Radamel Falcao’s first career hat-trick came against the Brazilian side Botafogo in the 2007 Copa Sudamericana. One of those goals was a header that made it 4-2 and virtually secured River Plate’s place in the next round.
That 22-year-old kid, whose tears were mistaken with the sweat on his shirt, celebrated with his arms raised, wanting to devour the sky.
Today, everything is uncertain, but what remains is Silvano Espíndola’s voice of encouragement. Espíndola was the player’s first representative and remains his mentor, religious guide and friend. Falcao shares the moments of his career with him – the happy ones and the difficult ones.
Speaking to AS Colombia, the Argentinian, who is the pastor of the ‘Casa sobre la Roca’ church, brought Falcao to River Plate. Since then, the striker has built the legend of ‘El Tigre’ (‘The Tiger’). He is currently going through the worst moment of his career at Manchester United and Espíndola has been there for him.
Have you spoken with Falcao recently?
“We speak a lot.”
And what have you two spoken about?
“We speak a lot. I am not going to tell you that he feels happy because he isn’t. We speak many times, and we cry together. It is not an easy situation because every player wants to play and every goalscorer wants to score goals, it’s what’s normal. But in this moment he is not being given that and this forms part of football. He is recovering his best form. When we spoke I told him that this happens to any striker, that a negative run can happen and that it happened to all of the great goalscorers. When you don’t score, there will be pressure.”
Has he already fully overcome his injury or is there fear of a relapse?
“The injury is already forgotten. The problem lies in the intensity of the play, which is not yet at the maximum. He has to regain that intensity. Because the issue is not fear of relapsing into injury, it’s a lack of rhythm.”
Some have said that Falcao’s best days are behind. What do you think?
“When he scores, everyone is going to start to say ‘El Tigre is back’, but ‘El Tigre’ never went away. It’s strange because he has never experienced something similar, a negative run like so. It is a new situation for him and everything depends on when he is going to score a goal. That is what we need, that he scores a goal.”
Falcao had to play for Manchester United’s under-21 side – did you speak with him at the time?
“While on his way to the ground to play that match with the youth team he called me. We talked for about 20 minutes while he arrived at the stadium and he told me: ‘Something like this has never happened to me, I don’t know how to handle the situation. I feel weird!’
“Additionally, he was a little fearful because he is afraid of those matches with the youth teams and of the second and third divisions. In those categories they are used to whacking and going in hard. That was how they injured him in France, with a team from the fourth division.”
Falcao didn’t even finish that match, he lasted only 70 minutes…
“I want to clarify that Falcao already knew that. Beforehand, Van Gaal had told him: ‘You are going to play 70 minutes with the under-21s, nothing more.’ If the Dutchman clarifies that, the people do not think that his level is so bad that he did not finish a game with the youth team. He knew it was going to be for 70 minutes! But Van Gaal never clarified it and that generates speculation. But Falcao is not going to say it, but he does not want to look bad to Van Gaal. And that is admirable. He does not want to generate controversy, he wants to work and wait for his moment”.
Speaking of Van Gaal…has Falcao confessed anything about his relationship with the Dutchman to you?
“Never. As I have already said, he is sad, that I cannot deny to you. To me, what strikes me is his professionalism. I have known him since he was a kid and he never ceases to amaze me. My job is to motivate him and place him. I assure that it goes well and I always tell him ‘take advantage of those minutes that they are giving you to show the player that you are!’ He never complains, he holds no grudges with anyone. He always has the same attitude. I can assure you that it is a very difficult moment in his life, but he continues training every day as if nothing is happened. So [if] they give him 10 minutes, like in the last match, he enters and does the best job possible. He has given a class of professionalism at Manchester United.”
And what do you think of Van Gaal?
“Van Gaal has very little tact for this in football. It’s not just a Falcao-related issue, but one of many players. He is a coach that kills your confidence, he destroys it. This is happening with other great players that were at a high level and with Van Gaal they have gone downhill. Something has been done to remove those players’ confidence.”
Do you think it was a mistake for Falcao to go to Manchester United?
“Many journalists say: ‘Falcao made a mistake. If he had not gone he would be in the quarter-finals of the Champions League with Monaco’. It’s very easy to say that six months later! At the time that he took the step to United he had to take it, he had to. Shuffling the options was the best, certainly. I know that in his heart, ‘Falqui’ has a profound desire to play in the Champions League next season. And I do not know if United will qualify for the Champions League. He has that desire, and at the end of the season he will decide, much remains.”
Then to go to another team that is in the Champions League…
“He is very reserved about his future. We still haven’t spoken of any offer because he prefers to focus on recovering his level in Manchester. Each day it can be seen that he wants this, that another [team] wants him, but they are all rumours. Sometimes the employers pay the media to say that their players are wanted all over Europe. There is a club that has always been behind him, I am not going to say which one, but it is a club that has watching his situation. But in this moment, they are all rumours.”