The Tiger Roars Again
He’s one of the most talented forwards in the world, on one of today’s strongest national teams. His comeback starts this month, with the Copa América and the opportunity to sharpen his claws in representation of Colombia.
Text: Mariano Dayán & Mariano Tacchi @playeroycasual
In 2005, a 19-year-old Colombian player emerged from the tunnel at Estadio Monumental Antonio Vespucio Liberti, the home of River Plate. It was one of the first matches for the skinny kid in the first division. His jersey hung loose on his frame, he missed his hometown of Santa Marta, and he looked on in terror as the fans jumped up and down in the stands.
The date was October 2, and Radamel Falcao scored for the first time in a 3–1 River Plate win over Independiente. It was a match –and a play – made in heaven.
The crowd roared, but it was Falcao who became “The Tiger.”
Ten years later, the Bahrain national team saw the tiger’s stripes cross its field: the first of Falcao’s goals came 32 minutes into the first half. The other team had no time to react before the second goal came just three minutes later. It like something out of a dream: “This gives me confidence heading into the Copa América, which is the short-term goal. We are all very aware of what we need to bring to the team,” says Falcao.
What does the Copa América mean for your career?
“It’s very important, obviously. Especially after having missed out on the World Cup, I really expect to enjoy it. I have the highest hopes.”
Is this Colombia team led by José Néstor Pekerman different than in years past?
“I think it’s a lot faster. But we always respect the fan base that identifies with the national team and believe that failure is not an option. That’s why we have the reputation we have today.”
Are you and James Rodríguez responsible for such high hopes?
“It’s not just us. Today’s national team includes new players who have brought a different intensity to the team. You can see it. We have teammates who have been playing internationally from a very young age, and now, Colombia really revs things up at game time. We’re more to the point.”
It’s hard to believe that Manchester United has him on the bench, because there are so many reasons to turn him loose on offense. Before Falcao got to the Premier League, he spent time at Oporto F.C. in Portugal’s Premier League. He stood out in the competitive Spanish League, where he managed to win the Copa del Rey in 2013 with Atlético Madrid, and his brief stint with Monaco in Ligue 1 made Falcao one of the most highly paid Colombian players in history. But during his time with that French club – less than six months before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil – Falcao suffered a knee injury that left him out for the season and, of course, out of the World Cup.
Fortunately, the Colombian was still able to join Manchester United in September 2014, but that’s where things stalled. Maybe the universe was trying to tell him something when Falcao was presented with his red team jersey and his name was misspelled. In fact, some 250,000 jerseys bearing the name “Flacao” were printed up for sale to fans.
That’s why the match in Bahrain was so important: it gave Falcao back his confidence and made him a legend in his home country. The Bahrain goals put him on equal footing with the Colombian national team’s legendary scorer: Arnoldo Iguarán, another prodigy who wore the number 9 and scored 24 goals for the coffee-producing nation – just like Falcao.
“I feel like everything that happened to me helped me grow both personally and as a player. I’ve had people around who have grounded me. As the son of a player, I saw what my father went through: as a child, I learned all about the demands of the profession. You have to have balance and know that you’re never the very best or the worst.”
In Latin America, it’s harder to qualify for a World Cup than to play in one. And there are grudges carrying over from Brazil 2014. The host country’s team was creamed, and Argentina lost in the final match. Chile was a hair away from eliminating Brazil in the round of 16, while Colombia knocked out Uruguay in the quarter-finals before falling to Brazil. This soap opera is still going strong, with everyone out for revenge when the players take the field at Chile’s Estadio Nacional on June 11.
Messi, Alexis, Neymar, Cavani… it seems like a World Cup.
“There’s no doubt that the quality of the players is tremendous. The Copa América will be very competitive.”
Why are so many of Europe’s top players from South America?
“Personally, I think that South Americans have a different way of looking at soccer. We favor talent over tactics. And that’s what pays off in the long run.”. in