From starring in a youth tournament in Medellin to becoming a major transfer coup in Munich via Monaco and Madrid, Bayern Munich star James Rodriguez has had a spectacular route to the top.
bundesliga.com turns the spotlight on the über-talented superstar who has been lighting up the Bundesliga since making the switch from Real Madrid last summer.
1) Born into the game
James' biological father, Wilson James Rodriguez, was a professional footballer playing in Cucuta in northern Colombia, close to the border with Venezuala, when his son was born on 12 July, 1991. "It's the genes," said his father when asked where James' talent came from. "From my childhood the thing I remember best is that I always wanted a ball, I was always thinking about playing football," said James. "It always was football." The clinic where he was born has even become a site of pilgrimage. "There are people who come only to ask if it's true that he was born here," said Flor Sanabria, the clinic's receptionist.
Watch: Get the lowdown on the Colombian superstar
2) Father's genes, mother's influence
James' parents split when he was still a small child and he moved with his mother, Pilar, to her home town of Ibague where she began her role guiding him through his career, enrolling him in his first football club before he was five. "I like Real Madrid's football in Spain and Bayern in Germany," she said when asked to give her thoughts on the game. She must be a happy lady now…
3) A precocious prodigy
It was Pilar who turned down offers from Colombian heavyweight sides Atletico Nacional and Independiente Medellin and urged her son to join Envigado, known as "the orange team" by virtue of their shirt colour. It was there James made his professional debut in 2006, but his reputation as an up-and-comer of the highest calibre had already been cemented in the youth ranks of Academia Tolimense in Ibague. In the Pony Futbol tournament in Medellin in January 2004, James hit a hat-trick en route to the final where he scored direct from a corner. With nine goals, he was named tournament MVP at the age of just 13.
Quiz: How well do you know new Bayern signing James Rodriguez?
4) Valderrama the idol
Born into the golden age of Colombian football with the likes of Faustino Asprilla and Freddy Rincon packed into a talented Colombia team, James had eyes only for Carlos Valderrama, whose tight mop of peroxide curls were instantly recognisable to the youngster who would one day inherit his number ten shirt for the national team. "At the time, he was a top player and I had a lot of admiration for him. I met him once and he’s a great person, someone who provided the country with a lot of joy," James told FIFA.com. "He was a very intelligent footballer who could create something out of nothing as well as score goals. For those reasons, when we were kids, Valderrama was the No. 10 we all wanted to play with."
5) Down but not out in Buenos Aires
His contribution to helping Envigado back into the Colombian top flight helped push James' reputation beyond the borders of his native country. Iconic Buenos Aires club Banfield coaxed the youngster out of his cosy family environment, taking him across the continent to the Argentinian capital where he became an instant hit. After making his debut aged 17 in February 2009, he helped the club to the Apertura championship, and stood out in the Copa Libertadores campaign that followed, scoring five goals. While it eventually went smoothly, the start of his stay had been far rockier. "Back in those days, there wasn't a lot of money, so when I called my parents to speak to them it was only for a minute," James explained. "I was speaking to them and the phone cut out, because the money had ran out. I was sad when this happened. I missed home and family."
Watch: James goes native Bavarian!
6) Porto open door to Europe
There would be the same feeling when Porto's highly active and shrewdly discerning recruitment cell picked James up on their radar and brought him across the Atlantic in July 2010. The switch was helped by the on-pitch success of his contribution to his new club's treble in his maiden season, while off it, stability was provided by his newly-married sweetheart, Daniela, a volleyball player and the sister of James' international team-mate, David Ospina.
7) See La Paz and fly
Captain of his nation's Under-20 side at the FIFA World Cup held in Colombia in 2011, his five-star performances convinced then-national team boss Jose Pekerman to bring him into the senior set-up. His debut — in the oxygen-starved atmosphere of the high-altitude Bolivian capital La Paz — could hardly have been on a more testing stage, but he excelled, teeing up a late winning goal for Radamel Falcao on 11 October 2011.
8) Casino royale
A year before the Brazil World Cup of 2014, James moved to Monaco along with Porto team-mate Joao Moutinho. The Colombian slipped seamlessly into life in the principality, and though compatriot Falcao suffered a serious knee injury midway through the campaign, James' Monte Carlo gamble paid off handsomely. “James is a great player,” said then-Monaco boss Claudio Ranieri. “Something happens when he has the ball." More often than not it did at the Stade Louis II, where James finished with nine goals and a Ligue 1-high 12 assists, one more than Paris Saint-Germain's Zlatan Ibrahimovic, as Monaco finished top-flight runners-up.
9) Brazil, Diego and LeBron
"Football needs players of his characteristics for this spectacle," Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez said after seeing James score an incredible volley and another goal against his team in a 2-0 Round of 16 win in the Maracana. "For the moment, he's the best player at this World Cup." Tabarez was not the only one impressed by James in Brazil as he stood out spectacularly. "Man watching this Colombian game I think I have my fav [sic] player in the World Cup!" the Cleveland Cavaliers' NBA superstar LeBron James added. "Obviously his name help [sic] that out." Top scorer of the tournament with six goals, James was surprisingly overlooked in favour of Argentina's Lionel Messi when the player of the tournament award was handed out. "Rodriguez was the best player of the World Cup," said Diego Maradona while working at the tournament as a TV pundit, which says it all.
10) Majestic in Madrid
"A new talent has arrived that oozes quality, capable of leading an extraordinary Colombian side. Here is a player that was one of the revelations of the last World Cup," said Florentino Perez in summer 2014 having just spent enough money to make James one of the top five most expensive players in football history. Under current Bayern boss Carlo Ancelotti, he excelled immediately, hitting 13 goals and as many assists in 29 La Liga matches in his first season, but then suffered as changes in coach the following season disrupted not only the club but his form. Zinedine Zidane's first full season in charge went little better, and though his return of eight goals and six assists from 13 league starts last term was more than admirable, he played only a bit-part role in Madrid's UEFA Champions League final win.
Watch: James' dream start with a goal and assist against Schalke!