- Associated Press - Tuesday, March 14, 2017

MONACO (AP) - While the return to form of striker Radamel Falcao and the rise of teenage forward Kylian Mbappe have grabbed headlines, another Monaco player has quietly emerged.

Unheralded French striker Valere Germain isn’t particularly quick or a natural scorer, averaging about one goal every four games. But it’s everything else he does that makes him a key element in a prolific side that has scored 123 goals this season.

With Falcao facing a late fitness test on a hip injury, Germain could start against Manchester City on Wednesday in the return leg of the Champions League. His versatility is such that he could easily link up with either Mbappe or Falcao, depending on coach Leonardo Jardim’s plans as he tries to overturn a 5-3 deficit.

“(Germain) is a support striker who looks for space and tries to make the defense move out of position,” Jardim said. “He has done a good job for us this season.”

Monaco is involved in four competitions, with Germain contributing 13 goals - third behind Mbappe (16) and Falcao (24). Winger Thomas Lemar (11 goals) and Portuguese playmaker Bernardo Silva (10) complete an eye-catching attack with multiple threats.

“It’s great that the coach can count on so many players up front. When one of us is struggling a bit, the other one takes his place and it’s working,” said Germain, who has started the last four games. “Kylian’s in great form at the moment, so are Thomas and Bernardo.”

Over the past six weeks, the talk in European soccer has been about the 18-year-old Mbappe, a skillful forward with immense power and speed who has been drawing early comparisons with France great Thierry Henry.

Since February, Mpabbe has scored 10 in 10 games and his value has rocketed to an estimated 50 million euros ($54 million).

But Germain played a crucial part in the first half of the campaign, thanks to his partnership with Falcao.

“There’s a good understanding between us,” Germain said.

Both players had point to prove after returning from loan spells with their Monaco futures in doubt.

Struggling to come back from a serious knee injury, Falcao had a miserable time at Chelsea, scoring one league goal. Germain returned from Nice with Monaco unsure about him - a familiar position for the 26-year-old since joining 10 years ago.

The contrast between them could not be greater.

Falcao arrived in May 2013 for 60 million euros ($67 million) as a feared striker worldwide. Outside of France, few have heard of Germain, who has never played for the national team.

Yet they gel seamlessly together.

Germain compensates for lack of speed with awareness. He has outstanding movement and a deft touch, making him the perfect foil for Falcao’s robust yet technically assured style. The timing of Germain’s wide runs gives Falcao the space to take up central positions.

“Valere always plays high quality football,” teammate Silva said. “He always finds a lot of space and anticipates well.”

Germain is a relatively late bloomer and was never considered a precocious talent like Mbappe or Anthony Martial before him.

In January 2016, Monaco sold Martial - who had just turned 20 - to Manchester United for 36 million pounds ($44 million). The deal is potentially worth 60 million pounds ($73 million) in further payments.

Germain’s value is about 10 million euros. But his real worth was helping lay the foundations for the club’s current success.

Although Monaco is now the top scoring side in Europe’s five major leagues, it was languishing in the French second division only four years ago. During the 2012-13 campaign, Germain played a key part in getting Monaco back up - at a cost.

Because with Monaco back among the elite, and with cash to spend, big names arrived. Monaco signed Falcao and Colombia winger James Rodriguez, who went on to star at the 2014 World Cup.

With Martial fast emerging, things were increasingly difficult for Germain and the subsequent arrival of former United striker Dimitar Berbatov further limited his chances. In those two seasons, 29 of Germain’s 52 league appearances were as substitute.

With his career flagging, Germain took the 30-minute trip along the French Riviera to Nice. He thrived there, netting 14 league goals last season, and playing a supporting role to winger Hatem Ben Arfa, who scored 17.

The unselfish Germain works best making others shine.

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