It’s always satisfying when one identifies talent in footballers at early stages in their career and they then become big stars. I’ve done this on a few occasions, not through Championship Manager, but through seeing the players with my own eyes.
My travels have principally taken me to South America, so I’d like to believe that is where I can spot players that no one yet knows about.
What brought me to bring up this topic was Man Utd’s signing of Radamel Falcao and the subsequent unearthing of his stats which prove that he’s a deadly finisher. Clearly people have been aware of the Colombian for a while now, but I don’t believe he really propelled himself into the “most football fans have heard of him” zone until that amazing hat-trick against Chelsea in the European Super Cup in 2012.
Still others would have been aware of his goalscoring prowess because of his prior exploits at Atletico and Porto, particularly in the Europa League.
I can smugly say that I’ve known all about his quality since I watched a River Plate vs Arsenal de Sarandi game in the Argentine league in early 2009. River had a hopeless team and Arsenal kind of battered them for the opening half an hour. Yet Falcao scored a goal out of nowhere, a header I believe, and followed that up with two more clinical finishes in what were probably his only 3 touches in the game.
I didn’t comment out loud at that the time as I attended the match with a couple of girls not too into football and interestingly a Colombian who knew nothing about Falcao and was more bothered about taking tonnes of photos of River’s Monumental stadium.
Those who know me will have heard me preach about his quality long before he ripped into Chelsea’s backline, and now that he’s finally at a big club, I feel vindicated and happy that I witnessed him before others knew of his existence.
To a lesser extent, I could argue the same for my relentless promoting of Neymar, but to be fair, all of Brazil knew about him as soon as he debuted, so me seeing him tear apart a terrible Vasco da Gama defence in his early days for Santos is hardly a coup from my point of view.
An example of when I apparently got it wrong, yet somehow right, involves a little Argentine magician I saw in my first live game in Brazil, the Flamengo-Fluminense derby in Rio in August 2008. He absolutely ran the show and was full of tricks, dribbles, shimmies and overall perfect technical play, and I said to myself that he’d be the next Maradona (Messi hadn’t quite reached the heights yet). His name was Conca.
Who? you say. Of course. Barely anybody has heard of him. But that day I was convinced he was going to be the next big thing, and don’t think I was being naive thinking that it doesn’t take much to star in a lesser-quality league where even the likes of Kleberson and Wagner Love looked decent.
However, although his career has only seen him play in Argentina, Brazil and China, his team in the latter country made him the third-highest paid player in the world at the time in 2011, so somebody else had evidently spotted his talent.
What grinds on me though is how he never made it in a big European club and nor has he been capped by his country. I just wanted to be able to say, if only to myself, that I told you so. But it wasn’t meant to be.
2 of out of 3 isn’t bad though, is it?