James Rodriguez assuming ‘new Valderrama’ role for Colombia at World Cup
James Rodriguez has been compared to Colombia’s finest player, the curly-haired Carlos Valderrama, but he will be hoping for a happier ending to his country’s World Cup campaign than that of his predecessor’s generation.
In the possible absence of star striker Radamel Falcao, a lot will be asked of the Monaco star, who will be 23 on July 12, the day before the World Cup final.
While Colombia should get past Group C – where they are pitted against Ivory Coast, Greece and Japan – Rodriguez will need a miracle to be playing in the final as a birthday present.
He and his team-mates should at least escape the fate suffered by Valderrama’s 1994 team-mate defender Andres Escobar.
Escobar scored an own goal in a group stage defeat by the United States – allegedly costing crime bosses huge gambling losses – and was shot dead shortly after returning home.
Rodriguez, who started his career at 16 for Colombian side Envigado FC, has accrued several nicknames in a short space of time. He is the ‘James Bond of Banfield’ after scoring an extraordinary goal for the unfashionable Argentinian side in February 2010, and he has been compared to Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.
However, Rodriguez, who also scored one of the goals that secured Banfield their first national title in 2009, prides himself most in having been dubbed ‘El Pibe Nueva’ (the New Kid) as opposed to Valderrama’s ‘El Pibe’.
“It’s an honour to be considered the heir to ‘El Pibe’ at my age,” he told Fifa.com in November.
“Since I was little, I admired Valderrama and I always wanted to be like him. He was my hero and I am proud to wear the number 10 for Colombia while helping the national team return to the World Cup for the first time since 1998.
“I’ve only met Valderrama once and he’s a good person, someone who has done a lot for Colombia. And to be praised by him is an even greater honour.”
Valderrama, who had a more languid laid back style on the pitch than Rodriguez, was unequivocal about how highly he rated the youngster.
“Colombia doesn’t need a new ‘El Pibe’ anymore because James is that ‘kid’ that the national team has been missing in recent years,” he told Deportescl.terra in November 2011.
“He’s often consistent, incredibly talented, and he’s got more passion than any other player I’ve seen in all my years of playing and coaching professional football.
“James has the potential to be the greatest Colombian player to have ever lived, and perhaps as one of the greatest to have ever played the game.”
Rodriguez, who has a daughter Salome with his wife, volleyball international Daniela Ospina, the sister of national team-mate David, has been linked with several English clubs. The price will be huge though after Rodriguez’s successful first season with Monaco following a 45 million euro (Dh227.7m) move from Porto.
However, Rodriguez, who has scored four goals in 21 international appearances, may disappoint them if he sticks to what he said back in 2012.
“The Spanish league is a league that I’ve always watched – it’s different from the English League, which is very physical,” he told Fifa.com.
“The game in Spain is more about technique, and about getting more touches on the ball. That’s why I like it so much.”
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Updated: May 27, 2014 04:00 AM