When James Rodriguez played such sparkling football and steered Colombia to their first World Cup quarterfinal he was just 22. He is now 29 and, rather than delivering on that promise on display in Brazil, he has accumulated years of frustration at Real Madrid. The breakout star of 2014 has been bogged down in disappointment at the Bernabeu.
It is an obvious problem with the stockpiling of stars by a handful of giant clubs: There is simply not sufficient room for all of them to shine. Madrid bought in James at the height of his prestige, just after his triumphant World Cup, a year on from acquiring another left-footed attacking midfielder. Neither James nor Gareth Bale have lived up to expectations.
– Insider Notebook: Real players stunned by Messi saga
– Lowe: Why the desire for a Messi-Guardiola reunion makes sense
– Ogden: Mikel Arteta is channeling his inner David Moyes
Bale is often held up as a symbol of wasteful spending but he has over 100 goals for Real, including one of the finest ever scored in a Champions League final. And so if he has been a failure, where does that leave James?
The Colombian — who admittedly spent some time on loan at Bayern Munich — has contributed just 37 goals for Los Blancos. Joining Real Madrid has clearly been a mistake. But while Bale appears relatively happy to run down his contract, James is in a hurry to make his mark. It is unfortunate that a move across town to Atletico Madrid fell through last year. So football fans, and especially those with happy memories of Brazil 2014, will be hoping that a deal with Everton can be agreed in the next few days.
The player who enchanted the world just over six years ago is still present. Injuries have been a problem. They severely limited his participation in the last World Cup, where he was only fit enough to complete one game. But that match, a 3-0 win over Poland, was another mini declaration of his ability to deliver in the right circumstances.
Only two players have scored more goals for Colombia. Radamel Falcao will top the list for a while, but James will surely soon become number two, and he makes at least as many as he scores. He appears to thrive on the trust of his teammates and the responsibility of being the “go to” guy when the side have possession.
He has never been able to achieve that status at Real Madrid. The competition to be top dog has been too stiff and James lacks that vital half yard of pace to tip the balance against sides that are set up to defend. But if Real Madrid has not worked out, perhaps Everton could provide him with the right kind of platform.
For a start, they have a coach who knows and admires him. Carlo Ancelotti worked with James in his first, and best season in Spain, and they were also together at Bayern Munich. The coach is well aware of what he would be getting, is able to makes James feel important and his 4-4-2 system may also help the player show his best form. James can start off in a wide midfield role and wander in support of the strikers, or he can play deeper as he sometimes did at Bayern, arriving in and around the box as an element of surprise.
Moreover, the very presence of a coach of the caliber of Ancelotti is a statement of Everton’s ambition. They are a big club rather than a giant, but one which is anxious to break into the promised land of Champions League places. They are, in short, a little bit like a Premier League version of Colombia.
And the idea of a James-Richarlison partnership looks very interesting. The Brazilian is an intense, front to goal striker — with similarities to Falcao — who would surely thrive on the kind of service that Rodriguez can supply. Good teams are constructed on little combinations, and that is one with the potential to frighten rival defences. And Richarlison would surely be more keen to stay at Everton if James is coming his way.
First, of course, the deal has to be done. Ancelotti worried a while back that it could not happen, and that James would stay at Real Madrid. That seems such a waste. Progress may well have been made since then, which is surely to be welcomed. James may owe his first name to James Bond, but this is no time for his career to die.