Manero

The Tiger Roars Back

By: Alfonso Duro

The last 18 months have been a road full of bumps for Colombian star Radamel Falcao. The Colombian had become the most exciting attacker in Europe, a wonderful option to the duopoly of greats formed by Lio Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and sky was the limit. But then he tore his knee ligaments in a cold French winter night playing for Monaco.

It happened just months before the start of the Brazil World Cup. All of Colombia had its hopes pinned to the skills of Falcao, especially considering that he was surrounded by the best generation of players in the last 20 years. But that night in Chasselay brought El Tigre down, and along with him fell the dream of the Cafetero nation of sneaking into the top spots of world soccer.

A TRAGEDY IN MANCHESTER. It took Falcao six months to recover from his knee injury, and much longer to get back into the rhythm and speed of the professional game. Manchester United lent him a helping hand, as the Colombian didn’t want to spend another meaningless season in the French League, and signed him on a one-year loan in order to give new manager Louis Van Gaal the killer he had requested.

It was a risky bet for both parts: ManU needed Falcao performing at a very high level in order to return to Champions League spots, while the Colombian knew if he didn’t peak quickly after his recovery he would not get the playing time he needed to be ready for Copa América.

The year in Manchester was one to forget. Falcao only played 14 games and scored 4 goals, and was far from being ready to help Colombia during the bout in Chile this summer. It was obvious the Old Trafford outfit would not make good on the 25 million euro buy-out option, so Radamel called super star agent Jorge Mendes to find him a new home for this season.

THE JORGE MENDES CONNECTION. Chelsea has become one of Europe’s giants in the last 12 years thanks to two factors: Roman Abramovich’s money and Jorge Mendes’ brilliant player-placement program. The Portuguese agent has been Abramovich’s best Managing Director, using his external role to bring some of the most successful players to Stamford Bridge in the last decade. Now he has brought Radamel Falcao to the team, an old aspiration of Jose Mourinho, who thinks linking up the Colombian, paired with Diego Costa, can make Chelsea a true attacking powerhouse again.

DIEGO COSTA: ALLY OR RIVAL? Diego Costa and Radamel Falcao became the terror of Europe just a few years back when Cholo Simeone handed them the keys to Atlético Madrid’s attack. Costa was just an up-and-coming young talent who shone on a 6-month loan at Rayo Vallecano, while Falcao was already one of the most established strikers in Europe.

One season was enough for the two of them to become a perfect combination, and no match epitomized this better than their last one together in the Copa del Rey final against Real Madrid in 2013. They became inseparable, unstoppable, and a fierce force to be reckoned with. But with Falcao’s departure to Monaco, Diego Costa grew on its own; first at Atlético Madrid then at Chelsea. Many say he has likely surpassed Falcao in the last 18 months, moving from loyal side-kick to full-on superhero.

Jose Mouriho will then have to figure out which role he wants both players to play at Chelsea. If his goal is to pit one against the other in hopes to make the competition bring out the best in them –much like he did with Higuaín and Benzema in Madrid, or Drogba and Costa last season— the players may end up resenting each other and not giving their best to the team. Yet if Mourinho is thinking of a creative way to have them play alongside one another, the partnership may flourish once again and Falcao’s best football may amaze us once again.

Alfonso Duro is a Spanish freelance writer. When he's not managing Google's agency in the United Arab Emirates (his current job), chances are he's watching and writing about soccer.