A year and a day ago, James Rodriguez left the Goodison Park pitch after scoring a goal and assist on his home debut for Everton against West Bromwich Albion. On the way there he was greeted by his coach Carlo Ancelotti, with whom he celebrated great successes at Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. Twelve months later, Ancelotti is gone and Rodriguez appears ready to follow him out the door as he approaches a move to Al-Rayyan in Qatar. It’s a bizarre ending to a transfer that promised so much but failed to deliver after a promising start.
The Colombian attacking midfielder was seen as a statement when he arrived last summer. The transfer was hailed as a coup for both Everton and the Premier League as one of the game’s world stars would trade on those shores. The fact that Rodriguez was overwhelmed on his final season at Real Madrid, which was limited to just eight La Liga games, was waved away in the excitement.
For his part, the 30-year-old initially delivered performances on the pitch that justified the zeal for his commitment. In addition to this good performance from West Brom, James also scored a brace and provided an assist in the 4-2 win over Brighton that put Everton at the top of the table. Led by a Champions League winning coach, worn by a World Cup Golden Shoe winner, Everton seemed to be on the rise.
JAMES WAS A BIG HIT FIRST ON GOODISON
They finished the season in 10th place, Ancelotti resigned before returning to Madrid and Rodriguez would miss the Colombian Copa America season due to injuries that plagued him throughout the season. Rodriguez was influential when he was fit, but his complaints limited him to just 23 games in his debut season at Everton. After the coach who signed him left, things got worse for the player.
Ancelotti was replaced by another former Champions League winner, Rafael Benitez, in the summer. The amiable Italian has been replaced by a coach known for his strict discipline. A lively player like Rodriguez would never be successful after such a move anyway, but his prospects deteriorate considering his history with Benitez. The pair had worked together during the ex-Liverpool manager’s brief tenure at Real Madrid, with relationships quickly becoming toxic. Benitez publicly questioned the player’s fitness and commitment, which Rodriguez sharply denied. When Rafa returned to Merseyside this summer, this time on the blue half of the rift, many observers noted that James’ time may be up.
But why Qatar? Still only 30 and after six goals and three assists in his 23 Premier League games would one of the better teams in Europe be interested? There was summer grumble about moving. A return to Porto reportedly failed when Benitez demanded winger Luis Diaz in return. There are reports that either his salary, fitness, or both precluded a move to AC Milan. With its untenable Everton stay and the best of all tepid interest from European sides, Qatar has proven to be a viable escape route.
THE EXIT FROM ANCELOTTI ALWAYS LEADS TO JAMES LEAVING
He’s likely well compensated there and will undoubtedly be the league’s biggest draw. Such changes are often seen as the logical end to a career, but Odion Ighalo’s move from Shanghai Shenhua shows that playing in a less-lauded league isn’t always the end of top ambitions. A strong performance in Qatar, especially if James proves his fitness with a sustained series of games, could open doors for the midfielder.
For Everton fans, there will be mixed feelings about the end of their brief affair with James. He had some wonderful games in blue, unfortunately none of which were played in front of the fans at Goodison Park. But the brave new world the club appeared to be stepping into when its former Premier League winners manager teamed up with a decorated superstar last summer has come to an abrupt end.
In Benitez they hope to find a different way to go next to smart summer shopping like Andros Townsend and Demarai Gray. For Rodriguez, his move to warmer climes will make him dream of sunnier times.