Falcao: It's hard to compete with Spain's elite
2012 was anything but a run-of-the-mill year for Radamel Falcao, with the Atletico Madrid and Colombia striker making full use of his vast armoury of penalty-area expertise to become, according to both the media and his fellow professionals, one of the most-feared goal-getters on planet football. Solid proof of that statement came with his inclusion in the FIFA/FIFPro World XI for 2012, announced at the recent FIFA Ballon d’Or Gala on 7 January in Zurich.
The prolific 26-year-old was still clearly thrilled by the news, as he told FIFA.com: “Being involved in an event like this is a very positive experience for my life and my career. It means a lot to get recognition for all the work I’ve put in throughout the year.”
What's more, Falcao can also point to being the only member of the select XI not on the books of Real Madrid or Barcelona. Over the course of the year, the man nicknamed El Tigre grabbed decisive goals in Atleti’s triumphs in both the UEFA Europa League and UEFA Super Cup. In addition, he has helped Los Colchoneros become Barça’s closest La Liga challengers so far in 2012/13 and his country to stay on track for a place at the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil™.
“This year has represented a significant step forward for me,” said the River Plate youth product. “It’s been the kind of year that gets your name out there and helps you earn a place among the elite.”
Indeed, Falcao’s name has become synonymous with goals, be they via his head or either foot, and the player Atletico signed from Porto has found a remarkable balance of quality and quantity.
“I’ve scored some lovely goals in 2012, it’s true,” he told us with a grin. “It’s hard to just pick one."
Also included in the final three for the FIFA Puskás Award 2012, thanks to a spectacular scissor-kick effort in a friendly against America de Cali, Falcao actually preferred to highlight two fine goals both struck with his less favoured left foot.
“I’d say two of the most eye-catching were my first goal against Athletic Bilbao in the Europa League final in Bucharest and one I scored against Valencia in the semi-finals,” said El Tigre. “That said, it’s hard to pick to be honest because fortunately there’ve been so many!”
Champions League objective
Having continued his achievement of consistently increasing his calendar-year total goal tally, Falcao is now keen to put a glorious 2012 behind him and focus on the challenges ahead at club level.
“We’re aware that it’ll be tough to claw back the lead Barcelona have, though as long as there’s still a mathematical chance we’ll keep on fighting," he said. "Our main objective is securing a place in the Champions League. We’re very clear on that.”
Though nearly half the league campaign remains, El Tigre believes that “it’s hard to compete because of the budget some of Spain’s most powerful teams have. They’ve got the best players in the world, while we’re just gradually growing stronger as a team.”
Such a statement begs the question: does he see himself one day moving to a team able to aim higher than Atleti?
“I’m really at home with Atletico and I’m still under contract here,” he said with conviction. “I’m sure that I’ll taste life in another league at some point in my career, but right now I’m only thinking about my club, in growing as a player and doing my bit to help us keep winning trophies.”
Though he left Colombia when still a youngster, Falcao has by no means forgotten his roots and makes frequent visits back to his homeland. However, his goals for club and country and his rising profile have catapulted him to rock-star status, with Cafetero legend Carlos Valderrama stating his belief Falcao will one day surpass the esteem even he is held in.
“I realise that everything’s changed, I’m aware of the media coverage I’ve had in recent years and what I mean to my people,” said Falcao somewhat self-consciously. “Whenever I can I try to give of myself and be approachable, though sometimes it’s just not possible. When big crowds gather, things can get complicated.”
When quizzed about Valderrama’s claims, Falcao responded with pride but without wishing to get ahead of himself: “El Pibe is the greatest idol of all of us in Colombia. We grew up admiring him and we still do.
"Let’s hope that us future generations can contribute a lot more and achieve even more than he did, because that’d definitely be good for the country. But [whatever happens], every Colombian football player will always remember him.”
The moment arrives to part ways and Falcao, on the back of his inclusion among the world’s very finest players, underlined his determination not to rest on the laurels of a fabulous 2012: “Now’s the moment to keep competing just as hard, keep growing as a player and continue proving what I’ve shown so far. That’s what matters and it’s what I’m hoping from this year: to stay among the European elite.”