EXCLUSIVE: The fall and rise of Monaco's Radamel Falcao

The fall and rise of Falcao
The fall and rise of Falcao

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  • Colombian has scored 25 goals in 32 games
  • Scoring every 87.5 minutes this season

Monaco (CNN)They said he was finished -- that El Tigre would never roar again following the serious injury he suffered in January 2014.

Radamel Falcao, among the highest-paid players in English Premier League history; Radamel Falcao, scorer of just five goals in two Premier League seasons.
So English football supporters could have been forgiven for rubbing their eyes in disbelief in February as he raced through Manchester City's defense, casually brushing aside John Stones before sumptuously dinking the ball over Willy Caballero.
    Here he was, reborn on the biggest stage of all. Back at AS Monaco and back in business, three years on from his lowest ebb after he tore his anterior cruciate ligament, leading the line for the most prolific team in Europe.
    "You learn from every experience, both good and bad," muses Falcao, speaking to CNN in a rare interview. "My time in England gave me experiences which I've learned from and have made me better.
    "I was always sure that when I had continuity in matches and minutes, my form would return to the level I was used to and the goals, as a matter of consequence, would come."

    'Getting confidence back'

    That continuity has had consequences for both French and European football, with Monaco top of Ligue 1 and emerging as a Champions League dark horse.
    Falcao is presently finding the net every 87.5 minutes in Ligue 1, compared to once every 228 minutes with Chelsea and every 322 minutes at Manchester United.
    Only PSG's Edison Cavani, Barcelona's Lionel Messi and Bayern Munich's Robert Lewandowski can boast a better scoring ratio in Europe's top five leagues this season.
    What's behind the success of AS Monaco?
    What's behind the success of AS Monaco?

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      What's behind the success of AS Monaco?

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    What's behind the success of AS Monaco? 03:01
    There are those that will diminish such achievements -- as was once the case with Zlatan Ibrahimovic -- contending the French division presents less of a challenge.
    Try telling that to Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola or Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino, with both dumped out of Europe's premier club competition by high-flying Monaco this season.
    "It was only a question of getting confidence back and feeling like an important part of the team," says Falcao, when asked to explain his resurgence.
    "Every weekend playing matches and getting minutes -- this is definitely what has made the difference."
    "This club have always been behind me, supporting me. They know the qualities I have not just as a footballer, but as a person."

    'Shackled'

    Falcao might be approaching the form that saw him score an astonishing 142 goals in 178 appearances during his years at FC Porto and Atlético Madrid, but the Colombian is the first to admit the dark times still haunt him.
    The 31-year-old's loan spells at Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge coincided with two of the clubs' worst seasons in recent memory.
    Goals per 90 minutes

    Falcao (Monaco, 2016/17) -- 1.03

    Falcao (Chelsea, 2015/16) -- 0.37

    Falcao (Man Utd, 2014/15) -- 0.28

    Reported to be earning over $300,000 per week at United and Chelsea, media outlets wasted no time comparing the Colombian to the likes of Fernando Torres and Andriy Shevchenko, expensive flops of years gone by at the London club.
    Falcao says he was shackled by former United manager Louis Van Gaal's tactics -- forced to contribute more to the buildup and "spend less time in the box" where he had been so deadly.
    At Chelsea, Jose Mourinho vowed to restore Falcao to his former powers, telling reporters it "hurt" him to think people regarded the player's debut Premier League season as indicative of his true prowess.
    Goals per game

    Falcao (Monaco, 2016/17) -- 25 in 32

    Falcao (Chelsea, 2015/16) -- 1 in 12

    Falcao (Man Utd, 2014/15) -- 4 in 29

    But after signing Falcao on his return to Chelsea in 2015/16, even the so-called "Special One" was unable to redeem the Colombian, handing him just one league start.
    Once perhaps the most feared out-and-out striker in Europe, Falcao had become increasingly forlorn and practically forgotten.

    'What doesn't kill you makes you stronger'

    Not that he ever let the detractors get him down. Falcao argues he is stronger now -- and not just as a player, but as a person.
    "Everything in life is a lesson and one can take advantage of this if they can find something in every situation," he asserts.
    "These type of adverse experiences teach you and I tried to learn; to assimilate as much as possible; and to put into practice as much as possible.
    "For me, it was like this: I didn't let that moment pass without gaining something for my life."
    Falcao tells CNN he received a number of lucrative offers from the Chinese Super League in the winter transfer window, but turned them down due to unfinished business in Europe.
    "I have some goals in that I'd like to achieve and I hope to achieve them," says Falcao.
    "In the future, you never know. Maybe the opportunity pops up to go play there or in the US or go back to South America.
    "They're situations that you analyze when they arise together with your family and you'll make the right decision."

    World Cup pain

    Many recall the Colombian's travails at United and Chelsea, but it shouldn't be forgotten that Falcao's dreams of playing at the 2014 World Cup were also scuppered by the injury to his knee.
    "It's a personal dream of mine to be able to play at the World Cup," he smiles, with Colombia in second place behind Brazil in South American qualification for the 2018 tournament.
    "To represent one's country for any footballer is the best. We all dream as kids of being able to one day put on the shirt for your country, to represent it and to hear the anthem.
    "It's such a large number of emotions that I've had the opportunity to enjoy over many years in my career and I'd like to keep doing so, above all in the World Cup in Russia."

    Champions League dreams

    No tale of redemption would be complete without a happy ending.
    Falcao has scored four goals in four Champions League appearances this season, and it is Monaco -- not Chelsea or Manchester United -- that sit pretty in the quarterfinals.
    He swells with pride to consider the "unity and mentality" that each player has, and dreams of adding a Champions League winner's medal to the two Europa League titles he won with Porto and Atlético.
    "We're very excited for what's going on and what we're doing right now," he says, looking ahead to Monaco's second leg at Stade Louis II.
    "We have a very strong rival in Dortmund, but I think it's a very level tie. Our hope is to beat them and go on in the competition.
    "I think that surely with the same conviction, work and concentration that this team has shown, we can still get better and better as a group. Hopefully that will be enough to beat Dortmund."