Ancelotti Sprinkles Some Colombian Stardust with a Point to Prove
07 September 2020
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As signings go, James Rodriguez is arguably the most high-profile and glamorous acquisition Everton have ever made. He arrives on the back of a frustrating season at Real Madrid looking to revitalise his career under the man who has now managed him at three different clubs
Its not every day that Everton are linked with a genuinely world-class player; its even more rare that the club is able to actually sign someone of that calibre… but when your manager is one of the most decorated coaches in the game, these kinds of transfers suddenly become possible. Welcome to Goodison Park, James Rodriguez!
Its a move that has been mooted ever since Ancelotti arrived at Everton and with Rodriguez on the outs at Real Madrid, it didnt seem like the most far-fetched idea in the world, even given the fact that it was always likely to be expensive. While speculation over a potential loan move bubbled up during the January transfer window suggesting the move was a possibility, it wasnt until the past week or so that it looked like it might actually happen. And here we are… £20m later and a two-year contract with an option for one more worth somewhere between £4.5m and £6.5m a year (depending on who you believe), Colombia's favourite son is a Blue!
As signings go, Rodriguez is arguably the most high-profile and glamorous acquisition Everton have ever made. If not, he is certainly the biggest star to join the club since Samuel Etoos somewhat surprising arrival in 2014 under Roberto Martinez. (Wayne Rooneys return in 2017 might also ordinarily have qualified were it not for his Blue roots). Whereas the Cameroon legend came to the club as a 33-year-old veteran clearly at the tail end of his career, Rodriguez signs less than two months after turning 29 and, injuries permitting, still potentially at the peak of his powers. That should excite Blues fans as they dream of better times in Ancelottis first full season with what looks like will be an almost completely revamped midfield.
At one stage, the fourth-most expensive player in the world and Real Madrids best player when he played under Ancelotti at the Bernabeu in 2014-15, James brings genuine star quality to Everton, and not just on the pitch. Thanks to his profession and his boyish, model-worthy good looks, he boasts 46 million followers on Instagram and 18 million on Twitter (nine times as many as the team he is joining and more than all but two of the Premier Leagues 20 clubs). In that respect, he will be putting the Toffees on the map for an awful lot of people who might not otherwise have known much, if anything, about the club.
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A classic Number 10 but also frequently played wide on the right who can knit the play, create chances, take deadly free-kicks and score goals — sometimes out-of-this-world spectacular ones — Rodriguez possesses a wand of a left foot and a blend of talents that doesnt currently exist in the Everton squad. In that sense, he will be a massive upgrade in the final third, an area of the pitch that has been a problem for the Blues for a long while now.
Where Bernard can be hesitant, indecisive and profligate with the ball, Rodriguez exhibits an innate confidence in his abilities that comes out in his play. If, as is said of him, he thrives on being the centre of attention, he will find Goodison and its lack of star personalities an accommodating arena where, if he performs anywhere near his best, an army of adoring fans awaits once supporters are allowed back into stadiums en masse.
Rodriguez got his start as a professional footballer early. Very early. As he recently explained on Rio Ferdinands The Locker Room podcast, his story is a familiar one to South American players: “As a child, you always dream of playing football, especially in Colombia where the only thing you can do is play football because there are no other things that are this good. I knew that I had talent; I knew that I had the elements to go far and thank God at 14, at a very young age, I was able to play.”
Indeed, the 14-year-old Rodriguez became the second-youngest Colombian player to start a professional match when he turned out for second-division Envigado in May 2006. Two years later, he moved to Argentina when he was signed by Banfield and he helped them win that countrys league title for the first time in their history in his second season.
A bid to sign him by Udinese was rejected in 2009 but he was eventually lured to Europe as an 18-year-old by Porto in July 2010 when he transferred there for just over €5m, signing a four-year contract. In three seasons in Portugal, James racked up 25 goals in 63 league appearances and won eight trophies, including the Europa League, attracting interest from Manchester United.
