James Rodriguez makes a mockery of 'lazy foreign winger' tag at Everton
Colombian summer signing's work ethic has made an instant impression on teammates, with the Merseyside derby looming
Tom Davies, the Everton midfielder and graduate of the club’s academy, has a nice take on what it is to play alongside his illustrious new colleague, James Rodriguez.
“James is incredible to watch," said Davies, as he surveyed the rest of the Premier League from Everton’s place at its summit, “and people will see him getting forward and getting the goals. But what people maybe don’t see is the amount of work he’s prepared to do, to put in a shift. He’s not ‘your lazy foreign winger’, which people like to say.”
Rodriguez has certainly challenged some of the more sceptical responses to his arrival at Everton, for no more than a nominal fee, from Real Madrid in the summer transfer window.
He made only five Liga starts the previous season, had been sent out on loan by Madrid for the two campaigns before that and, when he turned 29 in July, was a peripheral figure, barely used as Zinedine Zidane’s squad closed in on the Spanish title. It suggested a decline. Six years earlier, James had cost Madrid around €80 million ($93m).
His manager back then, as now, was Carlo Ancelotti. There is no more dedicated and effective Svengali to the gifted Colombian than Ancelotti, whose faith in Rodriguez has been maintained across three different cubs, in three different leagues and almost always featured an instant impact.
When Rodriguez joined Ancelotti’s Madrid from Monaco, his value enhanced by a brilliant World Cup in 2014, he marked his home debut with a goal and celebrated his first Madrid game in the Champions League with another.
At Bayern Munich, where Ancelotti took him on loan in the summer of 2017, his Madrid career having stalled, he scored and assisted a goal on his first Bundesliga start.
His Premier League initiation has been just as eye-catching. In three matches at Goodison Park, where Ancelotti took over as manager 10 months ago, Rodriguez has three goals and three assists across competitions.
Everton, meanwhile, have made their finest start to a season in over a century and will on Saturday greet Liverpool for the Merseyside derby with the only 100 per cent record in England’s top division. Liverpool, the champions, lost theirs in the 7-2 defeat by Aston Villa.
The Rodriguez-Ancelotti mutual appreciation society is why the Colombian chose to join a club that finished 12th last season and have not lifted a major trophy for quarter of a century.
For all their storied history, Everton looks like an unusual detour on a career path that brought Rodriguez to Europe at the age of 18 and had delivered to him three Portuguese league titles with Porto by the time he was 21.
Gallery: Rodriguez in action for Colombia
He then joined Monaco and, a year later, Madrid: his journeys through the elite divisions of Portugal, France, Spain – where he won two Ligas – and Germany – two Bundesliga titles – have never featured anything less than a silver medal at the end of a league season. At Madrid, he won the Champions League twice.
But Ancelotti has made Everton an accommodating place for this serial achiever.
He has a compatriot, the defender Yerry Mina, on site, and there was evidence of their complicity, developed in the Colombia national team, in the 4-2 win over Brighton just before the international break.
A Rodriguez free-kick was headed home by Mina header to put Everton on their way to a victory in which the Colombian then scored twice.
His accuracy, with his favoured left foot, from set-pieces has been beneficial to the in-form striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who has nine club goals already this season.
Rodriguez also has a key role in launching the swift counter-attacks that Ancelotti has made central to the gameplan.
Davies’s observation that the Colombian will roll up his sleeves to regain the ball as eagerly as he will unfurl a precise crossfield pass is well made. James seeks to take up possession from deep positions in midfield.
He has always had a combative side, too, as Alexis Sanchez was reminded in Chile, on Wednesday night. Rodriguez, Colombia’s captain, planted the sole of his boot into the calf of Sanchez, just above the ankle, as they tussled during a vigorous World Cup qualifier that finished 2-2. He might very easily have been sent off, but escaped with a yellow card.
It was a tough, spiky night generally, and Ancelotti will welcome back a bruised ally to Merseyside, though there is no reason not to anticipate James being ready and keen to keep up his momentum from the start in Saturday’s derby.
The “lazy foreign winger,” the cliche dismantled by Davies, has had his appetite sharpened by the trust of his favourite manager. So far in this young season, there has been no newcomer to the Premier League more influential than Rodriguez.
Updated: October 16, 2020 11:16 AM