By Ben Hayward | Spanish Football Writer
When Lionel Messi joined Barcelona as a talented teenager, an agreement was signed speedily on a servillette because Barcelona representative Carles Rexach could not find any paper. Now, more than a decade later, a new napkin could take Radamel Falcao from Atletico Madrid to city rivals Real.
At the AS Sports Awards earlier this week, Falcao's agent Jorge Mendes handed a servillette to Madrid president Florentino Perez in order for the construction magnate to put pen to paper on a supposed deal for the striker. It may have been just in jest, but it is often said there is a grain of truth in every joke - and the reality is that Madrid would love to sign Falcao from their local rivals next summer.
The Colombian was linked with Madrid before moving from Porto to Atletico in the summer of 2011, but surprisingly ended up at the Vicente Calderon as Jose Mourinho failed to follow up his interest. Since then, however, Falcao has cemented his status as the world's finest centre-forward - and that hasn't gone unnoticed on the other side of the capital.
|"FALCAO WOULD JOIN MADRID"
|Goal.com Spain's Chief Editor, Martin del Palacio Langer, believes Falcao would be interested in a move to Atletico's cross-city rivals.
He says: "I think Falcao could very well end up at Real Madrid. I have interviewed him twice in the past few months and one of the things that impressed me the most about him was his desire to win major trophies, something that he cannot achieve at Atletico.
"I'm certain he likes his current club and he might prefer going to the Premier League. However, if Chelsea, or someone else, fails to come up with an offer, I can definitely see him moving to the other side of the city, regardless of the hatred that he would provoke among the Rojiblancos' fans.
Earlier this season, Tito Vilanova hailed Falcao as a "great player, but not a player for Barcelona". That conclusion, of course, is a logical one - Falcao cannot compete with Lionel Messi for the starting spot in the centre of the Catalans' attack. Nobody can.
But he could compete with Karim Benzema and Gonzalo Higuain. The Frenchman and the Argentine have blown hot and cold this term after an impressive season in 2011-12 and Mourinho still believes he can improve his strikeforce. The Portuguese made promises to Higuain in the summer over his first-team appearances in 2012-13. However, the former River Plate forward still misses too many chances and is also prone to injury. Meanwhile, Benzema appears to lack a cutting edge away from home as he has a poor scoring record on the road.
Cristiano Ronaldo has also been slightly below his best at times in the current campaign, but the 27-year-old is expected to agree a new deal to remain at the Santiago Bernabeu. Should he move on, Madrid have been linked with Tottenham's Gareth Bale and Falcao as possible replacements, but they want the Colombian anyway.
Signing the striker will be far from straightforward. Madrid and Atletico agreed a non-aggression pact which means they cannot sign each other's players. Even Mourinho admitted as much in October when he said: "Falcao is a prohibited topic."
That agreement ultimately stopped Madrid signing Sergio Aguero from Atletico in the summer of 2010, with the Argentine forward moving to Manchester City instead. But El Kun later revealed he had wanted to join Madrid, despite once claiming he would not join any side beginning with 'R', thus referring to Real and former club Independiente's biggest rivals, Racing de Avellaneda.
With Aguero, Atletico held firm and threatened to invoke extra taxes on top of the release clause of €45m, pushing the cost up to around €75m in total - much more than the player's true worth.
With Falcao, however, Atletico would be unable to invoke those taxes; Diego Simeone's side share the striker's registration with Mendes' investment company and the Portuguese already boasts a number of clients at the Bernabeu, including Pepe, Angel Di Maria, Ronaldo and Mourinho himself. A move could therefore be quickly arranged and would cost the player's clause of €60m or slightly more if taxes were applied. That remains an extremely attractive deal for Madrid and, having acted correctly last summer with regard to Aguero, the champions consider it is their right to bid for a player who will likely be on the move anyway come July.
Chelsea and Manchester City would be keen to do a deal, but both will have to wait until the summer because Atletico - despite their debts - will want to hold on to their star striker as they look to challenge Barca and Madrid for La Liga and, at the very least, seal a place in next season's Champions League. Falcao also has the unique opportunity of winning the Europa League for a third successive season, having claimed the trophy with Porto and then again with his current club last term.
The Colombian once revealed in an interview as a teenager that he dreamed of playing for Madrid and his father claimed just a few months ago that his son still harboured a desire to feature for Real.
|He has always dreamed of playing for Madrid since he was a kid, although I know Chelsea and Manchester City are the most interested clubs
- Falcao's father in May
The player quickly issued a statement expressing his happiness at the Calderon, but the rumours remained and his father insisted once more that he had been speaking the truth.
A possible deal evokes memories of Hugo Sanchez, the Mexican striker who starred at Atletico before moving across the derby divide in 1985 to spend several successful seasons with Real, winning four more Pichichi prizes and becoming a legend at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Sanchez still speaks fondly of his time at Atletico but the club's fans will never forget - and they are likely to be even less forgiving to Falcao, who scored five times in the 6-0 win over Deportivo La Coruna last Sunday. "If Falcao joins Real, it will be a nightmare for him to live in Madrid," former Atletico forward Paulo Futre said on Friday.
He is right, of course, but Falcao and his wife Lorelei Taron enjoy the Spanish city, its way of life, the language and its large Latin American community. Indeed, El Tigre has constantly claimed he is happy in Madrid, so a few rowdy fans are unlikely to stop one of football's most ambitious players from moving across the capital if the opportunity arises this summer, napkin or no napkin.
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