Radamel Falcao

Radamal Falcao and the specter of AS Monaco


A week ago, the possible move of Colombian international Radamel Falcao to AS Monaco seemed farcical. Monaco, currently in France’s Ligue 2 (but due to be promoted), may have a Russian oligarch’s backing while allowing their players to enjoy the income tax-free lifestyle, but it was difficult to believe a player of Falcao’s caliber – somebody who would be coveted by most clubs in the world – would move to a team that’s just rejoining first division soccer. The only thing giving credence to this rumor was the “reportedly” €60 million price Monaco’s willing to pay, but with the exception of Samuel Eto’o (who moved to Russian side Anzhi Makhachkala two years ago), nobody of Falcao’s caliber has taken themselves so far down the European pecking order.

Monaco does have a pedigree of sorts. They’ve won seven French titles, though their last came 13 years ago. They’ve won five French Cups, a League Cup, and perhaps most famously (outside of France), they’ve made two European titles: the 1992 Cup Winners’ Cup, and the 2004 Champions League final.

It’s a stretch to think that history explains his deal. Owner Dmitry Rybolovlev’s billions partially do, as does the fact that Monaco’s millionaire’s playground is in a France. Not Dagestan. Not the Middle East. Not China. Players can stay in Europe to collect their huge wages, which is why players like Joao Moutinho, James Rodríguez, Jackson Martínez, and Victor Valdes are also being linked with the club.

But the real drive behind these moves may be something even more controversial than Monaco’s billions. Falcao is represented and partially-owned by Jorge Mendes, whose third-party ownership of the Atletico star gives the agent undo influence over the deal. He can essentially, broker a deal to sell Falcao’s rights to Monaco, a deal which, according to rumors, could see more Mendes players land spots with Monaco.

That third-party specter (and the control that comes with it) is going to sour a lot of fans on this move, but like it or not, third-party ownership is a prevalent part of the modern game, particularly with players from South America. Rather than bemoan an arrangement that deserves more than a one sentence missive, I, perhaps perversely, want to focus on a silver lining.

With the recent, huge amounts of cash being infused into European soccer, there’s a danger of all the world’s best players being consolidated onto a handful of teams. Chelsea and the Manchesters in England, the big two in Spain, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain can compete for any players they want. If a player’s willing to go East, Zenit St. Petersburg and Anzhi Makhachkala come into play. Beyond that, Europe’s becoming a bit of a feeder system.

Like third-party ownership, that’s unlikely to change anytime soon. What might change, however, is the number of players in the game. Just as Paris-Saint Germain has built quickly thanks to Qatari investment, Monaco can also help expand the ranks of Europe’s elite, stretching the top talent beyond the handful of teams to which they’re currently being funneled. Yes, that brings Super League discussion back into play, and news of this sort always brings fans only slightly older than myself coming out of their dens with dusty VHS cassettes, ready to show you soccer before it went corporate. At some point, however, we have to toss out the VCRs and accept it. The world changes.

For Monaco, Radamel Falcao would be a great start, and a star of his caliber could justify others’ decisions to go. It becomes much easier of a Moutinho or Valdes to take a chance on Monaco when they know a true, marquee start has already signed on, no matter the means by which he did so.

That, admittedly, is a very thin sliver lining. In a way, it’s a head in the sand approach, though with little to gain by continuing to harp on old tropes, it may be better to focus on whatever obscure positives you can grasp. In this case, that’s the building of a new contender, should Monaco actually pull of this Falcao coup.

MLS Cup Playoffs: D.C. United 2-4 Montreal Impact (video)

CORRECTS DATE - Montreal Impact forward Matteo Mancosu, back, celebrates his goal with Ignacio Piatti (10) during the first half of an MLS playoff soccer match against D.C. United, Thursday, Oct. 27, 2016, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
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The game in 100 words (or less): There are epic playoff collapses, and there is the MLS Cup Playoffs abomination put forth by D.C. United on Thursday. Playing host to a Montreal Impact side that won just two of its last eight regular-season games and crawled over the finish line, United — winners of four of their last five and one of the hottest teams in the league down the stretch — no-showed Thursday’s knockout-round tie, and their season is deservingly finished. Laurent Ciman put the Impact ahead inside the first five minutes, and United never recovered or seemed the least bit urgent with their season on the line. Matteo Mancosu bagged a brace either side of halftime to make it 3-0, and Ignacio Piatti, who was his usual brilliant self — so good, in fact, he made you forget Didier Drogba was unavailable due to injury/dispute over his role as a substitute — added a fourth not long before full-time. Lamar Neagle grabbed a late consolation goal for United, bringing them back to 4-1 before Taylor Kemp fired a laser past Evan Bush for 4-2 late in stoppage time, but that’s as close as they’d get. Up next for the Impact, it’s the New York Red Bulls in the Eastern Conference semifinals, beginning Sunday.

