Transfer fees have a habit of clouding judgment. Now regularly exorbitant monstrosities, the vast figures that linger over modern footballers warp our expectations, muddying our perceptions of what is realistic, what is plausible and what is one's true worth.
On Tuesday night in the UEFA Super Cup against Sevilla, it was the German who shone most brightly, comfortably outplaying the Colombian in the duo's maiden outing for Los Blancos in Cardiff.
Slick in possession and seemingly already in sync with those around him, Kroos gave the impression that he had done this all before, that donning the famous white kit held little intimidation for the 24-year-old.
Rodriguez, however, played with a noticeable discomfort in Wales. Perhaps burdened by the fanfare of his arrival, perhaps in awe of that sparkling No. 7 shirt, or maybe just unaccustomed to a new role in a new calibre of team, the 23-year-old—for only 90 minutes, of course—looked the lesser of the two debutants.
It all comes back to warped expectations; the size of the respective transfer fees dictating our assessment of talent, potential and quality.
Kroos, remember, is a three-time Bundesliga winner, three-time German cup winner, the owner of a Champions League title and a recently crowned World Cup champion.
Having successfully navigated footballing colosseums such as the Allianz Arena, Camp Nou, Wembley and the Maracana, the former Bayern Munich star is a seamless fit for the glitzy Bernabeu. Like in Madrid, winning is simply expected in Bavaria and Germany—the demands in the Spanish capital are nothing new.
Yet, Kroos wears a price tag reading just £20 million.
Rodriguez, however, has never shouldered that same burden, has never walked onto the game's grandest stages weighed down by expectation. His blistering World Cup campaign came as something of a surprise, following the path of countless others in earning a high-profile move thanks to sudden excellence at football's showpiece.
Three Portuguese titles he may have, but the Colombian has never conquered one of the major leagues in Europe, has never made it past the Round of 16 in the Champions League and has never lifted a World Cup.
Yet, Rodriguez's price tag reads £63 million.
The disparity in the pair's honours aren't a knock on Rodriguez—where he's plied his trade (Porto and Monaco rather than Bayern; Colombia rather than Germany) has been the decisive factor.
But for all his undeniable talent, Rodriguez hasn't been exposed to the same pressures as Kroos. Adjusting to life as a Galactico, therefore, will take time for Real's latest marquee signing.
It's also worth acknowledging the underlying reasons for the £43 million gap between the pair.
While the Colombian still had four years yet to run on his deal with Monaco, the German was entering the final 12 months of his agreement with Bayern. Quite simply, the Bavarian giants had little leverage in their negotiations with Real Madrid compared to the Ligue 1 club.
That Rodriguez emphatically claimed the World Cup's Golden Boot award only served to further inflate the difference between his fee and that of his new teammate.
Yet, the contrasting arrivals for the duo isn't the only factor set to dictate their immediate success in Spain.
From a playing and systematic perspective, Kroos' transition into Carlo Ancelotti's XI is far more straightforward.
A central midfielder by trade, the World Cup winner shouldn't encounter difficulties slotting into Real's preferred 4-3-3 that best harnesses the devastating qualities of Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale. Should the Italian adopt a 4-2-3-1 at any stage, Kroos' move to the double pivot behind the front four should be equally seamless.
Rodriguez's integration won't be so smooth.
A natural No. 10, the World Cup sensation could find opportunities in behind the striker rather limited at the Bernabeu, forcing him to adapt and evolve on the fly, while chasing—thanks to the size of his transfer fee—an elusive level built on expectation that is perhaps unattainable.
Like Bale and—to a lesser extent—Neymar last season, like Luis Suarez this year, Rodriguez faces challenges that begin on the field but extend well beyond the confines of those white lines.
Like never before, the Colombian must deal with peripheral forces, must deal with anticipation, must find a way to embrace the burden that has been bestowed upon him, all while adapting to new surrounds, a new club, new teammates, a new manager and a new role.
Indeed, the only constants are the size and shape of the ball.
Rodriguez's talent is salivating, but such a process will take time. And it's that very process that Kroos, given his prior experience, is better equipped for right now.
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