The result of this weekend’s drubbing of Real Betis by Real Madrid not only relieved some early season pressure off new manager Rafa Benitez, but also heavily showcased the future stars of Los Blancos. The media loves mentioning Gareth Bale and his two goals and that he is (probably) just a few mental roadblocks away from becoming the main star for Real. However, James Rodríguez’s scintillating display and classy brace this past weekend was a real sign of what we will soon come to expect on a weekly basis from the young Colombian star.
When James Rodríguez first made his ‘appearance’ in Brazil 2014, everybody knew him as the up and coming young Colombian partner of Joao Moutinho at AS Monaco. Yes, he was an exciting talent, but how many players shine at the World Cup only to flop for big clubs soon after?
One doesn’t have to think too far back to remember names such as recent Dutch ‘prodigies’ Eljero Elia or Ibrahim Affelay as young, exciting players who disappointed after a breakthrough World Cup performance. However, Rodríguez’s display in Brazil and subsequent capture of the Golden Boot as top goalscorer has proven to hardly be a mistake.
The 24-year-old’s rise while playing for Porto coincided with the re-emergence of Colombian football; introducing world-class players such as Radamel Falcao, Juan Cuadrado and Jackson Martinez – a welcome sight for South American football that has historically been largely dominated by Brazil and Argentina. James’s impressive performances for both the Portuguese side and his national team from 2010-2013 earned him a €45-million transfer to Monaco, a side with a sudden influx of capital from its Russian owner, Dmitry Rybolovlev.
Following James’ big-money move in the summer of 2013, numerous football analysts proclaimed his transfer as a combination of Monaco’s overspending and Porto’s inflated player valuations. His continued development at Monaco clearly proved otherwise, as he bagged seven goals and 11 assists while establishing himself as a star player for the up-and-coming Monaco squad, ultimately culminating in the dazzling display at Brazil 2014.
Real Madrid have always been known to splurge on players and with James’s popularity and performances under a global microscope, president Florentino Perez wasted no time in bringing him “home” to the club he supported as a child. For an estimated €80 million – almost double what Monaco paid Porto a year earlier – James was indeed considered as a new ‘Galactico’ for the club. 45,000 fans celebrated his unveiling at the Bernabeu, with even the Colombian ambassador to Spain giving a touching speech about his importance to Colombia and world football alike.
However, as with most big-money transfers, there were many critics and people who doubted whether he was the right fit or necessary at all. Would this be a typical case of Madrid overspending on hype and ignoring the needs of the team?
Isco, a young and exciting attacking midfielder arrived with much fanfare and expectations from Malaga in the summer of 2013 for €30 million, a move that was lauded by many as a glance to a bright future. Thus, James’ transfer almost a year later was highly criticized as overspending for a luxury, a reputation that Real has undoubtedly earned with numerous high-profile transfers over the last few years.
Fast forward to this past weekend’s game against Betis and it is easy to see why he is worth every penny. In the modern game, attacking players must have a complete skill set, not only scoring goals and creating for teammates but also tracking back and being active in all facets of the game. Rodríguez displays the proper energy and desire to become the multi-talented star in today’s advanced game.
James’ inclusion into the Betis game after a surprising omission in the mundane season-opening draw against Sporting Gijon showed a shake-up by Rafa Benitez. While he did score two remarkable goals – a stunning free-kick from an impossible angle, followed by a “golazo” bicycle kick after an eloquent touch in the penalty box; Rodríguez stood out the most when performing his duties as the primary architect, assisting Bale for the first goal of the game with a beautiful cross just inside two minutes.
Following Isco’s relatively shaky all-around display against Gijón, James provided the perfectly inspired performance that was so lacking in the season-opener.
The post-Ronaldo era is certainly a topic that is being discussed more as the Portuguese forward begins to enter the twilight years of his career, but if there is anyone to imagine as being the future face of Madrid (the Bale enigma will decidedly be a factor as well), it has to be Rodriguez without a doubt.
The star power and popularity that Rodríguez enjoys from Madrid fans can only be second to Ronaldo at the moment. While he has yet to fully establish himself as a vital cog of the team, the inevitable departures of players such as Modric, Ronaldo and perhaps Benzema will only strengthen his standing in the team.
Ronaldo is currently the undisputed leader and the best player on the team, but as evidenced by this weekend’s game, the team can provide quality results even without its star man being on the score sheet. Some may even consider Ronaldo as one of the reasons for Real’s previous season struggles, as the team is built around being too reliant on its superstar. Rodríguez does have an excellent rapport with the Portuguese star, but as Ronaldo continues to age coupled with an inevitable decline, there is one player to take over as the natural leader of the team – Rodríguez.
The popularity of being the ‘Colombian Ronaldo’, the touch of famed Colombian footballer Carlos Valderrama and the charisma of Real legend Iker Casillas have all blessed Rodríguez with an empty canvas that he will certainly fill with beautiful moments for Los Blancos in the future.