He is world football’s most natural striker, but from sleeping inside a stadium to post-secondary education to religion, there’s a lot more to Radamel Falcao than merely goal-scoring.
October 2, 2005. River Plate are on a three-match losing skid and the big story coming into their match against Independiente is the suspension of Los Diablos Rojos striker, Sergio Aguero. But the occasion also represents the senior debut of 19-year-old River Plate forward Radamel Falcao Garcia Zarate, and in first-half stoppage time the Colombian scores his first goal for the Buenos Aires club.
It also happens to be the match winner.
Scampering downfield just to the left of Rubens Sambueza, who has instigated a late counter-attack, young Falcao accepts a delicate layoff from his teammate, shifts the ball to his left foot as he shortens his stride and calmly pokes the ball up and over goalkeeper Bernardo Leyenda and into the back of the net.
He adds another in the second half as River go on to claim a 3-1 victory, and in his next six matches tallies five times.
The Colombian—named in honour of former Brazil, Internacional and Roma playmaker Falcao—has become one of the hottest prospects in South American football in a matter of weeks, but in November suffers a serious knee injury that will keep him sidelined for 10 months and put a two-year delay on his development.
Thankfully, there is more to Radamel Falcao than football, and over the course of his layoff he continues to evolve, even if his football isn’t.
We know Radamel Falcao as world football’s most natural striker—a pure goal-scorer who uses speed, power and every part of his body to get the ball over the line.
Already this season he has scored 25 goals in 29 Primera Division matches for Atletico Madrid, and when his tallies from the Copa del Rey, Europa League and European Super Cup are added to the ledger his haul on the campaign exceeds 30—a mark he hasn’t failed to hit since moving to Europe in 2009.
He’s just never stopped scoring goals. At least, not since putting his injury woes behind him in September 2007—more than two years after opening his account for River Plate. Late that month he announced his comeback with a hat-trick against Botafogo in the Copa Sudamericana, and in early October scored his first goal in a Superclasico as River beat Boca Juniors, 2-0.
By then Falcao was a very mature 21 years of age. He had already endured a serious injury setback and, as a 15-year-old, had left his family behind in Santa Marta as he pursued a career in professional football. Passed over by Bogota’s Millonarios, he had moved to Buenos Aires after joining River’s youth ranks, moving into the Monumental stadium.
It would be several years before he’d make a name for himself in the attacking goalmouth, so he concentrated on his education. After finishing high school he enrolled in a journalism program at the University of Palermo—something he continued with until his knee injury demanded full-time rehabilitation.
A 2010 article in Colombian outlet El Tiempo depicted Falcao’s journalism studies as a “state secret,” adding that when his befuddled teammates found out and asked him about the course he’d simply reply, “But you never asked.”
Soft-spoken, thoughtful and a practicing Christian, Falcao’s demeanor was described by El Tiempo as “Falcaomania”—the possession of inner peace in daily life, the expression of fury on the football pitch.
Portuguese giants FC Porto paid €3.93 million for Falcaomania in 2009.
December 9, 2012, 7:28pm. Radamel Falcao is played through by Koke and finishes with a low, hard drive inside the far post to give Atletico Madrid a 2-0 lead at home to Deportivo La Coruna.
7:42pm. Falcao hits a first-time shot on the edge of the 18-yard box that leaves Deportivo goalkeeper Daniel Aranzubia with no chance.
8:18pm. Roderick Miranda fouls Falcao inside the Depor penalty area, and the Colombian beats Aranzubia from the spot to give Atletico a 4-0 lead.
8:22pm. Arda Turan’s chipped effort is only partially dealt with by Aranzubia, and Falcao is on hand to head the ball into the back of the net.
8:26pm. Falcao loses his marker deep in the 18-yard-box, cuts onto his right foot and takes three steps before slipping the ball inside the near post for his fifth goal of the night. Atletico win the match, 6-0.
It seems Falcao’s body was manufactured to score goals.
Whether it’s with his head, the side of a leg, the stomach or both feet, the now-27-year-old has that instinctive ability to get the ball over the line, no matter what or which part of him it takes.
Since that opener against Boca he just hasn’t stopped scoring. He bagged 19 Argentine league goals in 2007-08 as River won the Clausura and contributed 13 the following season. Then it was 34 in all competitions over 43 matches with Porto, and 38 the following season.
He played a career-high 50 matches last term, scoring 36 times, and has 31 this time around with six matches to play. On Sunday he scored the only goal of a 1-0 win away to Sevilla that kept Atletico within striking distance of second-place Real Madrid. The two capital sides will go head-to-head at the Vicente Calderon on Saturday, and if Atletico prevail it will be because of Falcao.
Not surprisingly, some of the biggest clubs in Europe are hoping to sign the striker at the end of the season. Atletico’s books could use a financial boost, so while the Colombia international has three years remaining on his contract it’s more than likely his club will cash in on him to pay down their debts.