“For me, special talents are those who do things that are completely out of the ordinary. Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi, Luis Suárez, James Rodriguez – they do things because they have certain gifts that make them special. I believe he’s the best player at the World Cup and I don’t think I’m exaggerating” – Óscar Tabárez.
To feel any sort of injustice after seeing none other than Lionel Messi gifted the ‘Golden Ball’ and crowned Player of the Tournament takes some doing – especially given the Argentine’s immense talents – but James Rodriguez had a right to.
Despite his tournament ending earlier than he and many of Colombia’s adopted admirers had hoped it would, James arguably did enough to claim the coveted award, despite not featuring past the quarter final stage.
His five games on the world’s biggest stage saw him score six times, whilst also laying on two goals for his teammates as Los Cafeteros recorded their most successful campaign in World Cup history.
Personally, James’ campaign was never rewarded with the romantic finale it so richly deserved, but everything, literally everything was spectacular up until their defeat to Brazil.
Let’s start chronologically, because his tournament just kept getting better and better. James arrived in Brazil for his maiden World Cup campaign having just been assigned the famous number 10 shirt, worn by perhaps Colombia’s greatest ever player: Carlos Valderrama.
The then 22-year-old had only made his debut for the senior squad just three years prior to the 2014 World Cup; his rise was meteoric, but had been well deserved.
Greece awaited as Colombia’s first opponent, and they were duly swept aside. James set up the first two goals for Pablo Armero and Teofilo Gutierrez inside the hour, before getting on the scoresheet himself with seconds to play.
An exceptionally fast start indeed, but Colombia, and James in particular, weren’t done yet.
The Ivory Coast were up next, a significantly stronger challenge than Greece, with all due respect.
Unsurprisingly, the Monaco forward scored what was a vital goal to help them towards a 2-1 win and qualification to the Round of 16.
James was rested for the first half of Colombia’s 4-1 win over Japan, but entered the fray for the second period where he again racked up a goal and two assists. Colombia had topped their group, and James now had an even more refined platform on the world stage to showcase his skill.
It was in the Round of 16 tie against Uruguay that people sat up and took notice of James’ immense abilities. Colombia were victorious by two goals to nil, the man in question with them both. His first goal’s brilliance cannot be understated and needs to be highlighted in isolation.
With the ball dropping from quite a height, James sensed where the space was for his first touch to take him into it. After popping the ball up off his chest for it to drop to his left, quite deliberately of course, Colombia’s number 10 watched the Brazuca ball all the way onto his blessed left foot.
It was like time stood still. It felt like James had the freedom of the Maracana – the entirety of Brazil even – to do just what he wanted with the ball and the hopes of the Uruguayans. One swing of his left boot later, and the ball was past Fernando Muslera and into the net via the crossbar.
Porto and Monaco fans knew of the boy from Cúcuta, but now the world knew. As a result of his heroics, Colombia’s quarter final tie against Brazil was now before the eyes of the entire world, partly for Neymar, but now, mainly for James.
Goals from Thiago Silva and David Luiz – a quite spectacular ‘knucklebal’ free-kick – went some way to derailing Colombia’s unprecedented progress at the World Cup finals. A James penalty halved the deficit, unknowingly joined in his muted celebrations by a gigantic grasshopper, but the result never improved. Colombia crashed out, James was in tears.
Let’s not focus on the negatives, however. James, as a result of his converted penalty, became the first player since Peru’s Teófilo Cubillas to score in his first five World Cup games.
Additionally, his sixth goal in Brazil won him the Golden Boot award, whilst his goals in his nation’s three group games made him the first player since Ronaldo and Rivaldo in 2002 to score in all of his nation’s opening games.
James certainly left his mark on the 2014 World Cup. His phenomenal form earned him a £63m move to Real Madrid, while his name will forever adorn the history books of football’s greatest tournament.
Now 26 years old, James will embark on his second taste of World Cup action with Colombia in Russia this time around. Having left the Estádio Castelão in tears to the applause of 60,000 spectators, with Brazil players surrounding him, in acknowledgement of his exploits, perhaps James will get the finale that his 2014 form merited this time around.