While much of the pre-World Cup coverage of Colombia has concentrated on Radamel Falcao Garcia’s unsuccessful recovery from knee surgery, it is his Monaco teammate James Rodriguez who is perhaps even more important to Los Cafeteros.
Rodriguez’s slick dribbling, accurate crossing and eye for a through-ball have quickly seen him become Colombia’s primary creative force in the short time since his international debut in 2011. The 22-year-old has been a grateful recipient of the No. 10 shirt once worn by Carlos Valderrama, as he explained to FIFA.com in 2012.
[Valderrama] was a very intelligent footballer who could create something out of nothing as well as score goals... Since I was a young boy, I’ve always dreamed of wearing the No.10 shirt for Colombia, and luckily that’s what I’m able to do now.
Yet while Valderrama was content to pass on the torch, as per Deportescl.terra (h/t AFP), there are, in truth, few similarities between the pair in terms of playing style.
Valderrama, the wonderfully coiffured playmaker who was at the heart of the Colombia teams that qualified for three consecutive World Cups between 1990 and 1998, was an organiser of play—a tempo-setter. Rodriguez, on the other hand, is an explosive attacking midfielder, capable of making the difference in the final 30 metres of the pitch.
During qualifying, he scored in victories at home to Ecuador and away to Chile and Peru, provided two assists for Teofilo Gutierrez in the 4-0 win over Uruguay and won two penalties in the 3-3 home draw with Chile. It was Rodriguez who slipped in Falcao for the opening goal in Colombia’s 2-0 friendly victory over Belgium last November.
His successful ascension to the senior national team will have come as little surprise to those who have followed Rodriguez’s career from an early age.
As per El Espectador (in Spanish), he paid the youth team coach of his first club Envigado for extra training sessions in order improve his game. In Argentina—where he played for Banfield between 2008 and 2010—his dedication to self-development saw him compared to Cristiano Ronaldo.
Highly impressive performances for Colombia’s U-20 side—in which he formed a thrilling attacking triumvirate with Luis Muriel and Michael Ortega—resulted in him being parachuted into the senior national team for the start of the World Cup qualifiers. After a slow start, he has flourished under the command of Jose Pekerman, revelling in the trust afforded to him by the Argentinian coach.
Whether drifting infield from the left or stationed in a defined-central-role, Rodriguez is Colombia’s most dangerous attacking player, striking fear into opposing defences with the variety and vitality of his play. He is willing to shoulder creative responsibility despite his tender years.
Rodriguez comes into the World Cup on the back of an excellent first season at Monaco following his €45 million transfer from Porto last summer. He scored nine goals and provided 12 assists, as per WhoScored.com, and was named in the Ligue 1 team of the season after helping the principality club to a second-place finish.
He has the talent, and perhaps more importantly, the drive and determination necessary to become one of the world’s best players over the next few years. A strong performance at this summer’s World Cup could be a stepping stone to a move to one of Europe’s biggest clubs and Rodriguez is well placed to seize the opportunity with gusto.