International football tournaments are known for giving birth to stars. The 2014 Fifa World Cup was no different. A young, 22-year-old Colombian attacking midfield player rose to prominence. Even though he netted six times in the tournament, it was his goal against Uruguay in the round of 16 that turned all the eyes towards him.
A headed ball reached him at chest height. The Colombian controlled it with his chest, turned goalwards and struck a ferocious volley over a diving Fernando Muslera to stun the world. The effort later went on to become the Goal of the Tournament and also the Puskas winner for 2014.
Three days later, the transfer window opened and so did the interest in snapping up the World Cup star who then played for Monaco, James Rodriguez. A number of big clubs were in pursuit of the midfielder but, as expected, the Spanish powerhouse Real Madrid won the battle, providing a birthday gift to the recently turned 23-year-old. Madrid signed the Colombian for a reported fee of £63 million to occupy the position vacated by Mesut Ozil.
An elated Rodrigues said, “I’ve always followed Real Madrid and always dreamed of playing here. I’ve suffered a lot to get here and when you do that then it tastes so much better. I will never forget this day. I hope to work hard, to train well, and to experience a lot of joy here. I know I am under a lot of pressure, but I am happy to face it.”
Real Madrid, too, were happy with the transfer. Even though he might not have been an obvious starter for them, the club had got hold of another star, raised their market value and, potentially, their fan base.
As the initial excitement subsided, the Colombian, in all honesty, would have known that he was not guaranteed of first-team football with a host of quality players present in the side already. But no sensible football player would want to spend his best days warming the bench. After all, this was a crucial phase in his career and his best years were ahead of him.
Rodriguez began his debut season really well and was a starter for Carlo Ancelotti’s side, featuring in 29 games for Madrid, scoring 13 times. If it was not for an injury pegging him back, the midfielder would have reached greater heights in the 2014-’15 season.
Though his first season was a rather successful one, no one is guaranteed a place in the starting line-up with a team like Real Madrid because you never know what signings are around the corner. 2015 also marked the end of Ancelotti’s stint and the new manager could have different player preferences. But with a good season gone by, there was hope for Rodriguez to build on that and keep the upwards trajectory going.
But as fate had it, Rodiguez returned late from the Copa America despite a request from the new manager Rafa Benitez, which saw him on the bench for the season opener. And though he started the next game, his return from the subsequent international duty saw him come back injured, down with a major hit, keeping him off the field for a couple of months.
It was all downhill from here for the Colombian, who would feature in only 17 games across competitions that season, managing seven goals. The return still wasn’t as bad as the fact that he had dropped down the pecking order. The current season has been even worse, with him getting very little time on the pitch and not being up in the order.
Rodriuguez, though, got a fair share of time at Madrid but not always at his best or preferred position of No. 10. He had to slot in at various different positions, not helping him excel as per his potential.
He is not the first promising youngster to go to a big club, especially Real Madrid, and then wilt away. This transfer is yet another bewildering case study for youngsters to assess their options well before making a move to a big club, for it is game time in your peak years that helps you develop further and not a place on the bench at a big club. Dele Alli could probably take a cue from Rodriguez’s story and decide on his future.
Such has been the effect of the move for Rodriguez that he has found himself out of favour of the national side, where he used to be the first name on the team sheet until a year ago. Rodriguez is in dire need of game time in his No. 10 position to reignite his career and register himself as one of the world’s greatest. At 25, he still has time to sort out his woes at Madrid and look for either a move away or a discussion with the club to help him progress.