James Rodriguez went from overnight sensation during the 2014 World Cup to one of the more scrutinized players in today’s game. It would have been easy to call him a “superstar”, but quite frankly he lacks the pedigree to be anointed as such. Rodriguez at this point in his career is a quasi-superstar. He has all the tools to be one of the greats in today’s game and this summer’s World Cup will give him a shot at redemption. Redemption having to do with refurbishing his image.
During their 2014 World Cup run, Colombia was without their star in Radamel Falcao. Many thought they had enough to make it through the group stages and Rodriguez was considered an up-and-coming bright spot for them. He embraced the big stage and made a name for himself as the Colombians dominated their group featuring Japan, Greece, and Ivory Coast. Rodriguez was named the best performing player by FIFA. He even had LeBron James praising him.
In the Round of 16, the Colombian attacker made short work of Uruguay as he led them to a 3-0 win. The highlight of the match, heck, the highlight of the tournament was his incredible volley that resulted in a goal. He was named man of the match for the third time in four games and he became the third player since Cristiano Ronaldo and Rivaldo to score in all of his opening matches. Colombia went to the quarterfinals for the first time ever but lost to Brazil 2-1. Rodriguez finished with six goals and two assists and won the tournament’s Golden Ball.
The thing that made Rodriguez so special during this unlikely run with Colombia was his loose style of play. He played with passion, fearlessness, enthusiasm, and he was just flat out innovative. With no Falcao, Rodriguez’s teammates knew he was their tone setter. That only made him more confident and earned him the touches necessary to produce. His scoring ability is innate unto itself and he has the flare you need as a passer with great touch or crossing attempts.
It was evident Rodriguez was one of the game’s breakout stars and Real Madrid was keen on the young player. They bought him for 63 million from AS Monaco FC in one of the most expensive transfers in Madrid history. Surely, a team with Ronaldo, Isco, Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema, and other stars would be a sight for sore eyes. On the contrary, Rodriguez in Madrid was a disaster as he never played with the same passion, fearlessness, or any of the characteristics that helped define his World Cup performances. He was buried behind stars on the bench and if he started he had limited touches in restricted action.
Rodriguez also endured injuries in his metatarsal, thigh, and other lower extremities that inhibited his ability to live up to his hefty transfer tag. In 2015, Real Madrid got a new coach in former player Zinedine Zidane. One would believe this would bode well for Rodriguez to have a fresh start with a new coach. However, Zidane is a guy who likes to be impressed and fast. In 77 appearances, Rodriguez only mustered up 28 goals. It wasn’t long before the Colombian sensation was made available on a loan.
Bayern Munich took the bait on Rodriguez as they acquired him on a two-year loan. Injuries slowed him in his first few games with the Bundesliga steamrollers, but he seems to have regained his form. The same form that made him special during the 2014 World Cup.
Now, there is a good chance Rodriguez is looking like fool’s gold with stars like Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller making life easier for him as he attacks the back-line of teams in the German league. In addition, the Bundesliga has been a league owned by Bayern for the last five years. Heck, they have won 26 of the league’s 46 titles so there is a good chance the Colombian phenom is reaping the benefits of a watered-down league. Rodriguez has scored three goals and distributed the ball six times that led to scores.
Nevertheless, Rodriguez couldn’t be regaining form at a better time. He is peaking as the 2018 World Cup slowly creeps up on us. He terrorized goalies during Colombia’s qualification matches with a total of six goals. Also, his best performance came in a friendly contest against France in which he assisted two goals as Colombia beat the Frenchmen for the first time ever.
The World Cup is a chance for him to prove the doubters wrong that have written him off or called him overrated. This time around he won’t be a player flying under the radar as teams will be looking to give him all he can handle. Colombia should dominate in the group stages as they will play Senegal, Japan, and Poland in Group H. Rodriguez should get off to a fast start as those clubs hardly boast impenetrable defenses. One thing is for sure the 2018 World Cup will make or break Rodriguez.
Photo from James Rodriguez Twitter