2nd August 2017. By Ryan Baldi.
When James Rodriguez joined Real Madrid in the summer of 2014, he seemed to have the football world at his feet.
Fresh off the back of a stellar World Cup campaign, carrying Colombia to the quarter-finals and finishing as the tournament's top scorer along the way, his £63 million move to the Bernabeu appeared to crown him as the new prince of European football; Lionel Messi and new team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo still contested the throne, but Rodriguez was surely the heir apparent.
But three years on, the 26-year-old's Real Madrid tenure cannot be looked back on as a success. Early promise soon faded to the point where, for the final 18 months of his three-year stay in the Spanish capital, he more regularly occupied a place on the substitutes' bench rather than on the pitch.
Indeed, for the 2017 Champions League final, Rodriguez was not even selected in manager Zinedine Zidane's matchday squad, taking no part in Los Blancos' historic 3-1 destruction of Juventus.
His omission from the final selection in Cardiff was a sure sign that he was no longer wanted in Madrid, and speculation soon turned to where the former Porto and Monaco star's next move would take him.
Manchester United were reportedly keen admirers of Rodriguez, but the stories linking him to Old Trafford appeared to stem more from the player's end than the red side of Manchester. Chelsea, Inter Milan and AC Milan were all named as potential suitors too, but it was, to the surprise of many, Bayern Munich who snapped up the gifted playmaker.
The Bundesliga champions may not have had any obvious need for a player of Rodriguez's profile, but manager Carlo Ancelotti knows better than most that, if restored to peak form, the Colombian is a world class performer capable of transforming any team for the better.
It was under Ancelotti that Rodriguez produced his best displays at the Bernabeu, falling under the auspices of the Italian tactician when he first arrived in Spain. Rafa Benitez and Zidane have both tried since, but neither were able to get quite the same tune out of the Cucuta-born creator as the former Milan and Chelsea boss managed.
The fact that Rodriguez has moved to the Allianz Arena on a two-year-loan rather than in a permanent switch is perhaps evidence that Bayern harbour a few doubts over his ability to rediscover his peak form. The Bavarians have paid €10 million to take the Colombian for two seasons and have pre-agreed a final payment of €35million to keep him in the Bundesliga, should they decide that he is worth the outlay.
Despite having parted ways with Brazilian winger Diego Costa this summer, who has joined Juventus in a reported €40 million deal, Bayern remain thoroughly well stocked in the attacking department in truth, they are blessed with tremendous depth in all positions. Franck Ribery, Arjen Robben, Kingsley Coman and Thomas Muller rotate in the offensive roles in support of striker Robert Lewandowski, so Rodriguez's path to regular playing time is no clearer in Germany than it was in Madrid.
But Rodriguez in full fettle would be among the first names on the team sheet of any club in the world, Bayern Munich included. All that remains is for Ancelotti to restore his powers, or at least provide the ideal platform for the player to figure out how to do so himself.
In all fairness, despite fractured game time, Rodriguez remained highly effective last season, producing more-than-useful contributions when called upon by Zidane.
In 1180 minutes of La Liga action last term, he scored eight goals and provided six assists, meaning he was directly involved in a goal every 84.29 minutes on average. Rodriguez also demonstrated that his creative instincts are still razor-sharp, making a staggering 3.4 key passes per 90 minutes only Ribery (3.6) was able to better that return for Bayern in 2016/17.
Although a natural No.10, Ancelotti's preference for 4-3-3 means that Rodriguez may not get to feature in his favoured role. But his ability to play wide on the right, cutting inside onto his stronger left foot and getting forward to support the centre-forward, makes him an option out on the flanks.
That's not to say that Ancelotti is dogmatically wedded to one formation indeed, he has almost as regularly used a form of 4-2-3-1 at Bayern, which could well see Rodriguez used in the No.10 role. However, the 25-year-old was moulded into a central midfielder by the Italian with Los Blancos in a move that seemed counter-intuitive at the time but ultimately proved inspired.
Playing on the left of the midfield three, with Toni Kroos as the pivot and Luka Modric to the right, Rodriguez's ability to pick up space between the lines, vision to capitalise on openings and shooting threat from range made him one of the most effective midfielders in Europe for a spell.
The manager's dismissal at the end of the 2014/15 season, and the subsequent integration of Casemiro as a specialist defensive midfielder, meant Rodriguez was returned to his more advanced station, but the notion of utilising the Colombian in a deeper role may be one worth revisiting for Ancelotti in the new season.
After a difficult couple of years in La Liga, Rodriguez's stock has fallen and, in the eyes of many, he must now restate his credentials if he is to be considered among the world's best players.
"It's a new life, a new direction," he told the assembled press upon his move to Bavaria being confirmed. "Bayern are a big team, among the three best in the world. And as a big club you always have to fight for titles. I'm coming here to try and win them."
A new direction is exactly what Rodriguez needs at this juncture in his career. Having drifted off course over the last two years, it's time for him to remind the world why so much excitement and expectation followed his move to Madrid in the first place. There's no better club for him to do achieve that with than Bayern.
Bayern Munich Snap up James Rodriguez - An Inspired Move
2nd August 2017. By Ryan Baldi.