Real Madrid are poised to sign AS Monaco's James Rodriguez for €80 million (£63.3 million), per Carmen Colino at AS. So we ask: Can the Colombian international have a Zinedine Zidane-like impact for Los Blancos?
To address that question, here is a scouting report on James, a 23-year-old, 5'11", 170-pound central attacking midfielder:
James' career path is comparable to Zidane's.
Zidane was a diamond in the rough, per Laurent Dubois's book Soccer Empire: The World Cup and the Future of France:
[Late Cannes scout Jean Varraud's recollections]
'He [Zidane] had an exceptional speed in his feet, something I'd never seen before and I've never seen since. He also had a side to him, the warrior side of the disadvantage neighbourhoods. He was hungry.'
Varraud brought him to Cannes for a short training period and confirmed that he had an 'amazing talent when the ball was at his feet, transforming it into a magic toy' whenever he got hold of it.
Jean Fernandez, the coach for the Cannes professional team [at the time], was also amazed when he saw Zidane play, wondering why no recruiter [from major European teams] had found him yet.
Happy Birthday to Zinedine Zidane (AS Cannes - 1991-92) pic.twitter.com/OuBYdjubkY— Old School Panini (@OldSchoolPanini) June 23, 2014
Beneath 767 words and after mentions to Rodolfo Gamarra and Rodrigo Alborno, South American football correspondent Tim Vickery noted the rise of James in a 2010 column, per BBC Sport:
And talking of strong, well-built players with an excellent left foot, Banfield of Argentina have a magnificent prospect in 18-year-old Colombian midfielder James Rodriguez.
He scored with a nice, clipped finish last Wednesday away to Deportivo Cuenca of Ecuador, after opening his account the week before against Morelia of Mexico.
Rodriguez looks tailor-made for European football, and may well be joining Udinese of Italy in the next transfer window.
He is unlikely to be gracing the Libertadores for long.
Before milking Colombian cash cow Eder Balanta, River Plate had poached Radamel Falcao in 2001 and Juan Pablo Angel in 1997.
River were always on the lookout for the next big Colombian talent.
Therefore, River losing out on the James sweepstakes to Banfield was like Cannes beating Marseille and Monaco to Zidane.
However, the late Rovers owner Jack Walker rebuffed the chance to sign Zidane, infamously declaring, per Tom Bryant at The Guardian: "Why do you want to sign Zidane when we have Tim Sherwood?"
Newcastle United were another Premier League team to turn down Zidane, according to football agent Barry Silkman.
"I offered him [Zidane] to Newcastle at the beginning of the 1996 season for €1.5 (£1.2 million)," Silkman told Sport.co.uk (via Goal.com). "And they watched him and said that he wasn't good enough to play in the First Division, which is the Championship now."
Early on in James' career, he was also rejected, per Dominic Fifield at The Guardian:
[James] was offered to Manchester United for around £5 million as a teenager, only for United to pursue other options. ...
... A few weeks later, United instead spent £7.4 million on Bebe. ...
... [James] moved from Argentina to Portugal when he signed for Porto in 2010 for £4 million, with 30% of the player's economic rights retained by third parties.
Zidane, who had faced criticism throughout his life—"I am: first, a Kabyle from La Castellane, then an Algerian from Marseille, and then a Frenchman," he said, per Andrew Hussey of The Observer—shrugged off the potshots and took his game to the next level.
Four years on after United declined to sign James, Bebe just had his breakout season on loan at Pacos de Ferreira.
Meanwhile, James is on the brink of a blockbuster transfer to Real.
"Zidane has an internal vision," 1998 French FIFA World Cup-winning manager Aime Jacquet said, per Hussey. "He can make the ball do whatever he wants."
James conjures up magical Zidane-esque moments when in possession.
In one smooth kicking motion, James split open Saint-Etienne's defence with an outside-of-the-boot pass to Monaco left attacking midfielder Yannick Ferreira Carrasco.
Instead of taking a low-percentage shot, James showed high football IQ by playing in Carrasco with a one-touch pass against Sochaux.
James synchronised the release of his pass with Dimitar Berbatov's run, enabling the Monaco centre-forward to break Ajaccio's offside trap.
