The Curious Case of James Rodriguez – Why the Colombian has flattered to deceive since big Real Madrid move in 2014

July 31

James Rodríguez


If football fans are given an opportunity to pick the most under-appreciated player in the current Real Madrid squad, chances are that most of them would go with the option of James Rodriguez.

The 29-year-old played only 14 matches in the ill-fated 2019-20 season that concluded recently, including two UEFA Champions League games and eight appearances in the La Liga – and that is a bit surprising, considering he was once one of the most important names on the Los Blancos team sheet.

In case you did not know, Real Madrid signed James from Ligue 1 outfit AS Monaco for a whopping €75million in 2014. The Spanish giants ended the 2013-14 season on a brilliant note, winning the Champions League after more than a decade, and that gave their President Florentino Perez hopes of strengthening the team and reclaim their status as the best in the world.

Despite claims to the contrary, Madrid had wanted to bring in Luis Suarez who used to play for Liverpool back then. However, the Uruguay striker signed for arch-rivals Barcelona instead and as a result, Real turned to Rodriguez, based on his brilliant campaign for Colombia at the 2014 FIFA World Cup.

With the market inflated these days by Neymar’s €220 million transfer from Barca to Paris Saint-Germain (PSG), Philippe Coutinho’s €140 million transfer from Liverpool to Barca and Kylian Mbappe’s €165 million sale from Monaco to PSG, Rodriguez’ €75million from 2014 may not seem such a significant deal. But it was a lot of money six years ago, and unfortunately, he never really lived up to the price tag.

Only 23 years old at that time, Rodriguez signed a six-year contract with Real Madrid and immediately became one of the then-manager Carlo Ancelotti’s primary choices for the midfield. The move paid dividends as he finished his campaign by winning the La Liga Best Midfielder award. In addition, he was also selected into the La Liga Team of the Season – but overall, it was a disappointing season for his club as they finished without a single trophy while arch-rivals Barcelona won the treble.

This further led to Ancelotti’s sacking prior to the new season, followed by Rafa Benitez’ appointment as the new manager. It was under Benitez that James first showed signs of a decline, as Casemiro became a fixture in midfield for Los Blancos.

However, following immense criticism from fans and pundits alike, the former Liverpool and Napoli boss had to start the Colombia international in the El Clasico at home – a match that Barca won 4-0, paving the way for Zinedine Zidane to replace Benitez as the new manager at the Santiago Bernabeu. It is worth mentioning that by then, Rodriguez had already made it clear that he was a big fan of Zidane. The club legend, on his part, was expected to establish faith in him by making him a part of his starting line-up. Instead, however, he stuck with Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale in attack and Casemiro in midfield.

By the end of the season, Rodriguez had only started 21 games in total, and although he lifted the iconic UCL trophy following a gripping final against local rivals Atletico Madrid, he never made it off the bench during the game.

The situation became worse for him the following season as Los Blancos lifted yet another UCL, beating Juventus in the finals this time. Zidane left him on the bench in every European game since the first leg of the quarter-finals against Bayern Munich, and by the time the finals came calling, he was not even a part of the squad.

In the beginning of the 2017-18 season, he joined Bayern Munich on a two-year loan deal and in August 2019, he returned to the Santiago Bernabeu after the Bavarians expressed no interest in tabling a permanent deal for him. His contract at Madrid expires in 2021, but not many teams have shown keenness to sign him due to his lack of play time in recent months.

So, what went wrong for James Rodriguez at Real Madrid? Let’s explore:

His constant need for play time

While you cannot really blame the Colombian for this, it did play a part in him losing his importance at Real Madrid.

When Bayern Munich approached the attacking midfielder and offered him the chance to play regular first-team football, he chose to join them over playing under the tutelage of his idol Zidane. The prospect of joining his former manager Carlo Ancelotti at the Allianz Arena may also have played a role in his move to Germany.

However, when Niko Kovac replaced Ancelotti a few months later, one of the first things which he did was to tilt Bayern’s transfer policy and club strategy towards building towards the long-term.

This came as a big blow to Rodriguez, who lost his place in the starting XI in the 2018-19 season despite recording 8 goals and fourteen assists in 39 appearances across all competitions in the previous campaign.

With the likes of Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller already at the club providing experience, the feeling at Bayern was that signing James might stunt the development in some of their younger attacking options like Serge Gnabry, Thiago Alcantara and Leon Goretzka. This, in turn, left him with little option but to return to Real’s ranks.

