Everton have completed the signing of James Rodriguez.
Yes, that’s right, James Rodriguez. The James Rodriguez. This is a monumental moment in Everton history as they bring a bonafide world-breaking talent who has stood at the very top of the game in to wear their blue shirt.
A Colombian international, two-time Champions League winner and star of the 2014 World Cup. Well, two times is a bit much as James played zero minutes as an unused substitute in the 2016 final and didn’t even make the matchday squad a year later in Cardiff as Madrid retained the trophy.
And the more you think about it, James’ star turn at the World Cup was six years ago. Harry Kane had yet to burst onto the scene, no one had even heard of Kylian Mbappé (who was just 15) and Roberto Martinez was in the middle of his spell as Everton boss. They’re on their sixth manager since then, including two caretaker spells for David Unsworth.
In fact, in the season that ended just before James’ heroics in Brazil, Everton finished fifth. They’ve not matched that total since, finishing 11th twice, then 7th, then 8th twice, and then last season with the enigmatic and decorated Carlo Ancelotti in charge and a squad chock full of expensive signings, they finished as low as 12th.
Or, to put it another way: is James really the superstar signing he seems to be or are we all just blinded by nostalgia? Back then James was a Monaco player and he was so impressive at the World Cup he earned a move to Real Madrid off the back of it. Los Blancos didn’t really need him, but he was famous and marketable in a way that Angel Di Maria was not.
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And for sure, in that first season when he played under the current Everton boss, James was sensational. He finished the season with 13 goals, 13 assists and 77 chances created in La Liga as Los Blancos finished second to Barcelona. It looked like the beginnings of something great at the Santiago Bernabeu, but 2015/16 saw a managerial change and thus a massive drop-off from the Colombian.
New manager Rafa Benitez wanted to leave James out to add a defensive midfielder and create balance. As good as the Colombian was, he was one attacker too many in a star-studded Madrid attack. However the Madrid brass “suggested” Benitez include him, which led to such hilarities as getting thwomped 0-4 at the Santiago Bernabeu by Barcelona.
Benitez was sacked and replaced by Zinedine Zidane, who (much to Benitez’s chagrin) did bench James to play a defensive midfielder (Casemiro) and subsequently won the Champions League (and then again, and again). This set the tone for James’ future in Madrid. An unwanted spare part. Excellent, for sure, and a player who often produced when called on, but under Zidane being excellent is not enough. You have to have a certain X-factor. Gareth Bale is another superb performer who seems to lack “it.”
Do you need to have “it” to succeed at Everton? Or is being excellent enough?
Again, on paper having a former La Liga, Bundesliga and Champions League winner play at Goodison Park seems like a huge deal. Having a former World Cup star play at Everton seems like a huge deal, too. But Stoke had a team chock full of “Champions League winners” recently and they were still pretty average because most of them were just squad players on those teams.
James was not a major protagonist in any of Real Madrid success (his excellent debut season ended with just the Uefa Super Cup and Club World Cup in the trophy cabinet), he was a sideshow. Yes he was the driving force for Colombia at the World Cup but, again, that was six years ago. Football Index didn’t even exist back then!
Looking at his value, it’s low for a player of such remarkable skill. And over the last year has only spiked at moments when he may be transferred. When it transpired he wouldn’t leave, his value cratered. However it’s on the rise now and if he performs for Everton it could shoot up even more (look at how Bruno Fernandes’ value rose after his rocket start at the United).
The question then becomes: can he step it up and be the driving force for Everton? Looking at his production lately is pointless because he’s been so thoroughly marginalised by Zidane that no one could produce in such circumstances. One has to look at the talent innate in the player and if he’s able to bring that out. For that, there’s only one hope and that’s the Everton manager.
James’ only great season since the 2014 World Cup was under Ancelotti’s watch at Madrid in 2014/15. Similarly his only good season since that debut was 2016/17 with Bayern Munich. The manager then? Carlo Ancelotti. James’ time in Germany went south after Ancelotti was sacked and replaced by Jupp Heynckes.
It seems like Ancelotti’s laid-back attitude jives well with James’s own laid-back attitude. He’s only ever excelled for the Italian. So that does bode well for The Toffees. They have the manger to get the most out of their man.
However, it’s also worth pointing out that he was playing with significantly better players in those Madrid and Bayern sides. There’s no Cristiano Ronaldo or Robert Lewandowski at Goodison Park, and if James is to succeed on Merseyside he’s going to have to deal with being the side’s go-to guy. Everything will flow through him and he will have to step up and lead.
The whole situation is riddled with questions. But if James can lead from the front as he did in 2014, if Carlo can get the Colombian comfortable enough to simply play his natural game unencumbered by all of the noise that seemed to drag him down in Madrid and Munich, then we may get to see the very best of James Rodriguez for the first time in six years. And won’t that be a wonderful thing?