Wednesday, September 9, 2020

From Madrid to Merseyside

ANOTHER FRESH START FOR THE HERO OF 2014

Everton have signed James Rodriguez on a two-year deal from Real Madrid.

The Colombian international links up again with Carlo Ancelotti after playing for him at the Bernabeu and for Bayern Munich.

James to Everton
Pic from Evertonfc.com

"That was a massive reason to come here," Rodriguez told Evertonfc.com. "I have enjoyed some great times with him previously at two different clubs...I am really, really happy to be at this great club" he went on.

At 29, James still looks as young as the boy wonder who lit up the 2014 World Cup finals. 

But like Michael Owen in 1998 or Toto Schillaci in 1990, perhaps his explosive arrival on the world stage was his golden age and he is fated never to reach those heights again in his career.

It is easy to forget that only six years ago James was the world's most exciting prospect. After gradually emerging in the slipstream of Radamel Falcao for club and country - both played for Porto and Monaco, a freak injury to Falcao in 2014 gave a chance to the young attacker from Cucuta, a hot and humid city on the Venezuelan border in Northeast Colombia, to shine on the world stage.

And didn't he shine. At Brazil 2014 James exploded. Despite being little known on the world stage - English commentators were pronouncing his name 'James' and not 'Ha-mez' at the start of the tournament, he not only won the Golden Boot with six goals and was named on the World Cup All-Star XI, he scored such a spectacular goal in the Round of 16 against Uruguay that it was voted goal of the tournament on the FIFA website and it later won the FIFA Puskas Award for goal of the year.

The only prizes James did not win at that tournament were the World Cup itself - rotation fouling by Brazil in the quarter-final saw to that, and the Golden Ball for player of the tournament.  Lionel Messi bagged that one, although Diego Maradona no less opined it should have gone to the Colombian.

To nobody's surprise, Real Madrid rushed to buy the Spanish-speaking starlet. He then enjoyed a great first season in Spain under Ancelotti but two years later requested a transfer after failing to impress Zinedine Zidane, who preferred the Brazilian defensive midfielder Casemiro to James' attacking instincts.

Zidane seemed to confirm the suspicion that James was a rushed purchase, a surplus galactico in a team already containing the flair of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Questions were also raised about what sort of a player he was - too slow to be a striker or winger, too thoughtful or delicate to be a central midfielder? 

James at heart is a number 10, thriving in the hole between attack and midfield but with an orchestrating forte normally reserved for players a bit further back and a desire to get in the box and score too. It was remarkable that the winner of the 2014 Golden Boot was not a striker by trade.

He is also frequently used as a wide midfielder, where he may line up for Everton. In other words, he is what the Italians call 'un atipico' - an unusual one.

His six years since that wonder strike against Uruguay have been injury-plagued too, the same curse which muffled Owen's progress. While still playing for top teams in Real Madrid and Bayern Munich who have been winning trophies, James has seemed a bit-part player, missing out on big finals and seeing limited playing time.

A promising start in Bavaria gave way to the same cycle of injury and substitutions, coinciding it seemed with another departure of Ancelotti at the helm.

For the world's most exciting young player of 2014, that has been a disappointment. 

For the Colombian national team, James was never going to lose his place, and helped Los Cafeteros to third place in the 2016 Copa America, their best finish since 2001. 

They stumbled over the line to qualify for Russia and James' marriage to goalkeeper David Ospina's sister broke up, but with a soccer-mad nation fired up once again, James travelled to the World Cup keen to forget his troubles and to repeat the joy of 2014.

What was kept quiet from the press and public however was that Colombia's star was carrying an injury.
He came on as a substitute in their opener against Japan and was subbed in their final group stage game against Senegal but the camp insisted it was only a minor calf strain. 

Only in their second outing, a glorious 3-0 win over Poland in which he starred, did the 2014 hero shine for 90 minutes but he was ruled out before long. As his nation fought England to a gruelling penalty shootout in the second round and lost, their best player sat on the sidelines, clearly devastated not to be involved.

So will 2014 be James' start and finish as a football legend? Aged 29 he is now at his seventh club, a stark contrast to Messi's one-club career. And yet experience in several countries - Colombia, Argentina, France, Portugal, Spain and Germany will surely stand him in good stead for England.

Also in his favour is his Italian coach at Everton, who has made a point of taking him to Germany and now to England. Ancelotti is still a big name in coaching and his acquisition of Allan and Rodriguez shows he means business. 

Everton are a top ten team but not expected to be in the Champions League positions, an expectation they are eager to change.

To ease James' cultural transition from sunny Madrid to rainy Merseyside, there is also his compatriot and national teammate Yerry Mina at Goodison Park.

James is an honest and hardworking player who is never short of enthusiasm. May he prosper in the Premier League. The Golden Boot winner of 2014 deserves a spell of success at club level at long last.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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