[ MORE: All of PST’s MLS Cup Playoffs preview coverage ]

Three moments that mattered

4′ — Ciman slots home from a corner for 1-0 — An absolute dream start for Montreal, as Ciman gets front side of his marker and benefits from a fortunate bounce after he scuffs the shot.

43′ — Mancosu slams home Piatti’s cross for 2-0 — Someone tell DCU that the knockout round is most definitely win-or-go-home. Horrific defending. Ball-watching all over the place. This is not the same team that won four of their last five in order to host this game.

58′ — Mancosu heads home at the near post for 3-0 — Steve Birnbaum has not had the greatest end to the 2016 season. Stay healthy, John Brooks and Geoff Cameron.

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s MLS coverageStandings | Stats | Schedule ]

Men of the match: Matteo Mancosu

Goalscorers: Ciman (4′), Mancosu (43′, 58′), Piatti (83′), Neagle (90′), Kemp (90+4′)

FOLLOW LIVE: 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round

Sporting Kansas City forward Dom Dwyer, center, is congratulated by teammates, including midfielder Roger Espinoza (27), following his goal during the first half of an MLS soccer match against the Houston Dynamo in Kansas City, Kan., Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015. (AP Photo/Orlin Wagner)
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The knockout round of the 2016 MLS Cup Playoffs concludes on Thursday, as four teams vie for the final two places — one in the Eastern Conference, one in the Western Conference — in the conference semifinals, which begin on Sunday.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS Cup Playoffs knockout round ]

Up first, the East’s fourth-seeded D.C. United welcome the five-seed Montreal Impact to RFK Stadium for the two sides’ third meeting of the 2016 season. Each of the year’s first two clashes finished a 1-1 draw, in July and August. Didier Drogba is expected to be unavailable for the win-or-go-home tie. United finished the regular season with four wins in the last five games, while the Impact won just two of their last eight.

[ MORE: Preivewing Thursday night’s knockout-round games ]

In the nightcap, the West’s fourth-seeded Seattle Sounders will take on the five-side, Sporting Kansas City, at CenturyLink Field. Sporting were victorious in both regular-season meetings this year — 1-0 on opening day, and 3-0 in late-July, the day the Sounders essentially quit on Sigi Schmid. Since that blistering hot day in KC, the Soudners have lost just twice in 14 games (eight wins, four draws).

Thursday’s MLS Cup Playoffs schedule

D.C. United vs. Montreal Impact — 7:30 p.m. ET
Seattle Sounders vs. Sporting KC — 10 p.m. ET

Cristiano Ronaldo says Ashley Cole is the toughest player he faced

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Cristiano Ronaldo has faced the best defenders in the world during his time with Manchester United, Real Madrid and the Portuguese national team.

He has also caused fits for most of those defenders with goal after goal for club and country. But, there have been some players who have at least made it difficult for the all-time leading goal scorer in Real Madrid and Champions League history.

According to Ronaldo, former Chelsea and Arsenal defender Ashley Cole was the toughest player he has faced in his career.

[ MORE: VIDEO: Incredible Pelle goal in China ]

“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe,” Ronaldo told Coach Mag. “He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”

During his time with Manchester United, Ronaldo faced Cole on numerous occasions while Cole was with Arsenal and Chelsea. The two have also faced off in international competition between Ronaldo’s Portugal and Cole’s England.

It’s certainly high praise for Cole, who now plays in MLS for the LA Galaxy. At the age of 35, Cole has started 25 matches for the Galaxy this season, scoring one goal.

Phil Neville praises Juan Mata’s play to Manchester United

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Juan Mata has appeared in 116 matches for Manchester United since moving to Old Trafford in 2014. In that time, Mata has scored 29 goals and recorded 18 assists.

Despite his performance for the team, some thought Mata would be moved when Jose Mourinho came to town, including former United player and assistant coach Phil Neville.

Neville told Sky Sports, “I actually thought he would be the first out of the door when Jose came, but he’s actually becoming one of the most important players.”

Neville praised Mata’s contributions and versatility for United. “He is never injured, he provides a lot of assists, he plays in two or three different positions, and he scores important goals.”

Manchester United has lacked an identity under Mourinho and recently faltered in the Premier League as the team is winless in its last three matches.

[ MORE: Mourinho gets FA charge ]

Could Mata be the answer to some of United’s problems?

The Spaniard is a classic No. 10 with the ability to dictate his team’s attack and create scoring opportunities for his teammates. Mata can also put the ball in the back of the net as evidenced by his winner against Manchester City in the EFL Cup.

Mourinho has options in the center midfield with the likes of Paul Pogba, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick in addition to Mata on the roster.

However, given the team’s Premier League struggles, it could be worth giving Mata a chance as the team’s No. 10.