One of the best moves of the summer transfer window in France was Radamel Falcao’s decision to stay at Monaco, rather than to take another loan spell somewhere.
Four goals in two games last week underlined his strong return to form he has been recalled by Colombia’s national team yet it was a goal Falcao had disallowed that offered a better glimpse he is somewhere back to his best.
Late in the first half against Nancy last Saturday, his strike partner Valere Germain had a header saved.
The ball fell to Falcao, who was to the right of six-yard box, off balance and without a clear shooting chance. In a flash, he expertly dragged the ball back, span around nimbly and still had the presence of mind to artfully glide the ball into the middle of the net.
It would have been his hat trick but was ruled out for offside. Yet it showed that his instinct is returning and that he has confidence in his body again.
“He remains one of the best strikers. He’s only 30 (years old),” Monaco coach Leonardo Jardim said. “Our objective is to get him back to his (best) level.”
It has been a difficult return from injury and loss of form for Falcao, once arguably the most lethal poacher in the world when with Atletico Madrid. He had scored 72 goals in 87 games for Porto when Atletico snapped him up in the summer of 2011, and in two seasons for Atletico he netted 70 goals in 91 games, winning the Europa League and the Spanish Cup.
Falcao joined Monaco in May 2013 a deal worth 60 million euros ($67 million) and netted 11 in 19 games.
But in January, 2014 he tore his anterior cruciate ligament playing in a French Cup game. He would normally have been rested against non-league Chasselay, but insisted on playing. The defender who injured him Soner Ertek received a stream of vitriolic threats on social media from irate fans and the club’s president said a hateful letter was even sent from Colombia.
Falcao missed the World Cup later that year and his career nosedived.
He joined Manchester United and then Chelsea both on loans. But his pace had gone, he looked unhappy and drastically low on confidence. He managed just four league goals for United and one for Chelsea where nine of his 10 league appearances were as substitute.
Jardim criticized Falcao’s decision to move to the Premier League when clearly not ready for its hugely physical demands.
“He tried to keep playing at a high level. Normally, when a player is injured he doesn’t change club,” Jardim said. “It’s not easy to recover and to play at the same time. Players are not machines.”
This season, Falcao has scored eight goals in 10 games for Monaco and is captain.
He needs one more goal in upcoming World Cup qualifiers against Chile or Argentina to become Colombia’s all-time top scorer.
“I’ve worked hard to be able to return to the national team,” said Falcao, who has 25 international goals.
Jardim, a Portuguese coach in his third season in charge, has turned second-place Monaco into an attractive, high-scoring team with 36 goals in 12 league games.
Though 13 different players have scored in the league, it’s the partnership between Falcao and Germain that stands out.
The unheralded Germain was loaned to Nice last season after two inconsistent campaigns with Monaco.
Leading the line, he scored a commendable 14 league goals for Nice and, just like Falcao, returned.
They have gelled.
Although Germain lacks pace and is not a great finisher, he has outstanding movement, awareness and touch making him the perfect foil for Falcao’s robust yet technically assured style.
In particular, the clever timing of Germain’s wide runs gives Falcao the space to quickly take up central positions. Against CSKA Moscow last Wednesday, Germain peeled away from the right of the defense before slotting a reverse pass for Falcao’s second goal in a 3-0 win.
It summed up the understanding that makes the Colombia striker optimistic about the season ahead.
“The more I play, the better I’ll get,” Falcao said.