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James Rodriguez: The Colombian sensation who made his Madrid dream come true

08:00 GMT 08/12/2022
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James Rodriguez burst onto the global stage in electrifying fashion at the 2014 World Cup, earning a transfer to Real Madrid in the process.

The more casual of football fans knew little of James Rodriguez prior to the 2014 World Cup. But that tournament in Brazil changed everything.

James had begun his professional his career in his native Colombia with Envigado before being snapped up by Argentine outfit Banfield.

Porto, those great purveyors of South American talent, came calling in 2010 and James impressed sufficiently at the Drago to earn himself a €45 million (£40m/$44m) switch to high-spending Monaco three years later.

James’ rise to prominence continued during a stellar debut season at Stade Louis II, as he recorded nine goals and 13 assists in 34 Ligue 1 matches.

He then transferred that form onto the international stage as a promising 22-year-old, after being selected in Jose Pekerman’s final Colombia squad for Brazil 2014.

His former manager at Banfield, Julio Falcioni, predicted James would “achieve something special with the Colombia national team” some five years earlier.

Falcioni was proven absolutely right as James’ World Cup began with a bang against Greece.

The attacking midfielder rounded off a 3-0 win for Colombia with a cool side-footed finish to cap a superb individual display, which he followed up with an even better showing against the Ivory Coast on matchday two.

Pekerman’s side qualified for the round of 16 with a 2-1 victory after James had produced a bullet header from a corner to open the scoring and double his account for the tournament.

James had stepped up in the absence of the injured Radamel Falcao, which came as a great source of pride for Pekerman.

“It is not easy substituting somebody like Falcao,” he said after the game against Ivory Coast. “There’s always a doubt when you make such a change, but my players have all assumed responsibility.”

Colombia’s stunning start continued in their final group stage outing as they romped to a 4-1 win over Japan, with James on target once again.

He produced a fine dinked finish in the closing stages after slipping past his marker, which prompted commentator Kevin Keatings to remark: “We could be looking at Lionel Messi in that moment, and there is no higher praise than that.”  

If the group stage could be classed as James’ introduction to the masses, the knockout round was when he appeared to confirm his status as the game's next megastar.

He got his name on the scoresheet for a fourth successive game to break the deadlock against Uruguay just before the half-hour mark, and with a piece of magic that ranks among the very best in World Cup history.

There didn’t appear to be much on when James chested down a header with his back to goal just outside the penalty area, but he still only had one thing on his mind.

He controlled the ball perfectly to drop it front of him before striking a perfect volley that rocketed off the crossbar and into the net.

That sensational effort was voted goal of the tournament and James later picked up the Puskas award for the best goal of 2014.

A performance for the ages was capped off in the second half when he scored again to seal a 2-0 victory that sent Colombia through to the last eight.

Their epic journey would end there, as they suffered a 2-1 loss to tournament hosts Brazil.

However, James bowed out by scoring from the penalty spot, with his sixth goal of the tournament earning him the Golden Boot ahead of Germany’s Thomas Muller.

James was also shortlisted for the player of the tournament award, which ultimately went to Messi as a reward for his role in helping Argentina reach the final – despite their eventual loss to Germany.

Had Colombia made it past Brazil, James surely would have scooped that accolade too.

He became an overnight hero among his country’s supporters and a social media sensation, with videos of his goals generating over a hundred million views on YouTube.

The playmaker’s breakout tournament also piqued the interest of Real Madrid president Florentino Perez. His pursuit of James quickly gathered momentum, and the player did his part to push the proposed transfer through.

“It’s really flattering to know that a club like Madrid, of such magnitude, are interested in me,” James told Marca. “It would be a dream to sign for the team of my dreams.”

He got his wish. Madrid made James the fourth-most expensive player of all time by paying €70m (£61m/$69m) for his services, and promptly handed them their newest Galactico the iconic No.10 jersey.

He went on to become a two-time Champions League and La Liga winner during his six-year spell with the Blancos.

However, James never quite managed to live up to his immense potential, and after short stints at Everton and Al-Rayyan, he now finds himself playing for Olympiacos in the Greek Super League.

At the ripe old age of 31, James’ best years appear to be firmly behind him, but his exploits at the 2014 World Cup will never be forgotten.

Some of the most talented players end up failing to deliver on a consistent basis, and although James is destined to fall into that bracket, any regrets he might have will always be cushioned by his stellar showing in Brazil – which saw him grasp a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with both hands.

And make his dream move come true.