James Rodriguez to Napoli: the matinee idol & the star-maker
Back in 2014, James Rodriguez took the World Cup by storm and won the hearts of the watching world.
With his matinee idol good looks and winning charm, he was easy to like. It helped that he was great, too: he scored the tournament’s best goal and was such a colossal influence that Brazil resorted to man-marking and kicking him out of their quarter-final clash. This worked and Colombia crashed out, but nobody forgot James.
Then Real Madrid came calling. Los Blancos signing the star performer at a World Cup is nothing new (e.g. Kroos in 2014, Ozil in 2010, Cannavaro in 2006, Ronaldo in 2002). But they bought James without any real space for him in the side. In fact, to make room for him the European Champions had to sell the hero of the previous season’s final, Angel Di Maria.
But no one cared (well, alright, the Bernabeu faithful weren’t too happy at Di Maria’s departure at first) because James was so good and so instantly likeable thanks to his brilliantly evocative style of play and penchant for doing amazing things. His first act complete, James should have become a world-beater at Madrid. Instead after just one great season, things went quite wrong.
Why? Well, Carlo Ancelotti’s exit is the main reason. Under Rafa Benitez and Zinedine Zidane, James was not considered an automatic starter. And in the end, Zidane discarded of James after 2016/17 even though he had played a sizeable part in Madrid winning their first Liga since 2012 (they did him just like they did Di Maria – a nice bit of narrative symmetry).
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Where did he go? Bayern Munich, on loan, where Carlo Ancelotti was in charge (hey, what a surprise!). But James’ downbeat second act continued as Ancelotti didn’t even last half the season and, without the Italian in charge, James soon found himself again on the outs. Sure, he played, but he wasn’t focal to the way Niko Kovac was building his team. And in the end, Bayern declined to purchase him from Real Madrid, leaving him in limbo. His own personal all is lost moment.
But James doesn’t just look like a movie star, and so inevitably there is a glimmer of hope for a third act comeback. A sensational turnaround in fortunes, and where else could that be provided but from his older mentor: Carlo Ancelotti? Once again the Italian is looking to save James and this time it just might work. Why? Because the narrative moves from Madrid and Munich to Naples.
Napoli are a uniquely cinematic club, probably because they are owned by film producer Aurelio De Laurentiis, nephew of Dino De Laurentiis (producer of classics like Serpico, Conan The Barbarian and Blue Velvet). Napoli have a history of star-making: from rescuing Diego Maradona after his failures with Barcelona to turning Fabio Cannavaro, Edinson Cavani and Dries Mertens into household names. Even, in a way, Maurizio Sarri.
Now, James is on their radar. And as was the case with Madrid, he is perfectly placed to play the starring role once again. James is a player who lives for the big moments; goals, assists, the most spectacular, show-stopping scenarios imaginable. It’s easy to see the Stadio San Paolo falling in love with him (especially as Marek Hamsik is no longer at the club) as he follows in the footsteps of Maradona by failing in La Liga only to rise to heroic prominence in the south of Italy… what an ending that would be!