Rodriguez - The Boy Who Would Be King James

Colombia have reached the World Cup quarter-finals for the first time, largely thanks to the magnificence of a 22-year-old playmaker. Step forward James Rodriguez...

Last Updated: 29/06/14 at 11:46 Post Comment

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Whilst hosts Brazil nudged themselves into the World Cup quarter-finals after another less-than-imposing display, in the country's footballing mecca there was another team playing in yellow shirts, this time with a majesty befitting of such grandiose surroundings. Colombia brushed aside Uruguay with a performance of such attacking gusto that it was impossible not to sit back and admire. It was just like watching Brazil. But better.

It was never meant to be this way. On June 3, nine days before the start of the tournament, Colombia manager Jose Pekerman took to the national team's official Twitter account to announce that star striker Radamel Falcao would be missing the tournament after failing to recover in time from a serious knee ligament injury. Falcao had been given until "the last day, the last minute", Pekerman insisted, but it was not to be. "This is the saddest day I've had since becoming coach," the Argentinean manager admitted. A nation fell to its knees in disappointment.

There had been high hopes for Colombia's World Cup campaign after being drawn in a relatively comfortable group alongside Ivory Coast, Japan and Greece, but the lack of Falcao acted as the most effective limitation on predictions of success. The Monaco striker had scored nine times in South American qualifying, and a return of 153 goals in 197 domestic games since August 2009 had seen Falcao establish a reputation as one of Europe's most feared strikers.

Teofilo Gutierrez had provided adequate support during the qualifying campaign, but with Jackson Martinez on a startling five-year goal drought, hopes of making it beyond the last-16 (a likely tie against Uruguay, England or Italy) for the first time in their history seemed hopeful, at best.

Instead, Colombia have found another star from Ligue Un's principality club, the performances of James Rodriguez the most eye-catching that this tournament has had to offer. It's difficult to think of a player that has grabbed the World Cup by the scruff of its neck to such an effect since Diego Maradona in 1986 - this has truly been something to behold.

In the group stage Rodriguez excelled against inferior opposition, scoring in each game and providing four assists for his team-mates, including a delightful chipped finish to add a glossed varnish to the 4-1 victory over Japan. "My responsibility grows," Rodriguez said after Colombia's 3-0 opening win over Greece. "But I don't let the pressure get to me." He has been proved emphatically correct.

Whilst such impressive form will have given both Pekerman and the Colombian public a huge sense of belief, it is in the knock-out stage that reputations are truly forged: Yet again Rodriguez took the step up with startling ease. His chest and volley for the opening goal was (in my opinion) the finest World Cup goal since his namesake Maxi's unerringly similar goal against Mexico at the same stage in 2006. Coincidentally, Pekerman was also the coach that day - there must be something in the team-talks.

If Rodriguez's first goal owed everything to individual brilliance, the second was the epitome of the perfect team goal, ending with the excellent Juan Cuadrado nodding down for James to sweep home. This was a Uruguay side evidently weakened by their absent (and disgraced) star, but had proved to be tough opposition. They were rolled over by a Colombia machine really beginning to motor in time to face hosts Brazil on Friday evening.

For Rodriguez, this has been a dream. In the absence of Falcao, he has been Colombia's creative force and their finishing product, their skill and their endeavour. Pekerman himself deserves credit for transforming the 22-year-old from a winger into a playmaker behind the front two. In a manner akin to the very best in the role, Rodriguez appears to possess an innate ability to find space in between the lines despite being watched and guarded carefully by defenders.

Given his marked rise to increased fame, the rumours linking a player reportedly unsettled in Monaco with a move to the biggest and best are entirely predictable, but James' signature will come at quite a price. As is so often the case with prodigious South American talent, Porto are pages ahead of the rest, their unsurpassed scouting network and facilitated work permit regulations enabling their profit to already be made on Rodriguez. There is an almost amusing element to the fact that by the time many Premier League clubs have sourced James as their ideal signing, Porto have already, bought, developed and sold (for £38.5m) the player. Monaco will presumably want their fee back, and more.

For now, however, let us not cheapen such magnificence with talk of economics, for this was a performance set only in the splendour of a player at the very height of his powers. Neymar and Lionel Messi were supposed to be the two South Americans squabbling over the Golden Ball and Boot - they may be forced to leave their positions in centre stage.

The World Cup is where the good can become great, the platform from which careers can reach their zeniths. In the case of James Rodriguez, the story may only just be beginning. South America may have a new footballing superstar; Colombia has its World Cup dream.

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