He ended up signing for Monaco, however, admitting that even though he was tempted, he felt like he wasnt quite ready to play for a massive club like United. His plan was to adapt to another league and then use the 2014 World Cup as a springboard to better things. “I spent the whole year in France thinking about how I would play [in Brazil], what I would do. I prepared myself well psychologically [and] physically I was fine… and it was incredible and unforgettable.”
Still only 22, he was the inspiration at the heart of a resurgent Colombia side that had emerged from 16 years in the wilderness of international football by not only qualifying for the 2014 World Cup but entering the tournament as dark horses to perhaps win the whole thing on their home continent. Rodriguez not only took the mantle of midfield talisman once held by Carlos Valderrama, he lit the tournament up, scoring what was arguably its most spectacular goal and finishing with the Golden Boot as well.
Colombia didnt end up going as deep into the competition in Brazil as many fancied they might, falling to the host nation at the quarter-final stage despite James giving them hope with an 80th-minute penalty, but the Cúcuta-born player had cemented his place in the football firmament. On the back of his exploits for his country and a stellar debut season with Monaco in 2013-14 in which he had established himself as arguably Ligue 1s finest player, Rodriguez secured a dream £63m move to Real Madrid.
Ancelotti handed him the Number 10 jersey once worn by the likes of Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane and he responded with 13 goals and as many assists in 29 Liga games and finished the season in the leagues team of the year despite the Galacticos losing out in the title race to Barcelona.
With Ancelotti having departed for Bayern Munich, Rodriguezs second season in Spain was less productive. He played a similar number of games (26, although a significant number were off the bench) but sustained a muscle injury early in the season and didnt return until November. He managed seven goals and eight assists, adding a further goal on one of his five Champions League appearances and his 2016-17 season was similar — eight goals in La Liga from 22 matches and brief absences with minor injuries in October, January and May.
There was a lack of stability at the Bernabeu, however, with Ancelottis successor, Rafael Benitez lasting just seven months and Zidane coming in as manager to replace him mid-way through the season. The Frenchman steered Real to successive Champions League glory, sticking with a tried and trusted group of players that didnt always include Rodriguez in the starting XI.
So, in the summer of 2017, the decision was taken to allow James to link up with the man who had signed him in Germany. He signed a two-year loan deal with Bayern and would play 39 times in all competitions for the dominant Bundesliga outfit, weighing in with eight goals and 14 assists despite missing the first two games with a hamstring strain.
Once again, he went to the World Cup, this time in Russia in 2018, carrying the hopes of a nation on his back but his tournament was badly affected by a calf injury he picked up in February during the Bundesliga season. He started his countrys first group game against Japan on the bench and had to be withdrawn from the final group fixture against Senegal after just 30 minutes, eventually missing the round of 16 defeat to England after failing to be passed fit.
His second season at the Allianz Arena was beset by more serious injury when he ruptured a knee ligament in November and ended the campaign with a calf issue but he still weighed in with seven goals in 28 games and was often Bayerns most creative outlets. Nevertheless, with Ancelotti having been relieved of his duties in favour of Niko Kovac and an emphasis on building for the long term, Bayern elected not to take up their option to buy Rodriguez outright in 2019.
That left a one-time jewel in Madrids crown in limbo somewhat on his return to Spain and he actively agitated for a move so that he could play regular football. There were rumours linking him with a move to Chelsea, Manchester United and even Everton and he did have a concrete offer from one club but he ended up having to stay put, making just eight league appearances last season, 14 in all competitions. The catalyst for his exclusion from the team over the latter half of the season was a knee ligament injury sustained in November last year — he spent two months on the sidelines, returned to the bench in late January, missed a further two matches with a hip complaint and ended up making one appearance in the final 14 games of the season — but he ended up being something of a misfit in Zidanes system.
