Colombia vs Uruguay: James Rodriguez weaves his magic and casts a spell that can bewitch Uruguay

The best player of the tournament so far can continue his fine form at the Maracana

James Rodriguez is halfway through his announcement. The little midfielder has been the player of the World Cup so far. He has led Colombia’s dance through Group C, making it very clear to anyone watching that he intends to be one of the best footballers in the world.

LIVE: Follow all the action as Colombia play Uruguay in the Round of 16

It has been compelling football from the player known simply as James, who is ready to play the biggest match of his career: a World Cup knockout match, in the Maracana, against Uruguay, for the right to face Chile or Brazil in the quarter-finals; it would daunt any 22-year-old.

But James (pronounced Hamez) is yet to face a test he has not passed, or a responsibility he has not assumed. It is the story of his young career but also of his World Cup. Colombia are here without Radamel Falcao, their world-class striker. Rather than be bothered by this, James has asserted himself as the leader of the team in Brazil, just as he did when  his Monaco team-mate Falcao first suffered his injury  in January.

Read more: Rodriguez stars to transform the game against Japan
 

James has played two and a half of Colombia’s three group games, and has produced a montage of brilliance. The delightful shimmy and chip for his goal against Japan was wonderful, but so was the sharp stab to score against Greece, the step-over for Pablo Armero’s goal in that game and the punchy header against Ivory Coast. Of the eight Colombia goals while James has been on the pitch, he has scored three and made four.

Coach Jose Pekerman, who has rebuilt the team around his precocious No 10, is delighted. “He has reached the very highest standards among players with his characteristics,” Pekerman said last week, and a list of better creative midfielders in world football would not be very long.

 

James, for anyone unlucky enough not to see much of him yet, has balletic feet, a firework burst over short distances and a priceless awareness of what is going on around him. He has limitless imagination and the hard skills to beat teams. James is a magical realist in Colombia’s midfield and the nation’s new favourite son.

Ever since he was 12, James has been well known in Colombia. He dazzled at the nationally televised Pony Futbol tournament in 2004, helping win the cup for Tolimense Academy and scoring direct from a corner in the final. James was quickly signed by professional side Envigado FC – to this day the Tolimense Academy are upset by how this happened, and how little money they received – making his Colombian league debut against Quindio, at the age of 15.

James Rodriguez celebrates scoring for Colombia James Rodriguez celebrates scoring for Colombia  

It did not take long for the baby-faced  midfielder/ winger – he barely looks 15 even now – to outgrow Colombian football and in 2008 he was signed by Banfield, a small club in the Buenos Aires suburbs, who had never won the title before. At the age of 17, he became the youngest foreigner to start a game in the Primera Division. A year later, James, playing on the left, helped to inspire Banfield to their first Argentina Championship.

The next test was his debut in the Copa Libertadores, in 2010. James took to it better than anyone, scoring five goals as Banfield reached the last 16. Of course, European clubs started to notice and Benfica tried to sign him. Porto, hearing of Benfica’s interest, jumped in and out-muscled their Portuguese rivals, signing James in July 2010 on a four-year deal for a €5million (£3m).

If James’ first season in Europe was for adjustment, it was not exactly without success. Andre Villas-Boas’ Porto side were unbeaten league champions, as well as winning the Portuguese Cup and Europa League. James played roughly half the games out on the left, where he was good but still coming to terms with the physical and tactical demands of European club football.

 

The next season, under new manager Vitor Pereira, James – physically stronger, smarter and more disciplined than when he arrived – was better. Fully adjusted to what was asked of him, he started twice as many league games, scoring 13 goals and providing the ammunition for Hulk as Porto retained their title.

The year after that, Porto were champions again, sneaking past a superior Benfica side at the very end of the season.

That was three titles in three seasons but James, even though still 21, was ambitious and wanted something different. Jorge Mendes, the Portuguese super-agent, was helping to build something at Monaco and he arranged for James and team-mate Joao Moutinho to sign for the Ligue 1 side for a combined €70m. Former Porto team-mate Falcao followed from Atletico Madrid.

This was a very different league, more physical than Portugal’s, and James took some time to adapt. Then Monaco coach Claudio Ranieri even spoke of a “problem of mentality”, that James “thinks like an attacker but has to defend too”. At Porto, it took James one year to learn his new role. At Monaco, it took a few months. By Christmas, Ranieri had built a 4-4-2 diamond system, with James at the tip. He soon started to produce and finished the season with nine goals and 12 assists – more than anyone else in the division.

