After nine months out following knee surgery, Monaco forward Radamel Falcao made his long awaited return from injury against Valencia in the Emirates Cup on Saturday afternoon.
The Colombian international was forced to miss his country's impressive run at the World Cup after suffering extensive cruciate ligament damage during a Coupe de France match against Monts d'Or Azergues on a January evening.
With a recovery time pegged at between six months and nine, the former-Porto star always faced an uphill struggle to recover in time to take part in last month's tournament. He will have watched on with mixed feelings - Colombia performed exceptionally well, reaching the quarter-finals, but Falcao and his many fans may feel his presence could have been the difference required against Brazil in that 2-1 defeat.
Falcao without James
And he now returns to a Monaco team stripped of the Robin to his Batman. James Rodriguez was the less heralded arrival last summer, signing along with Joao Moutinho from Porto.
But off the back of his remarkable performances in a leading role for Colombia, the young playmaker earned his move away from the French principality.
Many expected Falcao to be the first to leave the Monaco project, which was only ever expected to be a quick pit stop on the way to a Real Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester City. He was the more complete player this time last year - injury changes things quickly. So it was James who joined the Bernabeu giants this summer, for a reported £63m.
Despite the injury, Falcao has himself been linked with a move away, the regular Premier League suitors - Manchester United, Manchester City and Chelsea - have all been mentioned, as have Real Madrid.
With James and Falcao last term, Monaco sustained a title challenge to PSG - but with the £63m man gone and Falcao easing his way back from injury, the club from the French capital have little to fear from their moneyed rivals to the south. Perhaps that will play on Falcao's mind.
A sizeable gathering of Colombian fans were in attendance at the Emirates Cup, hoping to catch a first glimpse of their striker hero. Thousands upon thousands attended Atletico Madrid games in years past, and they camped outside Monaco until the injury.
They are in London this weekend, and this travelling band of Falcao fans cheered his every move - starting with a light warm-up that began in the 50th minute and continued until his arrival on the pitch in the 70th.
Falcao in action
He barely touched the ball, looked unfit and a bit static but that matters little at this stage. These 20 minutes were more psychological, more about getting back onto the pitch after nine months out, feeling the pace of competitive action, stretching and testing the damaged ligament before bigger and more physical tests to come.
Although just a preseason match, you do worry about Falcao's supply line without James. Anthony Martial, Yannick Ferreira-Carrasco and Lucas Ocampos are all talented players, but they're erratic - and none are close to matching the quality of James.
Falcao better than Monaco?
It's not hard to imagine a situation in which Falcao, back on top form and firing on all cylinders, finds himself frustrated with this supporting cast. It doesn't come close to matching PSG.
He still looks the same though, a bull of a striker, vocal and commanding - a proper number nine to lead the line of a Champions League contender. But a lot of works lies ahead - this is just the start for Falcao.
Scouts will be watching his recovery closely, because a player of Falcao's quality will not sit quietly on a team like Monaco - he is better than this. The question is, is he fit enough to earn that move?
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