By Charlie Scott
On August 18, 2011, Atletico Madrid announced that they had raided 2010-11 Europa League winners Porto for Radamel Falcao and Ruben Micael, paying €45 million for the pair: €40m for the Colombian striker and €5m for the Portuguese midfielder. Roll on nine months and one of those two is on loan at struggling Zaragoza, while the other has firmly established himself in the hearts of the ever-enthusiastic crowd at the Vicente Calderon.
In last night's Europa League final against Athletic Bilbao, Falcao provided two moments of sheer class that matched both the stage and its spectacular surroundings. In two blinks of the eye in the first half, the Colombian had struck twice to give his side a 2-0 lead and set them on the way to a memorable and deserved victory, which was completed by Diego's fine third late on.
|FALCAO IN EUROPA | 29 GAMES 29 GOALS
His second was technically just as brilliant. After stretching to receive a pass from team-mate Arda Turan 10 yards from goal, he performed a flawless Cruyff turn that reduced Athletic defender Jon Aurtenetxe to a heap of tangled legs on the floor, before crashing a left-footed effort past the despairing Iraizoz.
His performance was one that will have wowed those who are unfamiliar with La Liga, and rightly so for it was a superb display. But for anyone who watches Atletico regularly, Falcao's exploits last night were expected, such has been his form this season.
That kind of performance and those type of goals would be heralded as extraordinary if they were carried out by most other players in the world, but for Falcao, they have become the norm.
He has now scored 29 goals in 29 Europa League games, adding 12 goals in Atletico's successful campaign this season to the 17 he notched for Porto as they secured similar success last year.
Eyebrows were raised when the Colombian chose to move to Atletico last August, with many believing he would join a club playing in the Champions League instead following his sparkling form for Porto. Indeed, if you had said last summer that Falcao would be playing in the Spanish capital this season, few would have believed he would end up turning out in the red and white of Los Colchoneros.
Despite the surprise at his move to the Calderon, and the adulation he now receives from the club’s fans, things were not always so rosy for the Colombian. Seven goals in 12 games would appear a healthy return for any striker, let alone one settling in a new city and country, but those figures hide some uncharacteristic inconsistency.
|MATCH FACTS | Atletico 3-0 Athletic
However, his fabulous performances since have caused even the most die-hard Atleti fan to delete that mini-drought before Christmas from their memories, particularly in the wake of his match-winning display in Bucharest last night.
No other player had ever been top scorer in the Europa League or Uefa Cup in consecutive campaigns. Falcao has done it in his first two seasons in the competition.
Many were surprised he was even given the opportunity, such were the expectations that he would join a club appearing in Europe's glamour club tournament when he left Porto last summer, with Chelsea and Manchester City heavily linked and Atletico's rivals Real Madrid mentioned as well.
It will be interesting to see whether the striker will stay at Atletico should they fail to secure Champions League qualification this season, with a win away at Villarreal needed on Sunday to even be in with a chance of achieving their goal of a top-four finish.
Falcao's name is derived from the Portuguese word for falcon, and the forward has demonstrated his predatory instincts at every club he has played for so far in his career, most notably of all at Porto and at Atleti.
But as Europe’s elite clubs inevitably begin to circle following his Europa League heroics, Atletico’s falcon may soon switch from predator to prey.
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