By Kieran Canning
“I’m speechless. I really can’t describe it. What Radamel is doing is indescribable. He’s a lad that whenever you set the bar high, he sets it higher and rises to the occasion. He has dedication above and beyond what is normal.”
Diego Simeone is a hard-nosed Argentine better known for the cynicism that got David Beckham sent-off at the 1998 World Cup than for dishing out compliments, so when he issues high praise there’s usually a special reason. Radamel Falcao’s recent form certainly applies.
The Colombian scored again on Tuesday night as Los Cafeteros edged closer to their first participation at a World Cup in 12 years with a 3-1 win in Chile to back up a resounding 4-0 win over Copa America champions Uruguay on Friday.
Unsurprisingly, the 26-year-old was the catalyst then too as he stroked home the opener within two minutes, prompting one Spanish commentator to exclaim, “A man with such confidence it is simply terrifying.”
Simeone’s praise came two weeks ago on the back of Falcao’s scintillating destruction of Chelsea as Atlético Madrid lifted the European Super Cup. His first-half hat-trick was his second that week, as he had already returned to haunt Athletic Bilbao with three goals in a 4-0 win four days earlier.
His start to the season, tagged onto his finish to the last, mean he has now netted 14 times in his last 15 outings, and yet his 24 league goals last season weren’t even enough to merit Atlético a place in this season’s Champions League.
So why is a man who has won back-to-back Europa League titles, scoring 33 European goals in the process over the past two years, ready for a tilt at three of of Europe’s second tier competitions and not the UEFA Champions League?
It is a question that even many on the red and white half of Madrid find hard to understand. Before the final day of last season when Atleti still had an outside chance of finishing in fourth place, Atleti owner Miguel Ángel Gil admitted: “If the club doesn’t obtain qualification for the Champions League it will cause a problem with income. Atlético needs to be in the top four, if we don’t enter into the Champions League it is difficult to see Falcao staying.”
The answer comes in part because Atleti has relatively little say in when Falcao will eventually move on. To outsiders, the striker’s arrival from Porto may have seemed like the usual transfer merry-go-round as Manchester City signed Sergio Agüero and the €40m Atleti received was passed onto Porto.
However, the Agüero transfer money was actually confiscated by the Spanish tax man due to Atleti’s considerable outstanding liabilities and instead the Falcao transfer was largely underwritten by the GestiFute fund, an organisation which invests in players with the intention of seeking a greater reward from transfer fees down the line. Those in charge of Gestifute include Falcao’s representative, the super-agent Jorge Mendes, and former Chelsea and Manchester United Chief Executive Peter Kenyon.
Had Falcao been solely Atleti’s asset, their tenuous financial position would have probably forced a sale in the region of €40-45m this summer. Instead, those who hold the cards can afford to wait a little longer and, if their man continues to perform as he has done in recent weeks, see a possible future windfall rise to the region of €55m plus.
Which raises the next question: at that price, who can afford to buy him?
In England, Manchester United look so over-stocked with strikers that Rooney might not even be guaranteed a game, Chelsea seem determined to put all their eggs in the £50m basket of another former Atlético Madrid striker, and Manchester City appeared strangely startled this past transfer window by the introduction of Uefa’s Financial Fair Play regulations.
Paris Saint-Germain already have their towering world class centre forward in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, and although a move to other oil rich destinations further east such as Zenit St. Petersburg or Anzhi Makhachkala can’t be entirely ruled out, it is potentially the most controversial move of all that has the Spanish capital a buzz.
Barely had the words of Cristiano Ronaldo’s sadness left the Portuguese’s lips last weekend when Falcao’s father Radamel García told the world, “His dream is to play for Real Madrid.
“Since he was a boy he’s always wanted to play there. Other teams in Europe like Chelsea and Manchester City were interested in him. If he can’t play for Real Madrid, he’ll play for a team in England.”
One major hurdle in that potential transfer could be overcome by Falcao’s ownership situation. A big factor in Agüero heading to England rather than the Bernabéu was a gentleman’s agreement between Atleti and Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez not to raid his city rivals for their best players. That agreement that might not be as big a problem if Pérez were to be solely dealing with Mendez and Kenyon.
Indeed Real has been a popular destination for Mendez clients in recent times: José Mourinho, Ricardo Carvalho Fábio Coentrão, Ángel di María, Pepe, and Ronaldo himself are all part of his portfolio.
Meanwhile Falcao, in his own words, remains focused on success for current club and country.
“Just so the whole world is clear. My dream is to continue winning titles with Atlético Madrid and to qualify for the World Cup with Colombia,” he said on Twitter last week.
Thanks to El Tigre, Colombia are well on their way to Brazil, but for more titles in Madrid he may well have to move from the river banks of the Manzanares to the shiny towers of Chamartín.