It was the first big transfer coup of the summer window, and by far the biggest deal in Colombian football history. Radamel Falcao and James Rodriguez, the Cafeteros' brightest stars, agreed terms to sign with Ligue 1 new boys Monaco within days of each other. The transfer, as estimated by Goal.com, will cost the French side a staggering €105 million—60 shelled out for the former Atletico Madrid man while James earned Porto €45m.
On Friday night in the Monumental, we had the first chance since confirmation of the transfer to see what the pair could offer Monaco. Based on this first showing, more will be necessary should the club wish to topple Paris Saint-Germain at the top of Ligue 1.
First signs were encouraging. Rodriguez slotted into the Colombia side in a traditional No. 10 position as they took on Argentina in an away World Cup qualifier, dictating play in the opening minutes and impressing even Albiceleste fans with his accomplished footwork. He tended to veer towards the left, playing more than one pass in behind Pablo Zabaleta to feed winger Pablo Armero in a move that left Argentina looking narrow and limited at the back.
Early in the match, the ex-Banfield wonderkid thought he had earned Colombia a dream lead. A wonderful ball released Jackson Martinez down the middle, who finished with class; but the linesman's flag was already up, and his former Porto teammate was deprived of the type of assist he has thrived on all year from the 21-year-old star.
Falcao, meanwhile, took up his habitual post in the penalty area, trying to feed off the likes of Rodriguez, Armero and Jackson Martinez. There were few clear chances, an early header that shot wide when he really should have hit the target stood out, but the Monaco pair's presence was a key factor nonetheless in making the opening half hour an all-action, gripping game of football.
Approaching the 30-minute mark, however, all was to change. Gonzalo Higuain went in rather heavy on David Ospina chasing a ball destined to end with the keeper—who upon physical contact threw himself to the ground. Cristian Zapata confronted the Real Madrid man, and a kick on each side meant there was little choice for the referee than to send both players off. With 10 men playing 10, the competitive edge left the game and each team focused more on kicking their opposition than beating them in the traditional manner on a football pitch.
The final nail in the coffin for Colombia, and indeed Falcao, came just minutes later. Rodriguez went down clutching his left calf and was stretchered off and while the long-term damage for Monaco, according to Inside Futbol, is yet to be determined, the impact for the visitors was almost instant. The spark went out of the Colombia game. Replacement Juan Cuadradro provided plenty of zip down the flanks, but at the expense of Rodriguez's more cerebral, measured passing game. Falcao was the principal victim as he cut an increasingly forlorn figure upfront.
Further defensive changes from Jose Pekerman added to the now-lone striker's frustration, as the few instances of possession that came his way were squandered on the way to a 0-0 draw.
Monaco observers, and especially their accountants, will wait with anxiety for the verdict on Rodriguez's injury—while they will not be worried about one of the poorest performances from El Tigre in recent years. When talking about a player who has blasted over 100 goals in the last three seasons alone, an off-day against one of the world's best international teams is hardly cause for concern.
Even so, it was an inauspicious start to their partnership for the €100 boys.