MONACO: Dismissed as a crocked has-been after a disastrous spell in England, Radamel Falcao will savor the Champions League anthem more than most before Monaco and Juventus face off in Wednesday’s (Thursday in Manila) semifinals first leg.
The Colombian striker will captain the principality club against the Italians — whose own star striker Gonzalo Higuain was once his colleague at River Plate — at the Stade Louis I2nd as they attempt to take another step towards a possible Ligue 1 and Champions League double.
Monaco have won admirers everywhere this season thanks to the exciting brand of football played by their young team, and the likes of Kylian Mbappe, Bernardo Silva and Thomas Lemar will be targets for the continent’s giants in the summer.
But all of them will admit the role played by the 31-year-old Falcao has been vital.
He scored in a 2-1 defeat to Fenerbahce in Istanbul as their campaign began in the third qualifying round first leg on July 27 last year.
More than nine months on he has 28 goals in all competitions and has now scored 45 in 50 European appearances, putting him ahead of German great Gerd Mueller as the most prolific player ever in continental competition.
“I have always believed in Radamel and right from the start of the season I was already saying that he would get back to his best form. Nobody believed it but now we have the proof,” Monaco’s vice president Vadim Vasilyev told French television station TF1.
This time a year ago Falcao was considered a busted flush after two seasons on loan in the Premier League, with Manchester United and then Chelsea, yielded just five goals.
The Daily Mail labeled him “a rich man with a broken reputation,” while The Daily Telegraph highlighted how he had been paid the equivalent of £800,000 ($1 million) per shot by Chelsea.
He was left out of the Colombia squad for last year’s Copa America too, but that reputation has been restored this year in stunning style.
“I think it’s all about confidence and having a regular run in the team. The rest takes care of itself,” Falcao told UEFA.com recently.
It is not just about what happens out on the pitch in Leonardo Jardim’s free-flowing side, though. He is also finally settled in the glitzy Mediterranean principality.
“I feel loved by the club and by the fans. My teammates support me and I am very happy at the club and in the city, enjoying this moment,” he said before the quarterfinals, second leg win against Borussia Dortmund.
“My family are also enjoying being here and I think these circumstances have allowed things to go as well as possible on the field.”
That has allowed Falcao to bury the memory of a difficult first season in Monaco, cut short by a serious knee injury that saw him miss the World Cup in Brazil.
It was the start of all his problems, and when Monaco faced Juventus in the Champions League quarterfinals in 2015, Falcao was warming the bench at Old Trafford.
Monaco had just wanted rid of Falcao and his burdensome pay packet at that point. However, in January this year they were pleased that he stayed despite a reported 60 million-euro offer from China’s Tianjin Quanjian.
Falcao has just a year left on his Monaco contract but for now he is only focused on a glorious end to this season.
Two wins from their last four league games should be enough for them to take the French title from Paris Saint-Germain, while a first Champions League crown would top it all.
“Not many players get the chance to play in a Champions League semi-final. I don’t know if I’ll get another opportunity so I want to make the most of it. It is a dream,” said Falcao, twice a Europa League winner.