Last summer, Colombian striker Radamel Falcao arrived in Monte Carlo as AS Monaco's new signing and savior from Atlético Madrid, wearing a jacket and shirt combination that all but summed up his brief time on the Côte d'Azur. With the beautiful French Riviera in the background, the salmon jacket, white shirt, blue trousers, and black cravat combination may have sounded like a good idea at the time. Overall, though, it was flash that didn't really seem to fit.
The former FC Porto and Atlético striker signed for Manchester United this summer from France a deadline day loan for about £6.7 million. He's reported to be make as high as £350,000 a week, which would make him the highest paid player in the Premier League. The deal is monstrous, and it's just to borrow him from the Ligue 1 side. He'll likely debut in England for the Red Devils today.
If this deal had come 12 months ago, no one would have batted an eyelid. After his time at Atlético, Falcao was known as one of the top strikers in the world. In two seasons in Spain, he scored 52 goals in 68 games. On paper, it was a fantastic return, but the problem with stats is that you can miss out on the finer details of the game.
Atlético lifted the Europa League and Spain's Copa del Rey with Falcao leading the line. But last summer, AS Monaco poached Atlético's talisman for a whopping €60 million. Without Falcao, Atlético reinvested their funds in creating a better, more complete team, and last year, they improved on their 2012-2013 season,winning Spain's La Liga and reaching the final of the Champions League.
With Falcao in France, Ligue 1 fans around the world were buoyed by the possibility that this new-look Monaco team could challenge defending champions Paris Saint-Germain to the title, turning France into a two-horse race rather than just dressage. They couldn't.
Falcao's record at Monaco appears great; the striker played 22 games and scored 13 goals. In the league, he played 1520 minutes, and averaged 138 minutes between goals. It's a good return, but let's compare him to PSG's Zlatan Ibrahimović. After the first 138 minutes of the Ligue 1 season just this year, the Swedish striker had already tallied five goals. And here begins the parsing of the Falcao myth.
The Colombian's first goal for Monaco last year was an ugly one, but showed strength, desire and a killer instinct, flashing past Bordeaux's Ludovic Sané before stabbing the ball past the keeper.
The following week, he scored an 18th-minute penalty in a match that also saw a hat trick from teammate Emmanuel Rivière. Though his record was still two from two, that was his only shot through the whole game.
After seven games in Ligue 1, Falcao had scored seven goals. Everything on the outside looked to be wonderful. However, there were signs that not everything was going as Falcao had planned. In his next seven games, the striker would only score twice, taking his total to nine. And after his equalizer against Evian on November 9 of last year, the Colombian didn't score another Ligue 1 goal until he scored a header against Nantes on August 24, just three weeks ago.
This, of course, is partly attributed to horrific knee injury that he suffered on January 22 in the Coupe de France, but the knee injury came after two and a half months of poor performances.
His play was already slipping, but it all came to a head when Monaco travelled to Nantes last November. After a truly sad performance, then-Monaco boss Claudio Ranieri pulled El Tigre after 63 minutes. Falcao missed the next month of action.
The rumors began that the striker was unhappy at Monaco, but that shocked no one. He returned after missing four weeks to play against Valenciennes, Montpellier and Toulouse, but the performances were far from encouraging.
It sounds cruel, but Falcao's knee injury may have actually helped his reputation. He was in the midst of a potentially career-altering slump, and instead of bashing Falcao in the buildup to the World Cup, he was praised as a fallen hero.
At the start of last season, Monaco built their team to get the best out of the Colombian, and they played in a 4-4-2 with two wingers instructed to provide him with as much ammunition as possible. He was seen as Monaco's answer to Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, or Ibrahimović. But the forward is more of a sniper, and struggles to create his own chances. When Monaco were struggling in league games, it was not the high-profile Colombian that saved the day, but often his countryman James Rodríguez and, when Falcao was out injured, former Manchester United striker Dimitar Berbatov who won points for their side.
When Falcao got injured, Monaco made the move to sign up Berbatov until the end of the season. From the start, it was a move that felt like a match made in heaven. The Bulgarian has played 1,147 minutes for the Monegasque side, and with eight goals, when has scored every 143 minutes, a minutes-to-goal ratio on par with the €60-million man.
In six years' time, Falcao's move to Ligue 1 may be nothing but a distant memory. But his time in France should be remembered, because it highlighted huge holes in his game that are partially masked good goal-scoring record. The move to an ailing Manchester United in the Premier League will shine the spotlight on the Colombian more than it ever has before.
Andrew Gibney started following France's Ligue 1 about 10 years ago and it is an obsession that led him to falling in love with the country and the football. As a typical Glaswegian, he once walked 106 miles in seven days, from Sheffield to Lille, just to avoid paying for the Eurostar. Gibney is the founder and editor of French Football Weekly. Follow him on Twitter:@Gibney_A.
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