“My word this boy’s a star! Four games, four goals at World Cup 2014! A mark of a man, an instinctive reaction – one to take, one to hit, BANG! To have the ability and the audacity just to try it, and the excellence to execute it…few in the world could do that.” Peter Drury
If anyone, any goal, is deserving of a serenade from Peter Drury as effusive as that, then James Rodriguez, and his Puskas award-winning World Cup volley against Uruguay, is the one.
The stuttering nature of his career since those heady days in Brazil make it easy to forget the phenomenon he was that summer, but I don’t. For, in the midst of a somewhat stodgy tournament, especially from a Three Lions point of view, Rodriguez put on a show fit for comparisons with Zinedine Zidane in 2006 or, perhaps more aptly, Wayne Rooney at Euro 2004.
Because, while Zidane was a wily veteran moving around the pitch like a panting bulldog with the technical bite and poise of a black mamba, Rooney was a much-touted prodigy, who finally showed his worth on the big stage.
But, whereas Rooney’s moments of brilliance were restricted to the group stage, with his knockout adventures ended prematurely through injury, Hames’ crowning moment came just as the going got serious.
And so to the volley. That sweet, sweet volley. The greatest goal of 2014. Hipsters will tell you that ‘actually, Timmy Cahill’s effort against the Netherlands was technically superior, dude’ or that Robin van Persie’s header had a ‘far greater difficulty rating, man’, but hipsters are, and forever will be, wrong. Because no one hit a ball like Rodriguez did that summer, and few have since.
Up until that last 16 clash, James had shown it all – well, at least we thought he had. He’d shown his ability to finish from just inside the box against Greece, his aerial prowess against the Ivory Coast and his Lionel Messian dribbling and keeper-splaying dinking against Japan.
He was already the complete player, the total package. But, had he controlled a ball with his barrelled chest, swivelled, and thundertw*tted it into the net? Had he interrupted a game of head-tennis to produce the greatest moment of individual brilliance the world had seen that year?
No, he hadn’t. But he would.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this goal – and there are a *lot* of remarkable things about it – is how inexplicably calculated it is, and how many things James has to do right in the process. So often with volleyed screamers, there is a hit and hope element that shrouds the technical achievement. As we’ve been told time and again by all the propah football blokes out there, sometimes the worst thing you can have as a footballer is time.
But, after a headed through-ball has failed to find him, instead reaching the head of an intrepidly diving Uruguayan, Rodriguez has to make sure he maintains the space he possesses in the time it takes for his teammate to return a header his way.
And, just as this header loops his way, he takes a not-so-furtive flashing glance at goal, and the plan is hatched. Well versed in such visual clues, goalkeeper Fernando Muslera takes a couple of steps back to his goal to ready himself for what he’s likely to face – a rasping shot on goal.
Thing is, no sooner has Muslera tracked back is the ball barrelling – and bouncing (we’ll get to this) – into the net. This is because, after popping the ball up with his chest-come-shoulder on the half-turn, Rodriguez has somehow managed to swivel and dig the ball out from under his feet, all in one beguiling, seamless movement, sending it careering into the crossbar.
But, unlike, say, Frank Lampard from four years prior, no such goal line controversy could come in the way of this stonking strike. No, this time, the ball is hit with such dipping velocity that as it meets the woodwork it immediately angles towards the middle of the goalmouth, whereupon it bounces straight back up into the roof of the net, with no sign of slowing down.
By the time it has eventually settled, Rodriguez
It is a testament to the deceptive power of the strike that initial viewings seem to imply that Muslera gets a glove to it, and his fingers merely wilt away upon contact. But, in actual fact, there is no contact at all, it’s just the wind the ball has whipped up around it that flaps the keeper’s hand away.
He would later grab a poacher’s second to seal the victory, but the headlines were already written, the myth already crafted, the star already born. Though Brazil would ultimately break the spell in the quarter-finals and Messi would ultimately pip him to the post for Player of the Tournament, there was only one man on the public’s lips in the following months.
Which is where this takes a turn. Because, as you will no doubt know, the big-money move to Real Madrid did not pan out as it should’ve and, five years on from that fateful day, following on from just 111 appearances in a white shirt and a fairly fruitless two-year loan spell at Bayern, he is once again sitting in the precipice of a summer switch.
And, this time, the fervour is not so vociferous. In fact, it’s Library-like in its tranquillity. But, there is light at the end of the tunnel, in the shape of a grand Neapolitan pizza. Because, at Napoli
No, James Rodriguez isn’t Diego Maradona, but by potentially offering up his until-now retired number 10 jersey, the Partenopei have shown they believe he may just have the talent to replicate what Diego did 30 years or so ago.
A few views of this goal, and it’s easy to see why.