‘The name is Bond, James Rodriguez’. Five years on from that ingenious headline, is the Colombian agent slow dancing out of global notoriety?
‘Too fat and pricey’ was the self-confessed verdict on a 17-year-old James (pronounced Ha-mez, how else?) Rodriguez by Palmeiras scouts who watched him play for CA Banfield in 2009. A year later, FC Porto’s incredible scouting pool and recruitment team had the better judgement of prising him away from Argentina for a small fee of £7 million, bringing him closer to the glamorous European podiums that awaited him.
He arrived in Portugal, a boy who grew up closely watching Davor Suker and Zinedine Zidane, dreaming of following in the groovy footsteps of Carlos ‘El Pibe’ Valderrama. Steadily, James showcased a possession of Pibe’s many talents; the cognition and calmness to tip-toe through the tightest of gaps, a touch softer than the fur on a baby colt, and vision equipped with almighty pass execution. He went on to win a few trophies at Porto, nine if you are counting.
“James has the potential to be the greatest Colombian player to have ever lived, and perhaps one of the greatest to have ever played the game” – Carlos Valderrama
Pibe wouldn’t shudder to admit that if not the hair, James has an additional skill set that transcended him. ‘A foot like a traction engine’, you could say. Although there is a heartfelt emptiness left by the absence of an outrageous barnet, James was the new kid in Colombia. He soon gained the respect and attention of the entire world.
Now living in the slums of Monaco, after a £41 million transfer made him one of the most expensive players in football, the ‘James Bond of Banfield’ was back in South America, for the World Cup of 2014. In the honorary home of football, James lit up Brazilian streets and stadiums alike. With spellbinding performances and 6 goals, the tournament ended with him as top scorer and Florentino Perez and the world on their knees.
Chest, volley, crossbar, goal, bailar.
“The next Cristiano” was the label thrown at him in the early days of his worldwide exposure. Of course. People in sport have an obsession of finding the next version of a current star. Human inertia has been known to stagnate progression, and pressure of living up to these accomplished names can break the mentally inferior. James was never to be the next Cristiano, but nor was he mentally weak.
A lazy comparison. Unlike Ronaldo, despite his talismanic magnetism to the spotlight in Brazil, he is often the spotlight operator for those in front of him. James sleeps and showers with the number 10 on his back. A pure playmaker, and a rare type of player in today’s positional-play-orientated climate. His positional awareness and intelligence strips down the most frigid of opponents. Sneaking his way in between enemy lines, not easily distinguishable from his namesake in the movies.
When Barcelona bought Luis Suarez in July 2014, Florentino Perez uncharacteristically itched away at his trigger finger for just over a week before inevitably succumbing to the Colombian’s charm. A desperation lingered over Madrid at the time, with Perez eager to sign Galacticos of a higher status each year. The truth is, James never fit into Madrid’s long-term plans, but that did not matter.
James has always led by example at Colombia because Jose Peckermann built the team to his convenience, and Carlos Queiroz has vowed to do no different in this years Copa America. This was never going to be the case at Real Madrid, the antithesis of the club that James’ playing style may suit the most, and where Gerard Pique believes James belongs…FC Barcelona.
Enter Bayern Munich. Here James joined a list of some of the world’s most mouth-watering talent, including the silky smooth Thiago Alcantara. He came into the team and played as the number 10 in a 3 man midfield, free-roaming around the pitch without a worry in the world, playing to his own beat, with rhythmic modulation that would have brought Keith Moon down to Earth.
“James Rodriguez is a God-send, but he can play better!” exclaimed Jupp Heynckes who returned for his fourth Bayern spell, after disjointed performances led to the sacking of Carlo Ancelotti. Heynckes’ ideas revolved heavily around James, who was pivotal as the magician in the centre, but also consistently shifting out wide to help maintain numerical superiority. The kind of responsibility he held in Colombia, but surrounded by the elites in football… Bayern won their 28th Bundesliga title.
This season, with Niko Kovac at the helm, Bayern’s season had a sluggish start. A ruptured knee ligament took the Colombian out of action for seven matches, and the red carpet wasn’t exactly laid out for his return. Kovac’s philosophy is very wing orientated, and James doesn’t offer the desired amount of dynamism and grit in midfield to fit into his system. His preference for Muller over James should be a criminal offence, strictly speaking.
With Zidane back from his holidays, and Kovac at Bayern, James Rodriguez finds himself unwanted by the two clubs who employ him. In all fairness, his spells at Madrid and Bayern have been of fluctuating brilliance, albeit due to many contributing factors. The suitors are still lining up, with Juventus in particular, as their Jorge Mendes network provides them a clear opportunity to finally fill the void left by Paul Pogba.
“He is the most popular Colombian in the world”, according to Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos, who clearly isn’t keen on Shakira. The shy lad from the city of Cucuta, now 27 years old, a champion in Portugal, Spain, and Germany, with two European Cups to his name. The Colombian captain will be gearing up for the fast approaching Copa America 2019. Although ambiguity lingers around his club career, an entire country will soon draw their curtains in hope of witnessing their most beloved national treasure…El Nuevo Pibe, James Rodriguez.