He may have turned in some encouraging performances at Monaco last season alongside – and then in place of – his prolific countryman, Radamel Falcao, but no one expected James Rodriguez to fill in for the wounded ‘Tiger’ quite so effectively at the World Cup.
Falcao is one of the world’s most feared penalty-area predators and had scored nine goals in 13 matches during qualifying, and a depression seemed to settle over Colombia when he aggravated knee ligament damage in a pre-tournament workout.
Yet soon Rodriguez, who turned 23 in Brazil, would lift their spirits and ultimately walk away with the Golden Boot ahead of Germany’s Thomas Muller. He scored six goals in five games – one of them a breathtaking volley against Uruguay, voted as the best of the 171 scored at the tournament.
Suddenly he, rather than Falcao, was the name on everyone’s lips and that isn’t about to change following his move to join another World Cup star, Germany’s Toni Kroos, at Real Madrid.
Emile Heskey, Sony Team Ambassador for England and a former Liverpool striker, was so impressed with Rodriguez in Brazil he saw him as the ideal replacement for Barcelona-bound Luis Suarez, although the Bernabeu was always the most likely destination.
“James Rodriguez lit up the World Cup,” said Heskey. “You would get a lot of mileage out of him. James would have been my No.1 choice to replace Suarez. He is right up there with Neymar, or he can soon catch him up.
“I’ve been very impressed with his general ability on the ball. His movement is very good too, he sometimes plays on the left, or off the front man, the inter-change in positions is causing lots of problems for defenders.
“His ability to move the ball is fantastic for such a young player, and to show that ability on the world stage is fantastic. His repertoire of goals has been impressive. He scored one against Japan when he left the lad on his back and then lifted it over the keeper.
“He scored a great header against Ivory Coast and then got a poacher’s goal when he tapped it in at the end of a lovely team move and he scored the 25-yarder scorcher against Uruguay.”
Heskey was among a legion of admirers that also included Shakira, the Colombian singer who became the first celebrity to attract 100 million followers on Facebook following her act at the World Cup closing ceremony.
“Someone like James Rodriguez showed what he’s made of and became one of the biggest stars of the entire tournament,” she said. “I’m a proud Colombian to see that we put in probably our best performance in the history of the World Cup.”