Radamel Falcao. Say it, and it just rolls off the tongue. “What a brilliant name!” you think to yourself. Its not a goalie’s name or a defender’s name. Its a striker’s name. There’s just something about it. You could name a S.W.A.T. team after him. He was put on this Earth to do one thing, and one thing only and that is to score goals. Across 2 continents and 3 countries, Radamel Falcao has scored 124 goals for club and country. And he’s only just begun.
In the 44th minute of a fairly even contest, Freddy Guarin sent a deep cross into the box and ‘El Tigre’ rose above his marker to make it 1-0. The stage was the Dublin Arena, the occasion, the 2011 UEFA Europa League Final and Radamel Falcao announced himself to the world. That goal was enough for his side to win the trophy and when the final whistle blew to mark the end of the tournament and the season, Falcao had finished the tournament with a staggering tally of 17 goals. Andre Villas Boas’ side had gone unbeaten for the entire season on their way to claiming the Portuguese League title. What they had achieved was phenomenal.
AVB as we all know was quickly snapped up by Roman Abramovich, but in hindsight maybe he thinks he picked up the wrong star from that night in Dublin. Of course, there isn’t much the Russian can’t do and the speculation is rife that having already splurged on an (ex) Atletico Madrid striker in January, he might do the same again. Having moved to the Spanish capital, Falcao took little time adjusting to La Liga and turned in a handsome return of 36 goals for the season. A club record for a player in his first. In the process, he once again played a significant part in carrying his team to the Europa League Title, scoring a magnificent double in the Final against a Bilbao side who had been very impressive until that night in Bucharest.
A Dying Breed – Save the Tiger
With world football fast moving towards a system with only one striker, and more recently a ‘false’ striker, the breed of pure number 9s is an endangered one. With a lot of managers asking their strikers to drop deep to receive the ball and press the opposition, Falcao is one of the few who has very little defensive responsibility. Diego Simeone understands that to be at his best, the Tiger needs to be close to goal. That is probably the only criticism you can level against the attacker. He doesn’t care much for defending. But like I said, he was born to score goals. He is one of the few players in World Football who can be compared to the traditional number 9, playing a role similar to what Didier Drogba, another prolific goal-machine when at his peak, did at Chelsea. With the high stakes in football games these days, a lot of coaches now feel their primary objective should be to avoid defeat and sacrifice a striker in favour of a midfielder. The success of Lionel Messi and Spain in the use of a ‘false 9? has further strengthened the tendency towards dropping an out and out striker in favour of someone who can contribute in different ways. But Radamel Falcao (again, what an awesome name that is!) holds out as the beacon of light for the pure striker. Of course, you have to be ridiculously good for the coach to build his team around you, and Falcao, is ridiculously good.
The Complete Striker
In addition to his exploits in the Europa League, he also humbled the European Champions Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup at the beginning of this season. A fantastic hat-trick had even the Chelsea faithful in awe of his absolute brilliance, and ‘brilliant’ doesn’t even fully describe that performance. As the season has progressed, he has assumed the lead role in Atletico’s best start in a long time, seeing them joint top of the table along with Catalan giants Barcelona. For a change, the Rojiblancos find themselves leading their more illustrious neighbors in the league standings and by quite a margin too.
Falcao has been in scorching form. Over the course of his time on the Iberian peninsula he has gotten progressively better. Before he can be called the complete striker, it should be understood that the complete striker is not just two-footed and strong in the air ( because even Peter Crouch once scored the perfect hat-trick: right foot, left foot, head, for Liverpool). He’s much more than that.
The Colombian has a strong right foot, supplemented by near-perfect technique. His left foot isn’t bad either, and he doesn’t lose too many aerial duels. But it is the intangible aspects of the game where the 26-year-old truly amazes. There is probably nobody in the game today who has a better awareness of where the goal is, even when he isn’t facing it. This specific talent, of knowing exactly where the target is, is an exceptionally important one to have for a striker. It means that he cuts down on valuable fractions of seconds to get his bearings in a tight situation. It means he can receive the ball with his back to goal, turn and shoot, and get the desired result on most attempts. Positioning and anticipation is another aspect of the game where he excels. You don’t score a bucket full of goals without having the ability to read the game well enough to know where the ball is going to end up. Inside the box, there is nobody that challenges the authority of the goalkeeper like him. A powerful physical presence, coupled with pace, intelligence and precision, this man is a defender and coach’s worst nightmare.
One aspect of game that he hadn’t developed was scoring from free kicks. Until a couple of weeks ago, he had never scored from a free kick. Then, at Anoeta, with the game tied 0-0 after 90 minutes, he stepped up to take one. 1-0. Game over. His team mates weren’t surprised. He’d been practicing them in training and knew he could score.
That is probably the one factor that sets him apart. A single minded focus on improving and getting better at everything. People observing him on match days perfectly illustrate this point. He is in a jovial mood in the morning, but by lunch, you can see from his face, that he is beginning to think about the game, and by the time they enter the dressing rooms, he is completely in the zone, visualizing the entire game, and making plans for his next victims.
When he’s in the zone, you don’t mess with the Tiger. The single, most devastatingly complete predator in the world.