The World Cup has lost some of its splendour following the elimination of Colombia at the hands of hosts Brazil.
Where it was initially debated how the nation would navigate the tournament without star striker Radamel Falcao – nevertheless with plenty of options available to Jose Pekerman – it proved to be 22-year-old James Rodriguez who shone brightest for his country.
The Monaco midfielder is hot property after his six-goal exploit across five games this summer. He’s a supreme talent who’s taking the steps to becoming the next European superstar, and with indications coming out of the Ligue 1 club that they’re open to selling, James’ future will more than likely be at one of Europe’s traditional powerhouses.
Manchester United, in a bid to forget the reported incident in which they snubbed a move for James while he was still in South America and instead opted for Bebe, have been one of two destinations thrown into discussion about James’ immediate future. The other is Real Madrid.
During his Porto days, James would regularly line up on the flanks, while a move to Monaco saw him take on more of a creative role in the centre of the pitch, rotating in and out of that position with Joao Moutinho. But it’s been at this World Cup where he’s really been announced as a world-class No.10, one who combines the attributes of a central player with those of a winger.
If United were to buy him as a winger, James could be thought of as the natural replacement to Cristiano Ronaldo, whose position in the squad was taken up by Antonio Valencia following his move to Real Madrid in 2009. The Ecuadorian, however, has always been too far off to replace the inspiration and scoring threat brought to the club by the Portuguese.
In essence, United have gone without a superstar wide player since Ronaldo’s move. Juan Mata is capable of playing on the wings, as he did for both Chelsea and Valencia. But from the half-season’s worth of games we saw from the Spaniard at Old Trafford last term, his best position is undoubtedly behind the striker.
United have already displayed their ambition and intent with the signings of Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw, both brought in for a combined fee of over £60 million. But James would be something else entirely.
His volley against Uruguay is one of the best goals you’ll see anywhere, not just at this World Cup. His intelligence in the final third, both in creating and opening up the game for his side is exceptional. Should there be some restraint, fear even, that we may be getting ahead of ourselves over a youngster who’s enjoyed a stunning World Cup? Not really. This was always on the cards, but the football world was naturally preoccupied with talk of Neymar, Ronaldo, Lionel Messi, and, a little closer to James, the Falcao situation.
If you need a prelude to James’ first goal against Uruguay, look no further than his volley against Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League for Porto which somehow curled into the far corner.
Manchester United may not be helped by James’ interest in Real Madrid if they are looking to bolster their attack with the Colombian.
But while James is an exceptional talent who isn’t really doing anything people haven’t expected of him – essentially his World Cup form isn’t a flash in the pan – his best position is at No.10 as the hub of the Colombian team, a position where United do have an abundance of talent and don’t need to further complicate matters by introducing the 22-year-old.
Even if we’re taking Shinji Kagawa out of the equation, Adnan Januzaj is still a player who prefers the centre of the pitch to the flanks. He, along with Mata and Wayne Rooney, negate the need for another player who specialises in that position, no matter how good he is. And with Monaco well within their right to demand anything close to €90 million this summer, United’s money can be better spent elsewhere. Paul Pogba? Arturo Vidal?
James has all the qualities to become the next megastar of the European game. He could, on this trajectory, claim the Ballon d’Or in the near future – and again, that’s not to get carried away by five games at a World Cup; he is that good.
Real Madrid, however, would make far more sense, even though they too are overloaded with midfield talent. The club look to be on the brink of losing Angel Di Maria a year on from the sale of Mesut Ozil, and while Toni Kroos is reported to be joining after the tournament in Brazil, there is room at No.10, with James able to rotate with Isco.
If reports are to be believed, United made an almighty blunder in passing on the option to sign James for £5 million. But with the wealth of attacking talent at Old Trafford, combined with Robin van Persie’s apparent resurgence, the club can afford to look beyond James this summer.