Barcelona beware, Tiger Falcao is on the prowl
SOCCER:And so it’s that time again. Two clubs, two cities, face to face. Sunday night at Camp Nou: first versus second in La Liga. Two teams that are way out in front, two players too. First and second in the top scorer’s charts, men who are breaking records at every turn; men who made history just seven days ago, splashed across the front pages on Monday morning.
There they were on the cover of Marca, the country’s best-selling newspaper, celebrating landmark goals above the headline: “Fury, unleashed.”
No, not Barcelona and Real Madrid. Barcelona and Atletico Madrid. Not Leo Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. Leo Messi and Radamel Falcao. This time last week, Deportivo de La Coruna’s manager, Jose Luis Oltra, said: “I think Falcao might just be the best striker in the world.”
He would say that: he had just witnessed the Colombian destroy his team. Atletico beat them 6-0 at the Vicente Calderon. Falcao scored five of them. Five. They were five goals that kept his team five points ahead of their city rivals, Real, and took Falcao into second in the top scorers’ chart, three ahead of Ronaldo.
Falcao had become the first player in La Liga to score five goals in a game in more than a decade and only the second Atletico player ever to do so.
The last had been the Brazilian Vava in 1958. It was the story of the weekend. Or, at least, it would have been had it not been for the fact that before Falcao and his team-mates had even departed, Messi had scored twice 500km away against Real Betis, taking him to a record-breaking 86 goals in 2012. This game has been set up beautifully.
When Falcao left the Calderon, he was carrying the match ball in hands. His team-mates had signed it. One had written: “For the best No9 in the world”. A few hundred metres away, in the cramped press room, Atletico’s manager, Diego Simeone, said such much the same: “This is a historic night. Falcao is the best striker in the world.” Pep Guardiola had expressed the same opinion six months earlier. Fabio Capello agreed.
When it comes to strikers, there are few like him. Probably none. Falcao (26) calls himself a “specialist”; goals are an obsession, something he has worked on relentlessly. He recently told FourFourTwo that if you gave him a pen and a piece of paper, he could probably draw you a diagram of every goal he has ever scored.
There would be many of them – he has scored 176 goals so far, finishing as the Europa League’s top scorer two seasons in a row and with two different teams – and all different types, too.
This season he even scored his first ever free-kick. It was the first he had even taken. Typically, it emerged after the game that he considered free-kicks one of the flaws in his game and had been silently practising them for months. What he has achieved is not chance. He has worked at it, perfected it. “He always wants more,” says Simeone.