A revived Falcao is just the man to lead Monaco’s against-all-odds title defense

The 31-year-old Colombian has undergone a remarkable return to form and Monaco will be depending on that to continue

(AS Monaco/Twitter)

On his second of three goals in Monaco’s 4-1 win over Dijon Sunday, Radamel Falcao’s long, curling lob seemed to defy all physical laws as it bent into the far corner of the net.

It was a fitting moment for a club that tries against all odds to defend its Ligue 1 title, and for a player once written off for dead that continues his arch of unlikely reascension back to being one of the game’s premier goal scorers.

At the dawn of a new era for French football that suddenly has the world’s attention thanks to Paris Saint-Germain’s absurd, record-breaking purchase of Neymar, the season begins to many as a foregone conclusion. PSG’s inevitable rise back to the top has coupled with Monaco’s multiple key losses from last year’s title-winning squad. To add to the dramatic change of command in France, rumors abound that Monaco’s own prized jewel, 18-year-old Kylian Mbappé, could soon be set to join the terrifying PSG conglomerate.

Club captain and last year’s leading-scorer Falcao seems to be the organization’s focal point in fending off the tidal-wave shift of power, as Monaco recently rejected a €30 million offer from Milan for the Colombian, according to France Football. Falcao is marked as the veteran cornerstone in the eyes of ownership that has recently made a name for itself by turning sizable profits off young talents like James Rodríguez, Anthony Martial, and now possibly Mbappé.

Then again, Falcao and Monaco may have been made for each other. The two are mirrored not just in syntax, but in the meteoric rises and falls both have taken in recent years. The once-proud club was a laughingstock when it was relegated to France’s second division in 2011. In recent years, it has acted at times as more of a minor-league feeder than a European power by catalyzing some of the aforementioned young talents and selling them at lofty price tags.

During Monaco’s two seasons in the second division, Falcao was at the peak of his career. In the midst of his decorated tenures with Porto and Atlético Madrid, he entrenched himself into the conversation as one of the game’s best forwards.

Then, the fated 2013 transfer to Monaco and a subsequent string of injury-plagued and ineffective seasons on loan to Premier League powers Manchester United and Chelsea put El Tigre awash in high-profile criticisms from the British tabloids. He was even forced to watch from home in 2014 as Colombia put in its best-ever result at a World Cup with its run to the quarterfinals led by the younger James. After Monaco vice president Vadim Vasilyev said in 2013 that the club would be built around Falcao, it seemed like he cast a curse on the once dazzling talent.

Going into last season, Vasilyev confidently predicted that the old Falcao had been reborn.

“He is the same Falcao as ever,” the vice president said. “He scores goals, he’s there and he is motivated.”

What then could have been laughed off as another jinx on Falcao’s spiraling career came to fruition as remarkably accurate, even as Vasilyev levied blame on the English clubs for not handling the Colombian properly.

“If you sign a player of this magnitude after a big injury it takes time and games to get him back in shape.

“This is what we will do and what Manchester United and Chelsea didn’t do, failed to do, or didn’t want to do.”

2016’s shocking display then could be attributed to nothing more than a good bill of health and Falcao’s re-established form as a lethal finisher. Sure enough, for the first time in three years, El Tigre had found his killer instinct again as he scored seven times in Monaco’s eight Champions League matches on the way to classifying for the semifinals.

Manager Leonardo Jardim said this summer that Falcao should be credited with more than just goal scoring, however, as the forward’s consistency on the pitch has been instrumental in a time of complete turnover for Monaco heading into this season.

“An attacker’s game shouldn’t just be measured in goals scored,” the Portuguese manager said of Falcao. “He’s been very important in this stage of our construction by allowing us to create from behind and giving us a focal point of support.”

Paired alongside teenage wonder Mbappé in a football version of the Odd Couple, the veteran Falcao complemented the equally adept scorer to form one of Europe’s better one-two attacks.

While Mbappé ominously cheered from the bench in what was deemed as a club decision in Sunday’s win, Falcao dazzled to give Monaco its second win in as many games to start the young season. Whether or not his hotly pursued teenage sidekick joins him again is still very much up in the air.

Monaco, though, has worn numerous faces since hiring Jardim as manager in 2014,  as he has done well in keeping consistent results despite a revolving door of key players. Like its captain, the club has risen from football’s depths to remain in the thick of title chases, no matter how slim the odds.


Follow Michael on Twitter @MKrumholtz.