On 31st August 2012 a rampant Radamel Falcao dismantled the European Champions Chelsea, as he scored a hat trick to sink the Blues 4-1. The Colombian international was so irresistible that night nobody would have been surprised if Mr Abramovich had attempted a deadline move for the striker. In 2012 he was arguably the most lethal out and out centre forward in Europe, yet this was not the player witnessed in England over two spells at Manchester United and Chelsea, as Falcao struggled chronically in the Premier League.
After an underwhelming season at Manchester United, in which he managed a paltry four goals, he moved to Chelsea on loan the following summer. Surely his form could only improve? One goal followed, and Falcao was not seen in a Chelsea shirt after November. In fact his form was so catastrophically bad that the West London club opted to bring in fellow South American, and one time wonder kid, Alexandre Pato.
Yet, despite his torrid time in England, Falcao has once again found his scoring boots. The player that tore Chelsea apart is now experiencing something of a renaissance with Monaco. The Colombian is currently third in the Ligue 1 scoring charts with 14 goals in 17 appearances. He has an impressive 20 goals in all competitions including four in five Champions League appearances. These are the numbers we had come to associate with the once prolific striker before his torrid two years in England.
So, this begs the question, what happened to El Tigre in England?
Was it a product of the terrible ACL injury sustained in January 2014? Or maybe it was something much more reminiscent of the crisis of confidence that destroyed another Atletico Madrid favourite, Fernando Torres?
General consensus leans towards the latter explanation. Nonetheless, it is possible to argue that for his entire two-year stint in the Premier League Falcao was, quite simply, never fit.
In January 2014 another striker, also hoping to go to the World Cup in Brazil, suffered an ACL injury, one Theo Walcott. The England forward would not return to first team football until October, some ten months later. Kurt Zouma is another player that suffered this particular injury; his unfortunate moment against Manchester United came in February 2016. The Frenchman then had to wait until late October to make a 45-minute appearance for Chelsea’s development squad. His first team comeback did not arrive until January.
In comparison, Falcao was in Colombia’s 30-man preliminary World Cup squad in May, just five months after his ACL injury and subsequent surgery. To compound matters, after moving to United, he had the challenge of adapting to what is, arguably, the hardest league in the world. Moreover, he had to do this having not given his body the necessary time to recover from one of the worst injuries a footballer can suffer. By the time Falcao should have returned from his knee injury, he had already attempted to get into Colombia’s World Cup squad and played nearly half of the Premier League season with Manchester United. Falcao’s sheer determination to make it to the field for Colombia in the World Cup tragically, and severely, hampered his career for two years.
Falcao is not experiencing a mysterious rediscovering of his talent; that has always been there. What we are seeing now is a combination of the striker being fit and having a manager, in Leonardo Jardim, who trusts him wholly.
There will be those that claim he is in an easier, less competitive league. To an extent this is true. But the common belief that goals in France often do not translate to goals in England is false. It is important to recognise that Ibrahimovic has arrived in the Premier League with no great struggle after being successful in Ligue 1. Olivier Giroud, Loic Remy and Didier Drogba are more examples of strikers that have successfully proved this.
However, given Falcao’s track record and the horrendous injury, which he allowed himself very little time to recover, it is possible to argue that were he in England right now, he could well be the striker the Premier League thought it was getting the first time.
Unless Falcao makes a move back to England in the near future we will never know for certain whether he could make it in the Premier League. For now we can begin to whisper, El Tigre has returned.