RUSSIA 2018: Colombia Rodriguez Seeks World Cup Renewal
JAMES Rodriguez believes he has recaptured the sort of form that made him one of the stars of the 2014 World Cup as he targets a semi-final place with Colombia in this year’s tournament.
The skilful attacking midfielder lit up the finals in Brazil four years ago, finishing the tournament as winner of the coveted Golden Boot after leading the scoring charts with six goals in five matches.
That six-goal haul included what was later adjudged the goal of the tournament, a stunning turn and volley from long-range in Colombia’s second round win over Uruguay.
But the goalscoring accolades were bittersweet for Rodriguez, whose tournament ended in controversy after a bruising 2-1 quarter-final defeat to hosts Brazil.
Rodriguez was kicked relentlessly by Brazil’s players in one of the dirtiest games of the tournament, with the match interrupted by 54 fouls.
Yet the disappointing conclusion was a footnote to an entertaining campaign from Colombia, which served to confirm Rodriguez’s status amongst the ranks of the world’s best young players.
Rodriguez was signed by Real Madrid just weeks after the World Cup, putting pen to paper on a six-year deal worth US$83 million.
But Rodriguez’s dream move to Spain turned out to be laced with frustration. Instead of establishing himself as a cornerstone of a new generation of “galacticos,” the Colombian gradually found himself shunted to one side.
Although he finished with a respectable 17 goals from 46 appearances in all competitions in his first year, thereafter the starts and goals dried up.
He made just 17 La Liga starts in his second season in Madrid, and was a peripheral figure in Real’s march to the Champions League in 2016.
The following 2016/2017 campaign was a similar story, with Rodriguez unable to force his way into coach Zinedine Zidane’s plans, with only 13 starts. Zidane omitted him from Real’s 2017 Champions League-winning squad.
Desperate for game time with the World Cup looming, Rodriguez sought an exit from the Bernabeu and was thrown a lifeline when Bayern Munich snapped him up on a two-year loan deal.
Since that move in July last year, Rodriguez has flourished, playing more regularly and with a verve that had been absent during his time in Madrid.
“I’m at the same level I was in 2014. I played well because in that year (2014) I was playing regularly too,” added Rodriguez, who was at French side Monaco before the finals in Brazil.
Bayern’s veteran coach Jupp Heynckes believes the Colombian playmaker was “depressed” in the aftermath of his Real exit.
“He was a little depressed,” Heynckes said earlier this year. “I took care of him, I had lots of talks with him, and step by step he found confidence. He is more relaxed. Our fans, when they see him play football, they enjoy it. Above all he is a player who has fantasy.”
Rodriguez has also earned the vote of approval from another of the Valderrama era’s icons, former Colombia goalkeeper Rene Higuita, who attributes the midfielder’s success to “his ability, humility and work rate.”
“He’s the complete player: he scores, he’s got a lot of technique and he’s a team player. He knows how to put a good cross in, find the back of the net and arrive late,” Higuita told FIFA.com.
“He can play for any team in the world.”