After the 2014 World Cup, Real Madrid signed their latest Galactico. In a deal worth around 80 million euros, James Rodriguez made the switch from AS Monaco to the Santiago Bernabeu, where he was adorned with the No.10 shirt and welcomed by a crowd of nearly 50,000 excited supporters.
He is the poster boy of Colombian football, but somehow this reputation pales into insignificance at a club as large as Los Blancos. This season, perhaps more than ever, he has been an expensive part of the furniture, used sparingly as a back-up to the first-team stars preferred by Zinedine Zidane.
It makes sense, then, that Real Madrid are reportedly looking to cash in on their luxury substitute. Manchester United have spent heavily under Jose Mourinho so far and, in James Rodriguez, the manager would hope to solve his side’s enduring profligacy – which has been emphasised since the serious injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
There can be no doubts that the Colombian star has delivered when asked in La Liga this season. In just 1,156 minutes on the pitch, James has chipped in with eight goals and six assists, participating in a second-string line-up that has been vital in maintaining Madrid’s momentum in the title race to go with a place in the Champions League final against Juventus.
James’s class was evident in recent matches against Deportivo and Granada, but the 25-year-old deserves a bigger stage than steamrolling Spanish strugglers. After popping up with what had looked to be the equalising goal against Barcelona in April’s El Clasico, he may have attracted the sort of attention required to engineer a summer move.
Considering that James was a central figure at Monaco and FC Porto, along with the Colombian national team, it is no surprise that his frustration has grown with a bit-part role at the Bernabeu. There can be no doubts about his fitness, unlike fellow reported United target Gareth Bale, but the playmaker’s mentality has faced questions before.
“I like James a lot, I respect him and he is my friend. But I am seeing how his friendship with Cristiano Ronaldo is being detrimental at Real Madrid,” Colombian legend Tino Asprilla told ESPN back in November.
“He is making the same gestures to him when they don’t give him the ball. Starting the game [Colombia vs Argentina], he scolded Balanta, he had a tantrum because he didn’t pass and didn’t give him the ball. He is playing in a team, who are very young and who respect him a lot, nobody dares to say anything against him.
“To fight with a rival is normal. But this habit of gesticulating at teammates is the most ugly thing a football player can do, and he’s taken it from Cristiano Ronaldo, who does it at Real Madrid every eight days.”
While theories exist of Colombia’s poster boy picking up bad habits from his time at Los Blancos, his temper has become clear in La Liga too. Whether being injected into a game late on as a substitute, or taken off early after headlining a second-string line-up, a lack of opportunities is grinding him down.
In April, after scoring and providing an assist against Leganes, James showed his most forthright example of frustration. Upon seeing his number was up, the ex-Porto forward made his way off the pitch slowly, appearing to mumble expletives, before ignoring the handshake of his manager and punching the dugout.
There can be no doubt that James is a supremely talented player who would offer real flexibility and invention across United’s forward line, but Mourinho will be wary of such episodes of insubordination.
In terms of his strengths, James’s most dangerous weapon is his devastating left foot, supplying excellent set-piece deliveries and capable of scoring spectacular goals.
If he is to become a key protagonist at Old Trafford, James can be the smiling star that lit up the 2014 World Cup. But he would have to curb his ego playing under Mourinho, for whom the team is always the priority.