“That's a good question, I'd like to know myself," he told AS in February when asked why he wasnt playing, a sign of the frustration that led him to seek another reunion with Ancelotti in the comparatively unfashionable environs of Goodison Park this summer now that Real have finally agreed to let him leave.
Valderrama himself spoke of James this week on Caracol Radio, saying: “At Madrid, he was the best player in the team during the first year. Then a coach came and he didn't like it. Then he went to Germany and he was fine. If I were him, I would go to England."
James appears to agree, telling motivational speaker, Daniel Habif last week: “[Last season was] one of the biggest disappointments of my career, but thank God I am young and I have years ahead of me to be happy. Ive already been in several good leagues and the only thing missing is Serie A and the Premier League. You have to see where I want to go or where they want me to go.
“Going to England would be a good thing, it's a top league… I too would like to know where I am going. I want to go where I can play, where I am happy and where I feel loved by the whole world.”
Again, that yearning to be loved makes Goodison Park an ideal destination. Despite the pause for consideration over his age and injury record, James Rodriguez is a bona fide marquee signing, the like of which was largely beyond the Toffees before Ancelotti came on board. Evertonians will be only too aware of the potential that exists in this transfer to transform the Blues midfield if the Colombian darling can stay fit.
On that score, much has been made of the fact that Rodriguez has only played 28 league games over the past two seasons. His career has been peppered with injuries, albeit many of them relatively minor, but, again, his absence over the last half of last season was down to Zidanes squad selection more than anything else. There is always a concern that the more physical nature of the Premier League poses risk to an injury-prone player but had it not been for his ligament rupture in 2018, he might have only missed just four games in his second season in Germany, a league not dissimilar to England.
While he may not have had the same injury record, Joao Moutinho stands as the classic example of a player who can come to the Premier League and excel, compensating for any loss of pace with vision and play-making ability, both of which Rodriguez has in spades. And while his final season in Madrid, one weighed down by frustration and lack of opportunity saw his appearances severely restricted, the Colombian's stats for the previous seasons show him to be quite productive, averaging 10 goals and 12 assists a season between 2014 and 2019.
If you take into account the impact on his form that his exile from regular first-team action under Zidane must have had, it seems as though talk of Rodriguez's decline is premature and ultimately, the key to his rejuvenation and success in England may well be Ancelotti. That was clearly what swayed the midfielder to choose Goodison Park over anywhere else he might have gone this summer, and while he has been labelled as spoiled and entitled from some quarters, its clear that he has played his best football in recent years under the man who once again becomes his manager.
“[At Real Madrid] I worked with a remarkable, top manager, Ancelotti,” Rodriguez told Ferdinand. “He is wise, he knows a lot, he knows how to manage teams, so I really trusted him. I had a wonderful [first year at Real]. When you train well, take care of yourself, eat well and you have people that care about you, its a lot easier for you play on the field and to do things right.
“Everyone knows how Carlo was and how he trusted me. I didnt have much time with Rafa Benitez… but with Zidane I didnt play much initially because when you win things with certain players, you already trust them, right? So it was something that happened with him but I learned things.”
No surprise then that South American football expert, Tim Vickery, said on The Blue Room Extra podcast recently that the move could be just as important for James as for Everton: “He needs this. Real Madrid couldnt quite fit him in. He went to Bayern and because he doesnt have that express pace, he ended up playing deeper in midfield so he could arrive [late in the box] and I thought he looked good in that role.
“Hes had lots of injuries and thats a problem with him and six years on from that World Cup, hes been a bit of a disappointment but the talent is still there. Hes a player who loves to be important which he couldnt be at Real Madrid.
“Ancelotti knows him well from both Madrid and Bayern; he knows what he needs to get the best out him and I think he would be a great signing because he really, really needs it. He needs to go to a club where he can be important and he thrives in that kind of environment.”
