The man lighting up the 2014 World Cup could have been donning the red of Manchester United, but the Old Trafford outfit decided to sign Portuguese forward Bebe instead.
James Rodriguez has been in sensational form for Colombia at the Brazil showpiece, scoring five goals in four games and helping his nation to their first-ever World Cup quarter-final.
He’s showcased in abundance the quality that prompted AS Monaco to spend £38.5 million on him last summer, per BBC Sport, but things could have been so different had United seized the opportunity to sign him as a teenager.
According to Dominic Fifield of The Guardian, the Red Devils were offered the chance to sign the forward for just £5 million back in 2010. During the first part of that season, a young Rodriguez was part of the Club Atletico Banfield team that secured the Torneo Apertura, and club intermediaries approached senior scouts at Old Trafford about a potential deal for the player.
They received no response from United, who shelled out £7.4 million on Bebe just weeks later—a player who has flopped spectacularly at Old Trafford, and someone who the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson admitted he “didn’t watch” before sanctioning the deal, per Soccernet, via ESPN FC.
Rodriguez would eventually get his move to Europe when he signed for Porto later in 2010. He shone in the Primeira Liga, winning three consecutive titles and, as noted in Fifield’s piece, attracted attention from both United and Chelsea in the summer of 2013 before eventually moving to Monaco.
After his scintillating exploits at this World Cup, Rodriguez is now being linked with a host of Europe’s most illustrious outfits—including United, per Joe Short of The Express—but you can imagine he’ll command a considerably heftier fee than the £5 million United could have snapped him up for four years ago.
He's making good on his indisputable potential on the grandest footballing stage, and this revelation is sure to have left Red Devils fans hugely frustrated. Manchester United supporter BeardedGenius took a light-hearted approach to the news:
I've seen nothing thus far to suggest that James Rodríguez is any better than Bebe. The only real different is media hype.— Nooruddean (@BeardedGenius) June 29, 2014
But hindsight is a wonderful thing.
It’s impossible to say how Rodriguez would have developed had he made the move to Old Trafford, and if Ferguson—a manager who was usually very astute when it came to isolating youngsters with potential—didn’t think he was up to the required standard, it’s difficult to argue with him; although, admittedly, the signing of Bebe remains arguably his worst ever.
The game is littered with these types of “if only” scenarios. Rodriguez could have come to England, struggled to adapt to the raucous nature of the Premier League and subsequently stunted his development. Instead, he made the move to Porto and flourished. Now, the watching world is reaping the benefits.