Had he waited for his turn under Zidane, who knows – things would have turned out much differently.

The emergence of other attackers at Real Madrid

Following James’ departure to Bayern Munich, Real Madrid saw the emergence of quite a few attackers like Isco, Marco Asensio, Mariano Diaz, Lucas Vazquez and Federico Valverde. With Zidane having plenty of options available at his disposal now, it was quite reasonable that he did not want to build his team around James who had left the club.

And by the time he returned to Spain, some of these players had become mainstays in the team. The signings of Eden Hazard, Vinicius Jr., Rodrygo Goes and so on made matters worse for him, as he could no longer break into the first team as easily as he used to do a couple of years ago.

What’s next

In the words of legendary Colombian goalkeeper Rene Higuita, “He [Rodriguez] can play for any team in the world.” Such is his talent and skill. His natural instinct to find space, and to create and score in equal measure is unmatched by most footballers right now.

However, unfortunately, he does not seem to be at the right place and in the right frame of mind at Real Madrid right now – but at 28 years of age, he is still young enough to reinvent his career. Let us hope that he is able to do it soon enough.

In a recent interview, James Rodriguez admitted to having admired Manchester United throughout his career, with interest from Old Trafford shunned when he moved to Monaco, and claimed to have seen a “really good offer” knocked back by Real Madrid in the summer of 2019.

The Colombia international has long seen a move to the Premier League mooted, with his creative qualities considered a good fit for English football. Those at Old Trafford have been credited with holding long-standing interest in the talented South American, with the player first sounded out by the Red Devils when he was preparing to leave his former club FC Porto in 2013.

Having proven himself in European football, the 28-year-old was ready for another challenge – and had Cristiano Ronaldo’s agent, Jorge Mendes, managing his career – but a switch to France was ultimately favoured, before then heading to Real Madrid on the back of the 2014 World Cup.

“I think there was some kind of talk there,” James told Rio Ferdinand’s “The Locker Room” show, on his past links to United. “My manager has a great relationship with the club, and his name is Jorge Mendes.”

“Well, we always dream of getting in a big club. Since I was a child, I always admired Manchester. I always saw those teams with Rio, with [Ryan] Giggs and [Paul] Scholes, there were a lot of prodigious players, and I wanted to get there in that year, but it didn’t happen. I thought that I had to play for a club that wasn’t so big. From there I went to France, just before the World Cup.”

“My plan was to go to the World Cup, have great participation there, score goals, reach a good level and from there play for a big club. Then the Real Madrid thing happened.”

He also admitted that he had been hoping to secure a permanent move away from the Blancos on the back of two years in Germany, but those at Santiago Bernabeu snubbed what he considered to be a tempting offer.

Explaining that decision, James said: “I stayed this year because… Let me tell you what happened. Last summer I got a really good offer from a club, I don’t want to say the name, but I could go there because I knew that I wouldn’t play much here. I knew it.”

“So I got this offer from this club and I haven’t been allowed to leave due to several issues. So basically, I’m here this year because of the circumstances, not because I wanted to be, because I knew that I wouldn’t be able to play much.”

“But here I’m learning every day and hopefully in the future I will be able to play more. I know that I have the talent and I believe in my daily work.”

Meanwhile, According to Spanish publication Marca, Barcelona star Arturo Vidal has also opened up to on his relationship with Rodriguez and his pal’s poor relationship with Zinedine Zidane. Vidal said that himself and the Colombian are ‘brothers’ after striking up an ‘incredible’ friendship during their time together with German giants Bayern Munich.

Vidal also added that he finds it ‘annoying’ that Rodriguez has a difficult relationship with Zidane, this has been one of the key reasons why the attacking midfielder has made little impact with Los Blancos. “James and I are brothers, we forged an incredible friendship in Munich, we talk all the time, on holiday we did and it’s annoying that he has problems with the coach,” he said, before adding: “James has a high level to play as a starter for that team and I don’t know why they didn’t give him a chance this year.”

“I hope he takes the best decision and begins to play, I think people, football admirers, love to see quality players and James is one of them. He has to grow, search for his future and find a place to play and enjoy football.”, the Barca ace concluded. At the same time, his friend James continues to generate exit talk ahead of the next window, with the likes of Atletico Madrid, Everton and even Manchester United among those who are said to be closely monitoring his situation.

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