x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Falcao follows father's wishes

His path had already been traced and the only question was, would young Radamel Falcao be motivated enough and talented enough to follow it?

Radamel Falcao forms a talented, and oddly-named, strike partnership with Hulk at Porto.
Radamel Falcao forms a talented, and oddly-named, strike partnership with Hulk at Porto.

Radamel Garcia had a plan. A veteran defender in Colombia's top flight who probably never achieved what his talent might have warranted (partly for reasons beyond his control, partly because at times he was not as professional as he might have been) he decided that his baby son would - if he chose - be able to attain the heights he failed to reach. He started with the name. Radamel, his own name, to provide continuity. And Falcao - an homage to the legendary Brazilian who so seamlessly combined South American flair with European steel - so that he might be an inspiration to the youngster.

His path had been traced. The only question was, would young Radamel Falcao be motivated enough and talented enough to follow it? The first tough decision came when he was 11. Emissaries from Ajax flew him to Amsterdam, where he spent two weeks. He met the likes of Edwin Van der Sar, the De Boer brothers, Jari Litmanen and, his personal favourite, Michael Laudrup. "Be one of us," they told him and the temptation was certainly there. This was a multi-national squad, 15 nationalities from four continents, he could make this his home. That, however, was a step too far. He was, after all, just a child and fatherhood was more important to Radamel Garcia than his "grand plan".

Only just. Instead, he sent him to Bogota, where he joined Milionarios, the legendary side who once upon a time were home to Alfredo Di Stefano. Four years later, he was called up to play for Colombia at the South American Under 17 championships. Still just 15, he wowed the scouts and River Plate came knocking at his father's door. This time, he agreed to let his son transfer abroad. Young Falcao loved the excitement of Buenos Aires, but, at the same time, was frustrated by his development. River's youth coaches saw his progress as a "slow burn", they were cautious about bringing him along too quickly. In some ways, he felt singled out. After all, the club regularly sent teenagers up to the first team, while he continued sticking it out in the youth side and reserves.

Was he not good enough? Maybe, maybe not. Which is why, when he turned 18, he enrolled in university to study, of all things, journalism. Perhaps Buenos Aires wasn't going to be his launchpad into professional football, but, at least, he would make the most of his time there. It was around this time that he also embraced religion and philanthropy, joining the group "Locos Por Cristo", "Crazy for Christ".

He made his debut for River in 2005, at age 19, and began the following season with a bang, scoring two goals in his first outing against Independiente. The fans took to him immediately, they loved the way his intensity and workrate meshed with his creativity and eye for goal. Soon, they had dubbed him, El Tigre, "The Tiger". After all, you can understand why Argentine supporters might be skittish about singing a Brazilian name like Falcao. The magic lasted six weeks. In November 2005 he tore his anterior cruciate ligament while stretching to score a goal and then aggravated the injury coming back too soon. He was out for 11 months, returning in October of the following year, but he struggled to find his feet, scoring just three goals in the next nine months.

Many doubted whether he would be the same again. He answered the critics with a brilliant 2007 Apertura campaign, in which he scored 10 goals in 16 matches. His form carried over in the next 18 months and, by last summer, he was being linked to a move to Europe. He drew interest from the likes of Tottenham and Liverpool, but settled on Porto. Why? Because, as he said, in his first press conference, they had "a culture of winning".

Whatever else he may have learnt at journalism school, he certainly picked up what the fans and the media wanted to hear. Now, together with Hulk, he forms one of the most effective and curiously named strike forces in Europe. His dad, is watching from afar, probably smiling to himself that his son has been able to follow the path laid out for him. @Email:sports@thenational.ae