After capturing the world’s attention with his stunning goal for Colombia against Uruguay at the 2014 World Cup, no limits could be set for James Rodriguez.
Now, three seasons later, he’s leaving Real Madrid under a cloud of frustration, deemed surplus to requirements at the Spanish side and looking for a second chance in a loan spell at Bayern Munich.
The Bundesliga side hopes that Carlo Ancelotti, who was in charge in Madrid when James joined, will again be able to get the best from a player who undoubtedly has the talent to count among the world’s best.
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”Signing James Rodriguez was our coach Carlo Ancelotti’s biggest wish, following their successful spell working together in Madrid,” Bayern chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said as the club announced James’ arrival on Tuesday.
Bayern signed the 25-year-old James on a two-year loan arrangement with an option to make the move permanent.
Already well-known after three seasons at Porto and one at Monaco, that goal at the World Cup, where he took the ball on his chest and swiveled before smashing a brilliant volley in off the underside of the bar, catapulted James to stardom. He scored again in that game, too, and finished as the tournament’s top scorer with six altogether.
James was suddenly being compared to established superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, and was touted as a future Ballon d’Or winner, the trophy then given to the world’s best player.
Real Madrid certainly thought so, splashing out some 80 million euros ($91 million) to take the then 22-year-old from Monaco. He was given the prestigious No. 10 jersey, previously worn by the likes of Luis Figo and the Hungarian great Ferenc Puskas.
James enjoyed a stellar first season at Madrid under Ancelotti, scoring 17 goals and setting up 18 more in 46 competitive games in 2014-15, despite time sidelined with a broken metatarsal.
Ancelotti was forced to leave at the end of the season, however, and James failed to earn the same trust from his successor Zinedine Zidane.
Last season he was relegated to Madrid’s ”B-team” under the French coach, playing only when preferred stars were being rested. James failed to feature in the big games, and Isco – with whom he had been competing for a place from the start – had won their personal battle, establishing himself and becoming a firm favorite among fans.
With the talented Marco Asensio also pushing for a place, along with Croatian midfielder Mateo Kovacic, Zidane had a wealth of options when it came to replacing one of the favored ”BBC” – Karim Benzema, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo.
James simply found himself to be a star too many. He didn’t even make the substitutes’ bench for the Champions League final win over Juventus in June.
In all, he finished with two Champions League medals, two FIFA Club World Cup titles and a Spanish league title, scoring 36 goals and providing 41 assists in 111 competitive appearances for Madrid.
They’re impressive numbers for any player, but James’ time in Madrid can only be viewed with regret based on his potential.
Now Bayern is hoping to take advantage. In a way, the German club can’t lose. It will reportedly pay Madrid 5 million euros ($5.7 million) per season for James, and can then make the transfer permanent in 2019 for another 35 million euros ($40 million).
”James is a very versatile player. He’s a goal-scorer himself, he sets up a lot of goals and on top of that he’s great from set-pieces. There’s no question that this transfer further increases the quality in our team,” Rummenigge said.
While Madrid club president Florentino Perez had wanted James to stay so the club could capitalize on the player’s marketing potential in South America, he left the final decision to Zidane, the first coach ever to lead a club to back-to-back Champions League titles in the modern era.
James cut a forlorn figure in his last season at the Spanish club, his frustration with Zidane clear when he was substituted off despite scoring in a rare start in a 4-2 league win at Leganes in April.
Zidane defended his reaction, but James made only 13 league starts under the French coach last season, with nine appearances from the bench.
James was much happier under Ancelotti. Bayern can only benefit if the Italian coach manages to get him smiling again.