Its a sentiment echoed by Joshua Law in his column for Football Critic. “With Colombia, James has long been the central figure; the man his team-mates look to for inspiration when the going is tough,” Law wrote. “It is a role that suits him, but at Real Madrid it is one he was never able to nail down.
“It is, though, a status he can assume for Everton. Even the staunchest Blue would concede that their club is not as replete with stars as Real Madrid, so James will be going into an environment where he is the teams focal point, which will, in turn, boost his confidence.”
The question, of course, is how he will be used at Everton. For Colombia, he fulfils the role that he bears on the back of his jersey but his recent heat maps playing for Real reveal a right-sided bias in Zidanes setup rather than a typical Number 10 role. Ancelottis proclivity for a rigid 4-4-2 won out for most of his time at Goodison so far, although he did experiment later in the season with a three-man midfield and it could be that if there isnt to be a true Number 10 position, James will be deployed as the most advanced of the midfielders or on the right side of a forward three. Regardless, he gives Everton an exciting new dimension of options in midfield.
The player acknowledges that his favoured role has been phased out of the modern game, particularly at club level, but he will have faith that Ancelotti knows how and where to play him so he can be most effective. With André Gomes preferred so far in a deeper role and Allan likely to provide the energy and tenacity in the middle, it should free James up to express himself in forward areas, either primarily on the right flank or in a freer, more central role.
Ancelotti and Marcel Brands may yet decide to add another striker before the transfer deadline if funds allow but regardless, the Colombian will find a potentially blockbusting link partner in Richarlison who will relish the flair and service that the new signing can provide. So, too, will Dominic Calvert-Lewin who demonstrated his effectiveness as a poacher in the early weeks of Ancelottis reign but whose goals completely dried up after the post-shutdown resumption of Premier League play when the Blues vacuum of a midfield stopped providing reliable service.
Not since Mikel Arteta left a decade ago have Everton had a true playmaker in their ranks and that has been a painful deficiency for a long time. Ross Barkley flattered to deceive as the great Blue hope to take on that mantle under Roberto Martinez. Gylfi Sigurdssons arrival, meanwhile, was greeted with what was, in hindsight, misplaced optimism that he could be the long-awaited Number 10 to transform our fortunes. The James Rodriguez that led Colombia to the last eight of the 2014 World Cup and was a standout in his first season at Real Madrid has the attributes and track record to finally be the man to make things happen for the Blues in the final third, not only for his team-mates but to grab a few goals himself.
While The Athletic's Alex Stewart agrees that, "James Rodriguez is a significant signing for Everton, a step-change in the level of quality brought in by the club in recent years, Jonathan Wilson wrote a rather condescending piece in The Guardian arguing that the Toffees were once more indulging in risky economics by being unable to resist the allure of another top club's cast-off. It's true that, at 29 and with a £20m price tag, Rodriguez doesn't really tally with the build-for-the-future model on which Brands has largely operated prior to this summer and, again, signing a player who has had his injury problems represents a risk, particularly for a club on whom Lady Luck has not looked all that favourably in that respect in recent years.
But while Wilson overlooks the fact that bigger clubs have been wooed by over-the-hill, faded stars in recent years, he eventually gets to the heart of the matter when he says that, "[i]ts an audacious signing, one that services a fundamental but frequently overlooked demand of a mid-table side: fun. James may succeed gloriously or he may fail, but at least it will have been worth watching to find out."
Evertonians have had few heroes capable of genuinely igniting the heart and lifting their backsides off their seats when they have the ball and they have revered the ones they've been fortunate to call their own. How he holds up physically to the demands of the English league remains to be seen — but if everything goes to plan, James Rodriguez he could become a god at Goodison Park and the recipient of the adulation that he felt would be a given at the Bernabeu. If that happens, Everton's long-suffering fans won't half have deserved it.
Reader ResponsesSelected thoughts from readers
2 Posted 07/09/2020 at 23:09:37
3 Posted 07/09/2020 at 23:16:05
Be interested to see if Carlo plays James with him. I think it will work.
