe. They’d scored at an ideal moment in their 2011 Europa League semi-final first leg against Porto, grabbing the first goal of the tie right on half-time.
But then it all went wrong – really wrong. And they should have known it was coming, too: after all, this was a time when nobody in the competition escaped unscathed from a meeting with El Tigre.
Thirty second-half minutes was all it took for Radamel Falcao to kill off his latest prey with a devastating hat-trick – and there was still time for him to add a fourth before full-time in a huge 5-1 victory. He got another in the second leg; then most crucially, the only goal of a narrow Dublin final against Braga to win what would prove to be the first of consecutive Europa League honours.
That 2010/11 season was Falcao at his astonishing best: he netted 38 goals in 44 appearances as Porto won the Primeira Liga unbeaten under Andre Villas-Boas, plus their domestic cup for good measure. In the Europa League he broke Jurgen Klinsmann’s record by scoring 17 goals en route to glory – the largest haul in a single edition of any UEFA club competition until Cristiano Ronaldo matched it in the 2013/14 Champions League.
Porto’s loss was Atletico Madrid’s gain the following season – another 12 goals in 15 Europa League matches helped the Rojiblancos to tournament victory, with Falcao scoring twice before half-time in the 3-0 final win over Athletic Club.
"To score in a final is super special,” he told Reshmin Chowdhury as part of Kia’s Making of a Legend series (above). “It's the decisive game, the majority of people are paying attention and being able to score a goal to help your team be crowned champion is something anyone would dream about.
"Not many have the opportunity to do it, and I was able to in two finals. So in that sense, I have been very blessed.”
Only two players – Henrik Larsson and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar – have scored more goals in the UEFA Cup/Europa League than Falcao. But neither did so at such a remarkable rate; El Tigre’s 31 goals in just 33 games give him a ratio rivalled only by Jupp Hencykes in the top 10 of all time.
And anyway: about that nickname?
"'El Tigre' came from when I was in the River plate youth teams,” he smiles. “A team-mate, Gonzalo Ludeno, said after a match: 'You were a tiger on the pitch.' After that everyone went with it and started calling me 'El Tigre'. Since then I've remained that!
“I didn't say much because it was a good nickname..."
He’s not wrong. Hit play on the video above to watch Reshmin’s full interview with the King of the Europa League – part of Kia’s Making of a Legend series empowering the competition’s all-time greats.
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