By Martin Langer
Nominated for the coveted Ballon d’Or by virtue of a strike rate bettered only by his fellow Liga poster boys Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo over the past 12 months, Atletico Madrid’s goalscoring machine Radamel Falcao could be forgiven for allowing his new found fame and notoriety to go to his head.
The 26-year-old has scored at a scarcely credible rate over the last three seasons, over 100 for his former club Porto and current employers combined, but remains uneasy at comparisons that are increasingly being drawn between himself, Messi and Ronaldo.
Hard work, dedication and persistence, allied to a remarkable knack of being in the right place at the right time, have been the key to the Colombian’s remarkable record since he swapped the blue of Porto for the red of Atletico following the Portuguese side’s Europa League triumph 18 months ago and no amount of personal acclaim is likely to change his approach.
"I take it easy," he told Goal.com. "I don’t think about this particular time I’m living in. I keep the same ambition, desire and will than when I didn’t play in Europe.
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|"Chelsea are champions of Europe and there is not much more to say than that.
"Even after winning the Champions League they still go and sign players of the highest quality. Their ambition is clear.
"I was also a big fan of [former Chelsea forward] Gianfranco Zola when I was growing up."
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"I felt both happiness and pride [at the Ballon d'Or nomination]. The nomination reflects all the hard work I’ve done for years. It means a lot to me because I worked hard to make this team play a big role out there.
"Good results have spread my popularity and made my work well recognised. I thank God that the team’s work has led me to the Ballon d'Or nomination.
"To be rated so highly by some football managers and colleagues, it’s a great joy. It is also a great responsibility since currently there are many good strikers. It means a lot to be among the best."
Falcao’s scintillating form saw Atletico win last season’s Europa League, scoring 12 goals en route to the final. The Colombian striker also lifted the European Super Cup after he bagged a hat-trick against Chelsea in an impressive 4-1 win, the side that covets his signature most and are closing in on a £48.1 million January deal.
While Falcao’sreputation in Europe is certainly on the rise, his global stock would certainly gain a healthy kick were Colombia to continue their recent impressive form and qualify for the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Jose Pekerman’s side currently sit third in the Conmebol standings, four points behind leaders Argentina with a game in hand. A vibrant side spearheaded by Falcao and complimented by the attacking flair of Porto duo Jackson Martinez and James Rodriguez has emerged, but their talismanic striker insists it’s far too early to dream of World Cup glory.
"Yes, I feel [we are improving]. We have had an improvement in results. Since Jose Pekerman’s appointment we have freed our mind. We’ve climbed in the World Cup qualification table thanks to some important victories.
"Having said this, there’s a long way to go and there are some crucial games left. We have to carry on this way and, if we keep on gaining points, will end up nicely. But we cannot relax.
"We are mainly focused in the qualifiers. Fortunately we have a group of great players who are also important for their clubs. If we qualify for the World Cup it will come in the right time for us in terms of age.
"We have faith and will. We don’t want to set ourselves any limits. First of all I hope we qualify for Brazil 2014 and after that we will dream about the World Cup."
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Despite his success in Europe and the riches that will no doubt follow should he complete a much touted move to one of the Premier League giants Falcao will remain true to his Colombian roots and humble background, a fact borne out by his commitment to Western Union's PASS programme, an initiative which turns every pass in the Uefa Europa League into funding for a day of school.
The scheme intends to create one million school days over the next three years and builds on the work the company has already done to support education globally.
He said: "The scheme has opened my eyes and mind. A football player can contribute with things and Pass is the perfect example of it. I wish success to PASS and I hope many children can go to school thanks to this program.
"I will contribute with many school days for those kids who don’t have the chance to study. Being part of this project makes me proud. I would like to spread it around so kids can go to school.
"I got a good education from my parents and my surroundings. That helped me absorbing some concepts and principles that I implemented in my career. Nowadays I am very thankful for the education I was given."
Radamel Falcao was speaking an ambassador of Western Union's PASS scheme which will run for three years with a goal of raising a million school days for children whose schooling has otherwise been compromised.