The growth in financial power of certain clubs in France’s Ligue 1 has been so rapid and sudden that any shock to the hierarchy is treated as if the whole bubble might burst.
The impact of Radamel Falcao, the Monaco striker, collapsing to the grass after a challenge during a French Cup tie last Wednesday, and requiring a stretcher to take him from the pitch, has been percussive.
France asks: Is the title-race now over? And Falcao faces the possibility that he will not be able to play for Colombia in the World Cup because his left knee will be subject to a delicate operation.
Last May, Monaco, freshly promoted to the France’s top flight after a period of austerity and poor results, delivered a coup, a statement of ambitious intent, by recruiting one of the most-admired finishers in the world for a fee of around €60 million (Dh304m).
Paris Saint-Germain, meanwhile, recognised that the league had another high-spending contender ready to challenge them in the market for the world’s best footballers. The only bigger transfer fee ever paid by a French club is the one that took Edinson Cavani from Napoli to PSG, a deal made a few weeks after Falcao moved.
Sure enough, just over halfway through the season, PSG and Monaco are the top two in the Ligue 1 table. Falcao, known in Colombia as “El Tigre”, the tiger, and Cavani both feature among the division’s top five scorers, a list led by PSG’s Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
But to call Monaco a one-man team would be to exaggerate their dependence on their superstar.
Tomorrow night, lining up for a Mediterranean derby against Marseille, Monaco will probably look to Emmanuel Riviere and Lucas Ocampos up front in what has become coach Claudio Ranieri’s favoured 4-4-2 formation.
Riviere, 23, has eight goals – one fewer than Falcao – from 11 league starts.
Ocampos, for whom Monaco paid Argentina’s River Plate around €15m when he was only 18, scored a beautiful goal last weekend against Toulouse, a victory which corrected a wobble in league form that had seen the gap between Monaco and leaders PSG increase to five points.
There is further back-up, too in Anthony Martial, an exciting 18-year-old striker who should return from injury in time for the meeting with PSG in two weeks.
Nor are resources so stretched by Falcao’s setback that Monaco are reconsidering a loan of their young Ivory Coast international forward Lacina Traore, whom Everton want to borrow for the next months.
And the plain fact is that of the four matches Falcao missed because of a lighter injury in November and December, Monaco won each of them.
Ranieri is still angry, though, particularly about the tackle which caused Falcao’s torn cruciate ligament. The perpetrator was one Soner Ertek, an amateur with the lower-division club Chasselay, Monaco’s opponents in the last 16 of the Cup.
“It is the referee’s fault,” fumed the Monaco coach, who has also faced questions about the wisdom of including his club’s prized playing asset in a game of lower priority. Ertek, meanwhile, is reported to have received menacing emails.
In Colombia, there is anguish. The country last October qualified for their first World Cup finals since 1998.
Falcao contributed nine goals to the campaign and though he expressed his determination, as his left knee went under the knife of the respected Portuguese surgeon Jose Carlos Noronha, to recuperate a good deal more quickly than the six months diagnosed as the minimum recovery period for such injuries, Colombians feel bereft.
“It is very sad,” said Carlos Valderrama, the figurehead player of the national team in the 1990s. “I don’t know how we can replace an individual who is so important to our team.”
A glance across the leading scorers in Europe’s better leagues offers some reassurance.
In Portugal, the top two marksmen in the Primeira Liga are Fredy Montero, of Sporting, and Jackson Martinez, of Porto. They are both Colombian, as is the exciting Monaco winger James Rodriguez.
Colombia’s renaissance may have been led by Falcao, and the squad galvanised by his presence, but they have some depth. They can still roar in Brazil in June without their Tiger, just as Monaco can still score in his absence.
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