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Radamel Falcao and the fire and fury of 2010/11

Radamel Falcao has endured a career of twists and turns, highs and lows. Never has a high been higher than his magnificent 2010/11 season.

If you asked Manchester United or Chelsea fans their opinion on Radamel Falcao, they would probably be less than complimentary. 

The Colombian striker made the loan move to Old Trafford amid much fanfare in 2014 having netted at least 15 times in each of the previous three seasons at Monaco. However his experience in England would turn out to be neither lengthy nor fruitful.

There was an understanding that he had only just recently returned from six months out with an ACL injury. An injury which had caused him to miss the 2014 World Cup but with a £6million loan fee. Commanding £250,000 a week wages, Falcao was expected to hit the ground running. 

However, he was not helped by United manager Louis Van Gaal. The Dutchman often preferred 19-year-old James Wilson in the squad with Falcao eventually suffering a demotion to the Under 21s, one day after being an unused substitute against Arsenal in the FA Cup. 

With just 29 appearances and four goals to his name, United decided not to sign Falcao permanently. Instead of seeking a move away after an unhappy spell in England, he moved to Chelsea. 

In another loan move, for the 2015/16 season, the once feared striker again seemed a shadow of himself. He played just 12 matches for Guus Hiddink’s side and at the end of the campaign, moved back to Monaco. 

On the basis of these two forgettable seasons, many Premier League fans in general may not have understood the hype about this seemingly prolific goal-getter. Radamel Falcao’s time in England however does a disservice to the rest of his remarkable career. 

Having moved from Argentine giants River Plate after scoring 43 goals in his final season at Estadio Monumental, marking himself out as one of the world’s best young strikers, El Tigre made his first foray into Europe by moving to the reigning Portuguese champions. 

Impressive first season 

At just 23-years-old, Radamel Falcao’s first campaign in 2009/10 was impressive. He scored 25 league goals with only Benfica marksman Oscar Cardozo netting more, but Porto failed to defend their title. The club finished eight points behind Cardozo’s side. 

Due to their triumphant previous campaign the Dragões competed in the Champions League. It was the first time Falcao had played at such a level and although he had experienced the Copa Libertadores with River, he had been sent off in his only outing. 

El Tigre was not fazed however. He scored a respectable four goals in his maiden campaign including the winner against Arsenal in the round of 16. 

The 2010/11 season though was when the Colombian marksman would make an indelible mark on European competition. 

With Porto’s third-place finish, Falcao was denied a return to the highest level of club football but they qualified for the less heralded Europa League. A competition that , in its previous guise as the UEFA Cup, Porto had won in 2002/03. 

Under the watch of Andre Villas-Boas, one of the youngest coaches in world football at the time, they were placed in a group with Besitkas, Rapid Vienna and CSKA Sofia. 

Prolific in Europe 

To earn their place in the Europa League they first had to overcome Belgian side Genk in the play-off round. Falcao scored a penalty in the first leg as they eased through 7-2 on aggregate. 

He then reaffirmed his intentions from the very first group stage game, netting against Rapid Vienna in a comfortable 3-0 win before grabbing the winner in Sofia two weeks later. 

Another away goal, this time against Besiktas, helped Porto to an important win. The Colombian made it four goals in as many games by again scoring against the Turks which secured their passage to the knockout stages. 

The Portuguese side may have qualified but they still had the opportunity to win their group and Radamel Falcao was just getting started. 

In the Vienna snow, the visitors fell behind. However their Colombian marksman soon restored parity by slotting past Raimund Hedl. 

The game was still in the balance going into the final ten minutes. But twice Falcao showed his predatory instincts in the six-yard box pouncing on mistakes from Hedl to complete his first European hat-trick. 

He failed to find the net in their last group game against CSKA Sofia, ending his record of scoring in every game that campaign but Porto still eased to a 3-1 win. 

Another goalless game followed in the first leg of their round of 32 match against Sevilla, but his teammates again showed they were not a one-man band by securing an impressive 2-1 victory, continuing their 100% away record in the competition. 

In the return leg, Porto’s predatory number nine again drew a blank as they suffered their first loss of the campaign but edged through on away goals to meet CSKA Moscow in the last-16.

Firing Falcao

As in Seville, a Fredy Guarin goal would prove the difference. Dragões kept their fourth clean sheet and were expected to see off CSKA in Portugal. 

Narrowly, they edged past the Russians 3-1 on aggregate. Hulk scored in the first minute and Guarin added to his first leg strike. 

When their quarter-final clash with Spartak Moscow came around in April 2011, Porto had just sealed the league title. They won at rivals Benfica to claim the first of three successive titles. 

However, Radamel Falcao was on a drought domestically. With just a solitary goal in previous games in the Primera Liga despite Porto closing in on an unbeaten season. 

However, he rediscovered his shooting boots in spectacular fashion for the last-eight encounter. Falcao slammed home another treble as Porto romped to a 5-1 with over the beleaguered Russians. 

His five-game European drought was ended with an impressive diving header from an Alvaro Pererira cross. It gave the home side the lead before again netting a couple of late goals, an excellent volley before an impressive header from a Fernando Belluschi’s set-piece. 

The title push

Back on domestic duties before the second leg, Radamel Falcao netted again as Porto took another step towards an unbeaten season. Victory at Portimonense, then scoring in Moscow as the visitors ran riot again, winning 5-2.  

The semi-finals saw them face Spanish side Villarreal, who would go on to finish fourth in La Liga. Incidentally the tie was effectively over after ninety remarkable minutes at the Estadio Dragao. Porto’s goal-scoring hero was on a one-man mission. 

The Spaniards struck first through midfielder Cani and were well on top. After the break however, Radamel Falcao simply took them apart with four goals. 

Within minutes of the restart, the number nine’s inevitable goal arrived as he won and converted a penalty. Guarin then headed in a second before El Tigre took centre stage. 

Excellent movement gave him a tap-in for his second. A late pair of headers saw him equal Jurgen Klinsmann’s 1995/96 UEFA Cup record of 15 goals in a single campaign.

Not content with matching the German’s record, the Colombian duly broke it in the return league. Falcao slotted past Diego Lopez and although Porto lost 3-2 on the night, their comprehensive first leg victory proved enough. 

In the final they met fellow Portguese side Braga in the first all-Portuguese meeting in a European final.

The Radamel Falcao Final

Porto had done the double over their Portuguese rivals as they had swept all before them in the Primeira Liga. They had dropped just six points in the entire campaign and eventually finished 38 points ahead of Domingos Paciências side. 

Just days before, Andre Villas-Boas had secured his place in Porto’s hearts by leading them to an unbeaten season. They were now looking to seal their third league and European double.

Unsurprisingly, it was a tight affair but shortly before half-time, when Guarin curled over an inviting cross, there was only ever going to be one man on the end of it. 

Porto looked comfortable from then on and sealed their first European success since lifting the Champions League in 2004, Radamel Falcao deservedly had a team honour to go with his record-breaking 17 goal individual haul. 

The record is unlikely to be matched with only Rangers striker and fellow Colombian Alfredo Morelos coming close in recent years when he netted 14 times. The Scottish side ironically faced Porto in the group stage of that 2019 season. 

It got even better for Radamel Falcao and Porto in the coming days. They claimed the treble of the Primeria Liga, UEFA Cup and Taca de Portugal for the only the second time. Then they thrashed Vitoria Guimaraes 6-2, although Falcao ironically was not on the scoresheet. 

Radamel Falcao may not be fondly remembered in Manchester or London. However in Porto there is no doubt of his status after that historic season.

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