There was a time when a young Brazilian teenager like me would be exposed to football beyond the national borders only when my team, Fluminense, got to play in South American tournaments — a somewhat rare event in the 1990s that was beginning to slowly change after a new rich sponsor, a healthcare provider, started buying and paying salaries to top-shelf players.
While the investment didn’t bear fruit in terms titles, or even quality of play for that matter, there was plenty to get excited about when it came to transfer rumours. One I remember vividly from 2007 involved a 21-year-old Colombian striker who was making a name for himself in Argentina while playing for River Plate, committing heroic acts such as a hat-trick to mount a 4-2 comeback against one of Fluminense’s major rivals, Botafogo, in the Copa Sul-Americana that year.
His name was Radamel Falcao — who, much later in life, would briefly pull on a Chelsea shirt, too, to much less heroic outcomes.
While the internet was not nearly as popular nor as accessible at the time, discussions over whether it was worth investing in Falcao invaded the local forums. Many were against it, given how difficult it was for Spanish-speaking South American players to adapt to Brazilian football. Others, like myself neophytes to the sport, were hoping to take the risk on a guy who had shown such glimpses of greatness.
Promisingly, Fluminense were in the latter camp, and Falcao himself told the Argentinian press that the club had made a “tempting offer”. Two weeks later, on my birthday of all days, club president Roberto Horcades claimed we had a “verbal agreement” with the young and promising centre-forward, as well as Argentinian attacking midfielder Dario Conca, to join our squad in the upcoming 2008 season.
However, that all turned out be little more than fake news. Falcao’s agent at the time, Néstor Sívori, claimed there were no “serious proposals” made, with the only offer coming from a company without a telephone number via fax machine (but how did they send the proposal then?). Sívori considered a move to Fluminense as a setback for Falcao, even the club would go on an unforgettable Copa Libertadores campaign in which they were inches away from the title — with plenty of magic moments provided by Conca and several others who arrived at Laranjeiras that year.
And so, the window of opportunity for Falcao and Fluminense closed. One and a half years later the centre-forward would make the jump to Europe, joining FC Porto for €3,9m, markedly less than what Flu had offered to River: US $7m, approximately €4.7m at the time.
The Tricolor were still quite successful in the years that followed, winning two Brazilian League titles in 2010 and 2012. But it’s hard not imagine that the killer instinct of Falcao, as well as his record as a comeback hero, could have gotten Fluminense that one extra goal we needed in the two-legged 2008 Copa Libertadores final against LDU Quito that would have avoided the penalty shootout and ensuing upset. (Flu were down 5-2 on aggregate at one point before mounting a furious three-goal comeback in that second leg.)
Or at least, that is how the scenario plays out in the minds of many Fluminense faithful, including yours truly. Alas...
Ed.note: Falcao himself is winding down an extraordinary career at age 34 or nearly 500 professional appearances and nearly 300 goals (12 and 1 of which, respectively, came in the colors of Chelsea) at Galatasaray. After moving to Porto, he became one of the most lethal strikers in Europe, especially in the seasons he spent on the Iberian peninsula, first at Porto then Atlético Madrid.