Colombia’s young James Rodriguez set up the ball. He looked up and knew exactly where he was going to place his corner kick. What was amazing about that play was that the ball ended up in the back of the net, one of the more amazing goals scored by this 12-year-old (see video below). Two years later, this young player would end up becoming a professional.
From his time playing Pony Fútbol with Academia Tolimense as a kid, the Cúcuta native James Rodríguez was always a youngster that constantly showed his class. This one moment below encapsulated one of the most ballyhooed young players to come out of Colombia in the past decade.
So his tremendous goal against Uruguay at Maracanã was not only a crowning moment of his already impressive career; it was confirmation of what many had already seen in his seven-year career as a professional footballer.
Sometimes in life people learn either by their mistakes or the mistakes of others. That was James’ success. His major influencer was seeing to a certain extent the mistakes and virtues of his father’s career as a footballer.
Those experiences helped Rodríguez mature beyond his age, mostly credited to the experiences passed down by his father, Wilson James Rodríguez. His father was also a quality player, who even played on the Colombian national team. Wilson was part of the 1985 U-20 side that also had players the likes of John Jairo Trellez, Eduardo Niño and a young goalkeeper named René Higuita.
Wilson was just as talented as his son, but he saw his career cut short by injuries and a battle with alcoholism. He carried those life lessons over and taught his son what to avoid.
Many saw great things from James, even his eventual wife Daniela Ospina. James met Ospina’s sister while he was at Banfield and her being able to relate to his demands as a player helped provide him a much stronger foundation. Ospina was an aspiring volleyball player when they first met and they quickly established a long distance relationship.
Little did he know, he was talking to the sister of his eventual teammate — national team goalkeeper David Ospina.
By this stage of his life, James made the move from Envigado FC, a club on the outskirts of Medellín, to Argentine side Banfield. There his profile began to grow on the international level. His success there was important.
He was always proud of his roots, so much so that when an Argentine journalist called him James (English pronunciation, of course), the teenager became irate and quickly corrected him. “My father’s name is James (Hah-mess) and that is the name he gave me,” he said in an interview on Argentine television during his first season at Banfield.
After that moment, people in Argentina not only knew how to pronounce his name, but also of what he could do on the pitch. James quickly became a fixture under Julio César Falcioni and led Banfield to their only league title back in 2009. By then he was an instrumental part of El Taladro during that time. This success started to coincide with European interest.
By the time he turned 18, James was not just looking at a move to Porto, he was also looking at married life. He married Daniela and left for Portugal in 2010. James would eventually become a fundamental part of Jesualdo Ferreira’s Porto side and along with Radamel Falcao, they were able to win three league titles, a Portuguese cup, a Portuguese Super Cup and a Europa League title.
In 2011, James was a major player in the Argentine league and became the face of the 2011 U-20 World Cup tournament that Colombia hosted that year. He was the most marketable figure in that U-20 World Cup despite having individuals like Oscar, Isco, Koke, Cristián Tello, Antoine Griezmann, Joel Campbell as well as teammates Santiago Arias, Luis Muriel and Pedro Franco.
Yet despite that deception, James was ready to take the next step. Many clamored for him on the senior side and that was exactly what he got when coach Leonel Álvarez called him up for his first-ever cap. The assignment for the 19-year-old was a difficult one, having to debut against Bolivia in the altitude of La Paz three months after his starring role at the U-20 level.
The challenge was accepted and passed as he was the man of the match and fed Radamel Falcao García to for the eventual game-winner. After that, he did not play a significant role for Colombia in the following matches: a 1-1 draw against Venezuela and a 2-1 loss to Argentina, both in Barranquilla. The results and involvement in James’ play was also a reflection of his lack of confidence. That was soon to change.
With the lack of opportunities for the forwards and the limited offense that limited Colombia’s growth, the arrival of José Pekerman saw some changes. The first one was to make James Rodríguez the team’s playmaker behind Radamel Falcao García and Teófilo Gutiérrez. The second one was to open play wide with Fiorentina man Juan Guillermo Cuadrado and Napoli’s Cámilo Zúñiga.
This simplification in the game led to a goal explosion for the Colombians. Pekerman’s first five matches saw his squad outscore their opponents 15-2 in his first six matches. James was fundamental in all of those matches were he was scoring on two occasions and provided for Falcao and Gutiérrez as well.
Despite all the glory his teammates up top got, James was happy being “behind the scenes” to an extent. His next step was to head to Monaco to continue to be with Falcao and begin the project that was underway at the French principality.
After being resisted by coach Claudio Ranieri, it was evident that he was a player that was needed and responded greatly when Les Rouge ets Blanc needed him most. That began when Falcao suffered his knee injury. James quickly became Ranieri’s man and helped keep Monaco in the race for the Ligue 1 title. James was not just Monaco’s second leading goalscorer (tied with Falcao) behind Emmanuel Rivière; he was also the leading assist man in French football.
This is why James Rodríguez was, and now is seen as the most important cog on the Colombian national team. Having a Falcao to work with is great, but now many see the importance of James in being one of those players that helped Falcao become the goalscoring threat he became pre-injury.
And all of this even before he even stepped foot in Brazil, where he has now equaled Pelé, Ademir, Thomas Müller as the players that have had the best performances to start their World Cup participation. All of that occurred before the world fell to his knees. All this happened before he faces the greatest challenge of his career as Brazil awaits in Fortaleza.
So was he a star all along? Yeah. I think so.
By the way, did I tell you he’s only 22?