Speaking to Colombian daily El Grafico this week, Porto and Colombia forward Radamel Falcao did little to clarify the mystery over his future. “There’s one club that I dream of, but I’m not going to tell you which one it is right now,” he said coyly, going on to say he liked Spain for its football and England for its atmosphere – a convenient preference for a man closely tracked by former Porto coach Andre Villas-Boas’s Chelsea and Spanish giant Real Madrid.
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What is plain is that the 25-year-old is one of Europe’s hottest properties after hitting 41 goals in 50 league games – and 73 in 85 overall – since arriving in northern Portugal from River Plate in July 2009 to replace the popular Lisandro Lopez. His winner in the Europa League final against Braga was his 17th in the competition during the campaign, surpassing Jurgen Klinsmann’s mark of 15, set in the 1996 UEFA Cup. Remarkably, it only took Falcao 14 matches.
The man the Portuguese call Radamel Furacao (‘Radamel Hurricane’) has been somewhat less furious and unstoppable in the yellow of his home nation. Falcao has scored just twice in his last 7 games for Colombia, with an overall record of 7 in 28 appearances for his country. Only one of those goals has been in a competitive match – the winner in a World Cup qualifier against Peru in Medellin, two years ago.
Despite Colombia coach Hernan Dario Gomez’s recent description of his center-forward as “an idol”, Falcao has never really looked the part for the national team. A deeply religious man who sends a sizeable chunk of his earnings home every month to fund social projects for disadvantaged children, there is no doubting the feeling that he has for his nation 10 years after leaving. Yet as far as soccer goes, there is a tangible disconnect between Falcao and Colombia. He never played a first-team game at Millonarios, leaving at 15 to join River Plate’s academy in Buenos Aires, where he made his professional debut and completed his university studies.
“I’m scared that we’ll become too dependent on Falcao,” said Gomez in the run-up to the tournament. “He’s an extraordinary player but we can’t just depend on him, because that would severely compromise us.”
DUBLIN, IRELAND – MAY 18: Radamel Falcao Garcia of FC Porto celebrates scoring the opening goal during the UEFA Europa League Final between FC Porto and SC Braga at Dublin Arena on May 18, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo: Julian Finney/Getty Images)
At present, the striker’s form will need a significant upturn for Colombia even to be in a position to depend on him. In the group opener against Costa Rica, Falcao spurned an early chance after a trademark darting run, but made little further impression. Gomez acknowledges the under-performance of his biggest stars is a real bugbear of the public back home. “The Colombia national team shirt weighs 15 kilos,” he said resignedly.
Beyond the theories rooted in psychology, there’s plenty of evidence that Falcao’s difficulties are purely technical. Porto’s 4-3-3 shape of last season was hardly unique in world football, but its aggression set it apart.
Even if it could be argued that the shape of Gomez’s line-up against Costa Rica translated as a 4-3-3, Adrian Ramos and Dayro Moreno are much more akin to wide midfield players than genuine goal-getters like Hulk and Silvestre Varela at Porto, with the Colombian pair sitting deep enough to leave Falcao fairly isolated in a 4-1-4-1. The introduction of a second striker in Wigan’s Hugo Rodallega, in the wake of Randall Brenes’ red card for Costa Rica, moved Falcao further away from the familiar and into a 4-4-2. His budding technical partnership with club-mate Freddy Guarin is also in cold storage, with Gomez employing the midfielder in a deeper role, albeit one that the former St. Etienne player is fairly adept in.
If all this seems mere detail, it should be noted the degree to which Falcao found his place at Porto; he admitted earlier this week to El Grafico that he “couldn’t believe how many goals I’ve scored” in his time at the Dragao. He shone intermittently in four years at the Monumental, partly due to being shifted between a number of different positions in the forward and attacking midfield areas. It appears that in the current Colombia side, with its slightly disjointed look sabotaging clear potential, Falcao is back in the same quandary.
If ever there was a time for Colombia’s number nine to fire, it’s now. He will rarely have a better opportunity, coming off the back of such a rich vein of form, and facing an under-pressure host in Argentina whose defense looks vulnerable, particularly so in the case of the woefully out-of-form Gaby Milito. Gomez will hope for better service for Falcao from the flanks than he received against Costa Rica, with his majestic heading ability – quite extraordinary for a player of just 5′ 9 1/2" – thus far untapped in this Copa America.
It could be argued that Falcao will be facing a kindred spirit in Milito’s compatriot and team-mate Lionel Messi, whose adequate international performances are also significantly below the level of his imperious club form. Now is the moment for The Tiger to maul that stereotype.