Why James Rodriguez Should Be Your New Favorite Soccer Player
Every four years, we are introduced to a new generation of soccer superstars. All the talk before this year's World Cup was about Brazilian wunderkind Neymar Jr., and rightfully so—the 22-year-old has scored 35 goals in 52 matches for Brazil, an incredible statistic, and his country was hosting the tournament.
But even before going down with a heartbreaking injury, Neymar wasn't the best player at the World Cup. That title goes to another 22-year-old: Colombian playmaker James Rodriguez.
So why should James be your favorite soccer player?
Dazzling, charismatic and supremely talented, Rodriguez made Colombia the must-watch team of the tournament. In just five matches, James (pronounced "hahm-ez") scored six goals and served up two assists, and he led Colombia to the World Cup quarterfinals for the first time in the country's history. But it's not just the numbers that are staggering. James scored goals that most players can only dream of. Check out a sampling of his best from the World Cup:
He's often compared to Colombian legend Carlos "El Pibe" ("The Kid") Valderrama, who was known not only for his incredible hair but also his flamboyant foot skills. But Valderrama says James is better:
"Colombia doesn't need a new "El Pibe" anymore because James is that "kid" that the national team has been missing in recent years. He's often consistent, incredibly talented, and he's got more passion than any other player I've seen in all my years of playing and coaching professional football. James has the potential to be the greatest Colombian player to have ever lived, and perhaps as one of the greatest to have ever played the game."
Valderrama is not alone. After James' incredible volley for a goal against Uruguay—the goal of the tournament, thus far—Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez comapred him to Diego Maradona. James is already reportedly drawing interest from the likes of Real Madrid on the transfer market.
World class player: Check.
Of course, skills and goals alone don't make the man. After Colombia was eliminated by Brazil, in a 2-1 defeat—a game in which James scored on a penalty kick in the 80th minute to give his team a glimmer of hope—the young star was emotional, even as Brazilian stars like David Luiz consoled him.
"Men can also cry but I can return to my country happy. A great team has been born. I'm crying because we gave everything we had inside of us," James told reporters after the match.
Genuine emotion: Check.
James also led one of the best goal celebrations of the entire World Cup:
And took an epic selfie upon returning home to Colombia, with the caption "I am very proud to be Colombian."
The story of his tournament wouldn't be complete without mentioning also that James "survived" the strangest moment of the World Cup thus far—when he was attacked by some sort of giant insect during Colombia's loss to Brazil:
Save for his scent, which obviously attracts large bugs (and no doubt the entire female population of Colombia, for that matter), is there anything not to like about this kid? The only thing disappointing about him is that, well, he's at home now and we have to watch the World Cup without seeing him in a Colombian kit again for another four years. When he'll be... 26, and in the prime of his career.
James turns 23 on Saturday. The world is yours, kid.