Without the injured Radamel Falcao Colombia were meant to have little hope Without the injured Radamel Falcao Colombia were meant to have little hope  

What stood out most was how, when Falcao ruptured his knee ligaments in a French Cup game against non-league side Chasselay in January, James took responsibility for the side. He had more freedom to move, and he used it, making the team function even without their star name. Monaco finished second and will be back in the Champions League next season, where James belongs.

It is the same responsibility that James has assumed for Colombia. Pekerman said that it was his “saddest day” as coach when he could not take Falcao with him to Brazil. His happiest one could come in the next few weeks. The final is on 13 July, the day after James Rodriguez turns 23.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Babysitter Katie and Paul have terse words in the park
tvReview: The strength of the writing keeps viewers glued to their seats even when they are confronted with the hard-hitting scenes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
American singer, acclaimed actor of stage and screen, political activist and civil rights campaigner Paul Robeson (1898 - 1976), rehearses in relaxed mood at the piano.
filmSinger, actor, activist, athlete: Paul Robeson was a cultural giant. But prejudice and intolerance drove him to a miserable death. Now his story is to be told in film...
Sport
England’s opening goalscorer Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain battles with Scotland’s Charlie Mulgrew
FootballEngland must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Life and Style
Make-up artists prepare contestants for last year’s Miss World, held in Budapest
fashion
Sport
Wigan Athletic’s back-of-the shirt sponsor Premier Range has pulled out due to Malky Mackay’s arrival
Football
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

US immigration: President Obama ready to press ahead with long-promised plan to overhaul 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?

Immigration: Obama's final frontier

The President is ready to press ahead with the long-promised plan to overhaul America's 'broken system' - but will it get past a Republican-controlled Congress?
Bill Cosby rape allegations explained: Why are these allegations coming out now? Why didn’t these women come forward earlier? And why has nobody taken legal action?

Bill Cosby rape allegations explained

Why are these allegations coming out now? Why has nobody taken legal action? And what happens next for the man once thought of as 'America's Dad'
Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain

You know that headache you’ve got?

Four years of excruciating seizures caused by the 1cm tapeworm found burrowing through a man's brain
Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?

Scoot commute

Travelling to work by scooter is faster than walking and less sweaty than cycling, so why aren’t we all doing it?
Paul Robeson: The story of how an American icon was driven to death to be told in film

The Paul Robeson story

How an American icon was driven to death to be told in film
10 best satellite navigation systems

Never get lost again: 10 best satellite navigation systems

Keep your vehicle going in the right direction with a clever device
Paul Scholes column: England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil

Paul Scholes column

England must learn to keep possession and dictate games before they are exposed by the likes of Germany and Brazil
Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win says defender as he prepares to return with Hull

Michael Dawson: I’ll thank Spurs after we win

Hull defender faces his struggling former club on Sunday ready to show what they are missing. But he says he will always be grateful to Tottenham
Frank Warren column: Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game

Frank Warren column

Dr Wu has big plans for the professionals yet he should stick to the amateur game
Synagogue attack: Fear unites both sides of Jerusalem as minister warns restoring quiet could take 'months'

Terror unites Jerusalem after synagogue attack

Rising violence and increased police patrols have left residents of all faiths looking over their shoulders
Medecins sans Frontieres: The Ebola crisis has them in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa

'How do you carry on? You have to...'

The Ebola crisis has Medecins sans Frontieres in the headlines, but their work goes far beyond West Africa
Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Isis extends its deadly reach with suicide bombing in Kurdish capital

Residents in what was Iraq’s safest city fear an increase in jihadist attacks, reports Patrick Cockburn
Underwater photography competition winners 2014 - in pictures

'Mysterious and inviting' shot of diver wins photography competition

Stunning image of cenote in Mexico takes top prize
Sir John Major: Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting

Sir John Major hits out at theatres

Negative West End portrayals of politicians put people off voting
Kicking Barbie's butt: How the growth of 3D printing enabled me to make an army of custom-made figurines

Kicking Barbie's butt

How the growth of 3D printing enabled toy-designer to make an army of custom-made figurines