The problem with James Rodríguez: golden boy or rotten apple?

One of Bayern’s main decisions in the coming summer is whether to use the clause to sign James permanently. Indeed, there are many reasons to keep hold of the Colombian. But still, there are many others for the case to let him go.

A lovely deal

Little over a year ago, Bayern fans were convinced the club had pulled the coup of the transfer window. Real Madrid offloaded James Rodríguez to München in a rather inexpensive loan deal. Perhaps owing to the fact that the Merengues were in a jam with the player, who had been chronically relegated to the bench under Zinédine Zidane, they even gave Bayern the right of refusal on the permanent clause.

So, Bayern could end up signing James for a total of €53m, loan fees included. Madrid paid over €80m to Monaco for him. A bargain indeed.

Starstruck in 17-18, dumbstruck in 18-19

James took a while to warm up at Bayern. However, by the end of last season, he had risen up to arguably be the team’s most important player, bar Joshua Kimmich. Jupp Heynckes made him a bit of a personal project. By pampering him and speaking in Spanish, Osram got the best out of James.

Enter Niko Kovač, and the situation took a 180-degree turn. James has constantly struggled to reprise his form, partly hindered by injuries. He has been relegated to the bench and was even rumoured to launch some stern words at Kovač.

To me, as a Colombian, the main problem is his attitude.


Here in Colombia, we use consentido as a word for ‘spoiled’. It carries the same derogatory connotation. And it is exactly what James is. It all comes from his career path. James emerged as the golden standard of what ended up being Colombia’s best-performing national team. Back in 2011, he led the U20 side as it hosted the World Cup at that level. James was forced into the spotlight when Falcao was injured prior to the 2014 World Cup. And boy did he bask in the spotlight.

James ended up winning the Golden Boot in Brazil with six goals. FIFA selected one of them as the goal of the tournament. Real Madrid couldn’t keep their wallet closed. Given the astronomical transfer fee, Florentino Pérez made it a point to pamper James. He became a brand of his own and trailed only Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of shirt sales. Under Carlo Ancelotti, James produced some of his best football. But when the Italian was sacked, James’ fortunes turned upside down. Benítez never really liked him, and Zidane had no place for him. And despite Pérez’s best efforts, he could not be promoted back up to starter by means of institutional pressure alone.

This vertiginous rise to stardom brewed in James a sense of entitlement. In his mind, he is supposed to be a starter just because he is James Rodríguez. Never mind that he competed with the likes of Isco and Marco Asensio in Madrid and does now with Thomas Müller, Corentin Tolisso and Thiago Alcântara at Bayern. He is James, a former World Cup top goalscorer, and he should start.

The Colombian catalyst

At this point, I should point out that the Colombian fans add petrol to the fire. See, James is a national pride item. Many a bandwagon Colombian became honorary madridistas when James signed for them. We believe the myth of entitlement and create a mob of trolls when James is benched or maligned. Zidane became a national public enemy for daring to neglect our dear boy in his prototype startelf. And many were already mounting their anti-Heynckes campaign when James was finding it hard to get his thing together last season.

And this is a major part of the problem. James has carte blanche in Colombia, both with the fans and the national team. And since the national team is somewhat built around him, his performances rarely disappoint. Every international break is seen as a redemption for James and a middle finger pointed at whatever manager is not giving him his rightful amount of minutes. Some even created a hashtag, #EnTuCaraZidane (#InYourFaceZidane) that became a trending topic in Twitter in Colombia every time James scored in yellow.

It is unbearable. And it undoubtedly gets in James’ head.

A tale of two transitions

James’ discomfort both in Madrid and in München have a common denominator. In his first season, James had the trust of a man-manager sort of man. Carlo Ancelotti made a point of playing him a lot at Madrid, and as I said before, Jupp Heynckes tended to his necessities and made a point of making James feel he was trusted.

But not all managers will be like that. James is a professional, and he should be able to rise above and perform. Why have players like Thomas Müller or Philipp Lahm been so trusted by so many managers? Because they get on with it and their effort and quality speak for them. As soon as he sees someone difficult, James tends to shut down. And this was the case both at Madrid and Bayern. Zidane and Kovač have differences with their predecessors, and James cannot cope.

The rumours that circulate in Colombia support the theory that James’ sense of entitlement and his failure to adapt to more demanding environments. An incident where James rudely refused to autograph memorabilia for the airline pilots who carried him with the national team made headlines in newspapers. People close to him have been said to acknowledge his lack of effort when he sees that he has to prove himself to a manager.

Is there a solution?

As far as I’m concerned, the solution will have to come from Kovač, Rummenigge and Hoeneß. Nobody in Colombia would dare say any of this to James’ face, let alone now that the national team is adrift after José Pékerman’s departure.

With that in mind, I see three possible scenarios in the James saga.

  1. James realises that he needs to change his attitude. The suits will recognise this and be convinced to make him a flagship player for the future. I reckon this is unlikely, but not impossible.
  2. The suits decide they don’t want to keep him, but still exercise their clause to sell him for a profit. A possible destination would be Juventus, and good luck squaring up to Betancur, Dybala, Mandžukić and the rest of them.
  3. James returns to the sinking ship that is Real Madrid.

Out of these options, letting him return to Madrid is the least intelligent. Even if Bayern don’t want to keep him, it would be smart to execute the clause and sell James for a profit. There is absolutely no reason not to.

I would love to see James correct his ways. I know that he is a remarkable player, one of the world’s best. But if he doesn’t, I’d rather him be a country mile away from my team. The last thing Bayern need is a problem player. We have enough.


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Daniel Jiménez Rodríguez

I couldn’t agree more. I think that James needs to grow up, and step up to the challenge that he’s facing. He has the quality, but he needs the mentality as well, if he wants to differentiate from the rest of the players.

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