Falcao in Turkey: Love at First Sight?

It wasn’t an easy summer for Colombia’s leading players. James Rodriguez tried unsuccessfully to find a club willing to pay his buyout and eventually stayed with Real Madrid, while Radamel Falcao already had an agreement with Galatasaray, but Monaco refused to cooperate and offered him a new contract. The French club, who won the domestic title three years ago, was almost relegated last year but managed to survive eventually. From their point of view, Falcao was a crucial player and releasing him was not an option. On the other hand, El Tigre felt that he needed a new environment, new challenges and asked to move to the major Turkish club which traditionally plays in UEFA competitions. In the end, it was Monaco’s coach, Leonardo Jardim, who convinced the management to release the Colombian striker. Falcao landed in Turkey and was received by thousands of enthusiastic fans.

Falcao’s career is not a tragic one, as he eventually fulfilled most of his potential, but we might feel that he missed something. At the age of 33, his glory days are over. Six or seven years ago he was considered as one of the best strikers in the world, who finished as the top scorer in every club that he played. He led Porto and Atletico Madrid to win domestic and continental titles, and a move to clubs like Juventus or Real Madrid was a matter of time. With the national team, he was unstoppable as well and led Colombia to the 2014 World Cup for the first time since 1998. The World Cup in Brazil should’ve been his tournament. Then, his unfortunate luck stroke first: Less than six months before the World Cup, Falcao tore his ACL when he played for Monaco in a cup match and was forced to miss the tournament in Brazil.

When he returned to the pitch after the injury, it was visible he became a completely different player, more cautious, slower, and less sharp. It was very noticeable when he played with Colombia in the 2015 Copa America and especially at his two miserable Premier League stints – in Manchester United and Chelsea. Because of this form, he lost his spot in the national team for the first time since he made his debut in 2007. Despite his attempts to revive his career, it was too challenging to do it in the EPL. He didn’t have good relations with his coaches, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, who didn’t have the patience for him to adjust. It seemed like the World Cup dream is fading away when Colombia was on its way to Russia and Falcao wasn’t a part of the qualifiers campaign.

No teams were interested in signing him after the horrible two years in England. He wasn’t in Monaco’s plans for the 2016-17 season, but a fantastic pre-season form caused Jardim to think again: Not only the Colombian was part of the squad, but he also was appointed as captain. Eventually, it was the season which lighted up his dream all over again: Falcao scored 30 goals in 43 matches, led Monaco to win a historic domestic championship ahead of moneybags PSG, shocked Europe with a scintillating Champions League campaign, and most importantly, returned to Pekerman’s national team after a year of absence. Colombia qualified to Russia 2018, and Falcao received another chance to make up for his misfortune four years ago. On June 24, in Kazan, Falcao achieved his closure as he played and scored in Colombia’s 3-0 world Cup win over Poland.

Despite still being Monaco’s top scorer, the last couple of years weren’t the best for El Tigre, who suffered from injuries which stopped his momentum. His weak form in the 2019 Copa America compared to the wonderful form by fellow striker Duvan Zapata, caused more and more fans to ask for his replacement by the Atalanta striker. Besides the professional troubles, he also experienced personal tragedy this year, as his father passed away from a heart attack. Falcao, who is named after his father and was very close to him, was devastated. He realized that to be relevant for next year’s Copa America, hosted by Colombia, and for the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers, he must change his surroundings, look for a fresh start. He won’t be as good as he was seven years ago, but his sense for goals is still there. Adding his leadership and experience, and you’ll get a player which can be perfect for a club like Galatasaray. 

Galatasaray’s history is full of world-class players who came to Turkey after their prime and made a good impression. Gheorghe Hagi, Didier Drogba and Wesley Sneijder are only a few of the names who played for Turkey’s biggest club. They play in the UEFA Champions League almost regularly and this year won’t be any different, as they were drawn in the same group with Real Madrid, Club Brugge and old nemesis PSG. Their fanatic fans are well-known across the world, and Falcao experienced it first-hand when he landed in Istanbul and thousands of fans mobbed him. Compared to the atmosphere in Monaco, which is the exact opposite, it seems like this match between Falcao and the team can work out. For such an emotional player, this is a great choice.

Galatasaray are the reigning Turkish champions, after dramatically leapfrogging city rivals Istanbul Basaksehir who led the league for the majority of the season. The Aslanar (Lions) had a busy summer that included many departures and arrivals. An interesting partnership we can expect for Falcao is with Ryan Babel, the Dutchman who remarkably revived his career and joined from Fulham. The midfield is predominantly African, with the fantastic Sofiane Feghouli being a main force, along with newcomers Mario Lemina and Jean Michel Seri. Additional spark should be provided by Moroccan Younes Belhanda and Emre Mor, who joins the club he supported as a kid after an unstable stint across Europe.

For most veteran Colombian fans, Carlos Valderrama is still considered as the most exceptional local footballer of all-time, but today others think that it’s Falcao. According to his European career, there is no doubt that Falcao’s resume is much more impressive and an international title with the national team will seal the discussion. Colombia will host the Copa America in 2020 and Falcao knows that every moment could be his last with the national uniforms. He already had his chance to fulfill his dream to play in the World Cup, and the circle will be completed if he would bring Copa America title to the Cafeteros.