James Rodríguez 22 Midfielder AS Monaco Colombia
2013 has been…
Ticking all the boxes of a modern forward player, James Rodríguez is a glorious sight to behold when in full flight. Blessed with pace and lightening quick feet, improving his strength in possession and able to mercilessly thump the ball with frightening accuracy, Rodríguez is a headache for every opposition defence. Those that are foolish enough to allow him time and space to get up a head of steam deserve everything that he is able to conjure up.
The Colombian is able to both score and create goals, doing so with increasing regularity for both club and country as he develops. Having been snapped up from Banfield by FC Porto in 2010, his first couple of years in Europe allowed him time to get used to the speed and style of the game. He was used sparingly by then manager Andre Villas-Boas as the club romped to a historic treble, winning the Primeira Liga, Taça de Portugal and Europa League. By this time last year, he was repaying that investment and calculated use with a number of highly impressive performances.
Having dropped in and out of a Porto team that featured both Hulk and Falcao before they departed the club in big money moves, James soon found himself labelled as the next obvious fundraiser in the squad as 2013 began. His ascension helped to soften the blow felt after Hulk had departed for Russia. And as the first team squad continued to evolve, Rodríguez’s role became more and more important. So much so that towards the end of 2012/13, Porto’s formation was built around getting the best out of the Colombian as he operated in the classic 10 position.
Having helped the Dragões win the league title last season with an unbeaten record and pitching in with 10 goals of his own, Rodríguez looked to be on the verge of superstardom. With a €45 million release clause in his contract, Porto will have started the summer feeling pretty confident of getting a nice return on the Colombian.
Few would have actually expected it to be triggered by Monaco; no matter how much money they threatened to throw around. The French side, fresh from winning the Ligue 2 title, made a huge statement with the early summer signings of Rodríguez, Porto team-mate Joao Moutinho and their former colleague Radamel Falcao. With exciting youngsters, Lucas Ocampos and Yannick Ferreira Carrasco already in the team, the trio of lavish signings appeared a signal of intent from the club that their plans were firmly set on winning the league title just a year after being in the second tier.
After a slow start, hampered slightly by injury, James has found his feet in the Monaco team and the French league. He was rather publicly slammed by his manager at the beginning of October but has responded in fantastic fashion. Claudio Ranieri obviously knew what he was doing when he suggested Rodríguez needed to improve his defensive work rate: “For James Rodriguez, it’s a problem of mentality. He thinks like an attacker, but he has to defend too. Seeing that he’s not playing, he will understand. But he knows."
In the next game, the Colombian stole the show, providing both goals in a 2-1 win. His defensive work was a marked improvement in that win over St Etienne and still needs work. However, it’s clear that his manager has sparked a fire under him that should help Les Rouge et Blanc mount a challenge this season.
As we head into the Christmas period, when Monaco can start to take advantage of their rivals having had European campaigns to play in; Rodríguez leads the league in assists and with Falcao playing in front of him, he should end the season with a hatful to his name.
Inside the next six months, James Rodríguez could very well be part of a Colombian team that wins the World Cup. Jose Pekerman has got a very exciting, young squad at his disposal that includes Inter’s Fredy Guarin, Udinese’s Luis Muriel and Fiorentina’s Juan Guillermo Cuadrado as well as the Monaco pair. Predictably, James’ style of play has led to comparisons with legendary Colombian star Carlos Valderrama.
Thankfully, he appears to relish the chance to pull on the number 10 shirt made famous by Carlos and said in the summer of 2012: “Carlos Valderrama was the one I admired most, really. At the time, he was a top player and I had a lot of admiration for him. I met him once and he’s a great person, someone who provided the country with a lot of joy. He was a very intelligent footballer who could create something out of nothing as well as score goals. For those reasons, we all wanted to have the No 10 on our backs when we played.”
The conditions in Brazil should help the South American squads and hinder the European teams traveling; and that leaves Colombia, currently fourth in the FIFA rankings, as one of the well-fancied favourites. Rodríguez could write his own name in Colombian folklore with a string of performances that inspire Los Cafeteros to victory.
Before then, his focus will be on Champions League qualification, the Ligue 1 title and settling into the number 10 position for Monaco. Rodríguez is very good on either flank and has enough confidence in his weaker foot to do a decent job on the wings. That versatility was something we worried about at Porto as he had to battle for a central role as it may restrict his chances in the middle of the park.
He’s started to earn that chance at Monaco, with Moutinho dropping deeper in midfield and the aforementioned starlets playing either side of him. That should be the system that carries Monaco into the title race with just a handful of matches to go as long as Ranieri can resist the urge to meddle with the formula.
It’s clear to us that Monaco have something special on their hands in James; never mind the rest of their expensively assembled squad. We feel pretty confident they know just how good James can be.
"Already a star in Monaco. Leads Ligue 1 in assists. Falcao may grab the headlines but he already relies on James' creativity and vision. A joy to behold." - Andrew Gibney, French Football Weekly
"James Rodriguez leads Ligue 1 with five assists this season; more than any other player." - Opta
B His versatility may keep him back from lighting up world football in the next twelve months, but you never know...