4 Posted 07/09/2020 at 23:28:58
Of course he will have the hard working Allan, Doucoure and possibly Gomes alongside. Exciting times ahead, when all seemed doom and gloom not so long ago!
5 Posted 07/09/2020 at 23:31:30
Absolutely delighted. What a midfield we're going to have. Someone pinch me!
6 Posted 07/09/2020 at 23:34:01
7 Posted 07/09/2020 at 23:42:06
8 Posted 07/09/2020 at 23:53:54
9 Posted 07/09/2020 at 00:06:25
Bring it on.
10 Posted 07/09/2020 at 00:08:30
Thanks for the newsy article, too. It's an excellent read.
11 Posted 07/09/2020 at 00:13:09
Now, clearly they are very different players and Rodriguez is a class apart from Gray.
However, Gray was written off as a has-been, a faded star, a crock. But he was not only an excellent player, he was - perhaps more importantly - an inspirational leader. Alongside Peter Reid, he was the catalyst for our glory years.
I feel this transfer window - and this player in particular - could have a similarly positive effect on the Mighty Blues.
This is the most enthusiastic and positive Ive felt since that first Martinez season, the highlight of which was our away win at Man Utd.
Fingers crossed he can stay healthy and on-form.
Best wishes to JR for a very successful Everton career.
Welcome to the Mighty Blues.
13 Posted 08/09/2020 at 06:28:34
The fun aspect is the biggest element for me. The likelihood is yes, we will still struggle to challenge for honours and with the bigger teams.
But Everton have been just too boring, too drab for too long. Match day has been a generally turgid day, a day wasted. I generally regret wasting my afternoons watching the crap on offer, with my girlfriend sat alongside putting up with the boring crap probably thinking 'why'.
But the arrival of James just pulls us back in. It should offer the moments of excitement that make this game so bloody addictive. And I can't wait for my first hit.
14 Posted 08/09/2020 at 08:05:14
15 Posted 08/09/2020 at 08:39:27
16 Posted 08/09/2020 at 09:21:37
17 Posted 08/09/2020 at 09:31:30
18 Posted 08/09/2020 at 09:44:14
We really need this to work out. Come on you Blues!
19 Posted 08/09/2020 at 09:46:21
20 Posted 08/09/2020 at 10:46:29
21 Posted 08/09/2020 at 11:29:11
22 Posted 08/09/2020 at 12:02:19
23 Posted 08/09/2020 at 12:44:54
24 Posted 08/09/2020 at 12:54:53
25 Posted 08/09/2020 at 13:23:30
You're right about the inspiration from Andy and and Peter!
Thanks for the memory!
26 Posted 08/09/2020 at 13:41:33
Up the Blues !!!
27 Posted 08/09/2020 at 13:59:29
28 Posted 08/09/2020 at 14:14:02
29 Posted 08/09/2020 at 14:21:04
Payet at West Ham.
Di Canio at Sheffield Wednesday.
This is our version. Our most exciting signing since Kanchelskis.
30 Posted 08/09/2020 at 17:28:13
Most of my Everton supporting life has been a complete misery punctuated by the occasional great result or performance. I am DESPERATE for us to be good again
Hopefully James leads us there or at least gets us playing good attractive football again
31 Posted 08/09/2020 at 17:28:23
32 Posted 08/09/2020 at 18:28:59
For me the most high profile and glamorous acquisition we ever made was Alan Ball. To sign the man of the match of the 1966 World Cup Final two weeks after that Final was absolutely fantastic. I doubt it will ever be surpassed. If James produces performances half as good we will be in raptures.
33 Posted 09/09/2020 at 14:09:46
Heck, if it doesnt work out and the season goes pear shape. Carlo might have to sprinkle the most famous thing from Colombia to get our excitement up.
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1 Posted 07/09/2020 at 22:44:20