Explaining the myth of James Rodríguez : The tale of Under Achieving Genius from Real Madrid to Bayern
Few players have commanded the combined transfer fees of James Rodríguez, and with 27-year old creative Colombian reaching his peak, it is time to consider if he has ever lived up to the potential that has attracted some of Europe's biggest-spending clubs to invest in his services.
An exciting prospect with Portuguese giants Porto when he arrived in Europe in 2010, Rodríguez impressed in the Primeira Liga to the extent that AS Monaco saw him as the perfect figure to headline their continued pursuit of glory. The reported €45m transfer fee and five-year contract in 2013 for the then 21-year old was a clear sign of their faith in his ability to lead them into a new and exciting era.
As in the Primeira Liga, Rodríguez hit the ground running in Ligue 1, and his creative attacking play appeared set to justify the financial investment that had been made by the club from the Principality. Although he didn't reach double-figures in the goal return column, he provided more assists than any other player in Ligue 1 that season.
But it was at the 2014 FIFA World Cup that Rodríguez came to international prominence, as he finished top goalscorer. His incredible volley in the 2-0 victory against Uruguay was voted goal of the tournament and also earned him the coveted FIFA Puskás Award later in the year. It was defining competition in his evolving career, and one that propelled him to worldwide attention.
Inevitably, Real Madrid took an interest in Rodríguez that summer, and once that happened the transfer was inevitable. An investment of over €70m saw him arrive at the Santiago Bernabéu for the next stage in his career, and like most South American players, it was his dream move.
However, the transfer brought new challenges both on and off the field for Rodríguez, and it would finally test the upward trajectory of his career to date.
Right move, wrong time
It was a purple period for Real Madrid in terms of domestic and European success, but Rodríguez did not emerge as the player his transfer fee and the potential of his ability suggested he could be on the biggest stage. Now on-loan at Bayern Munich, the Bundesliga offers another different European experience, but the desire to make it has been replaced by complacency.
Few players can step away from Real Madrid and improve. It is the club that defines careers. The only way is to either succeed in the Spanish capital or regress. For Rodríguez, he can only see himself as a forgotten figure frozen out of Real Madrid, rather than a player at his peak having the opportunity to impress with the German champions.
Without his glittering strike against Uruguay and his performances at the 2014 World Cup, Real Madrid may not have been so keen to invest in him the way they did. At the time he was a commercially viable signing off the field as much as his talent dictated his value on it, and while the Santiago Bernabéu has been left wanting more from him, the truth is, they got everything he had to offer.
Impressing in the domestic game in Portugal in France is a different proposition to performing consistently for Real Madrid. It is a level that Rodríguez was simply unable to reach, and he will now be listed as a significant signing that failed to deliver the way the Spanish giants had hoped he would. Throughout his career, investment in him was based on his potential, and it has never fully materialized.
Of course, Rodríguez is an extremely talented player. He has a natural instinct to find space, find players in space, and he has the technical ability to create and score in equal measure. He has shown himself to be a team player rather than an individual despite playing in the attacking third of the field, and he is a versatile and creative option that any manager would appreciate at their disposal.
But his career has been dented by failing to establish himself at Real Madrid, and he is not the first or last player to experience such frustration. Ironically, his loan move to Bayern Munich has coincided with a downturn in form and confidence at the club from the Spanish capital, and he would have had more opportunities at the club this season than at any other time since his 2014 switch.
Manager Zinedine Zidane has already worked with him at Real Madrid and will not see him as part of the solution to the growing problems at the club. In fact, he is one of a number of high-profile names destined to further their careers elsewhere this summer. For Rodríguez, his contract demands will now need to be refined to match his diminishing status.
However, he retains a passionate desire to represent his country, and Colombia continue to benefit from his ability to turn a game with a moment of brilliance. His creative play sets the tone for the philosophy of the team, and when he pulls on the yellow shirt he is returned to his youthful days where the hunger and determination to win took his game to another level.
The true level of James Rodríguez
Few players will perform to the level that Rodríguez did at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. It was a tournament that will define his career for two very different reasons. It was the culmination of a career path built on a hunger to succeed, but achieving what he did that summer only elevated him a level in a period of time that meant he could not live up to expectation.
In football, and in life, individuals will only find their true level when they step too far above it. Signing for Real Madrid during a period of consistent success and brilliance left Rodríguez on the periphery, and that was his step too far. He can still play at the highest level, but it is the psychological element of the Madrid disappointment that will now be his biggest challenge, together with his advancing years.