Wrong-footing Guingamp centre-back Christophe Kerbrat, James played an incisive reverse pass to Monaco centre-forward Anthony Martial.
The combination of creating space and possessing the vision to make the key pass is why James is one of the preeminent central attacking midfielders in world football.
James Rodríguez: Played more accurate through balls (10) than any other player in Ligue 1 last season— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) July 21, 2014
Another strength in James' game is his set-piece proficiency.
He scored free-kicks against Bastia and Rennes.
From 12 yards out, James converted penalties against Nantes and Sochaux.
During the FIFA World Cup, James flashed the ability to be a prolific scorer.
He registered more goals (six) for Colombia than the combined output (five) of Argentina's Lionel Messi (four) and Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo (one).
Joining historic names such as Sandor Kocsis, Just Fontaine, Vava, Eusebio, Gerd Mueller, Gary Lineker, Ronaldo Luis and Miroslav Klose, James was bestowed with the World Cup Golden Boot.
Gracias a Dios. A todos ustedes por la fuerza que hicieron. Y a mis compañeros de selección que lo hicieron posible. pic.twitter.com/pkoIjyBjjE— James Rodríguez (@jamesdrodriguez) July 13, 2014
There have been less illustrious Golden Boot recipients like Salvatore Schillaci and Oleg Salenko, two World Cup one-hit wonders.
James may pass the eye test with flying colours, but statistically he is not good value for money at €80 million.
|League Only||Angel Di Maria||Isco||James Rodriguez|
|Key Passes Per Game||2.7||2.2||2.5|
|Passes Per Game||39.9||43.6||48.1|
|Shots Per Goal||15.8||5.5||10.0|
Di Maria created five more goals, and Isco's pass-completion percentage was 6.6 percent higher.
In addition, James' shots per goal was wasteful, and his shot accuracy was 41 percent, per Squawka.com.
The main reason why Real president Florentino Perez wants James is to expand Real's popularity.
Perez has lost out in terms of transfer market cost-effectiveness, but he is a winner by turning Real into a global brand. That's evident with the Galacticos policy, per Sid Lowe's book Fear and Loathing in La Liga: Barcelona vs Real Madrid:
Perez claimed that the arrival of [Luis] Figo and Zidane saw the 'value' of Madrid's badge rise almost fourfold.
And after landing Ronaldo [Luis] added:
'Nothing is more profitable than signing a superstar. There are many players who score twenty-five [goals] a season, but Ronaldo's the only one who can pay for himself.' ...
... Perez's obsession was universalism.
The representative of Spain now aspired to be the representative of the world, a kind of hugely profitable imperial power, with pre-season tours not so much preparation, [but] market breakers.
When Madrid and the Spanish Post Office released centenary stamps, the blurb ran:
'We're sending the image of the twentieth century's greatest club to millions all over the world, over five continents, across languages and cultures, as is only right for Real Madrid, a club that defies frontiers, races and languages.'
"A while back I said the amount of money was enormous and that I was not worth that much," Zidane said, per Dominic Fifield at The Guardian. "I am fully aware of that and my thoughts on the matter have not changed."
Zidane scoring the iconic winning goal against Bayer Leverkusen in the 2002 UEFA Champions League final ensured his then-world-record transfer fee became a footnote, as opposed to a source of critique.
While James' proposed €80 million transfer fee is typical Perez megalomania, the quality is there.
"My name is Florentino Perez and I have a problem. Whenever I see a new shiny football player I can't stop myself." #shopaholicsanonymous— RMCanterano (@rmcanterano) July 21, 2014
Last season, James recorded double-digit assists in league play (12). He is currently playing the best football of his life, having top-scored at the World Cup.
21 - James Rodríguez was involved in 21 goals (nine goals, 12 assists) in the 2013/14 Ligue 1; more than any other Monaco player. Maverick.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) July 20, 2014
Real manager Carlo Ancelotti needs to embrace James like Zidane.
"How could I play such a great talent [in Zidane] wide on the left or the right in a 4-4-2?" Ancelotti said, per Rob Shepherd at The National. "So I changed to 4-1-3-2, with Zidane at the top of a midfield three."
James can have a Zidane-like impact for Real as Perez ushers in the newest Galacticos era.
Statistics via WhoScored.com