James Rodriguez has been crucial to Bayern Munich's 2017/18 campaign and has had a direct hand in 16 goals in his 19 Bundesliga outings so far. - © © imago / Jan Huebner
James Rodriguez has been crucial to Bayern Munich's 2017/18 campaign and has had a direct hand in 16 goals in his 19 Bundesliga outings so far. - © © imago / Jan Huebner

James Rodriguez: the key to Bayern Munich's 27th Bundesliga title


Carlo Ancelotti was the man who insisted on bringing James Rodriguez to Bavaria last summer, and question marks were inevitably raised when the Italian was relieved of his duties in late September. Did the Colombia international still have a future at Bayern Munich without his former Real Madrid coach? Would he feature in the plans of the returning Jupp Heynckes?

The answer turned out to be a resounding yes. It didn't take long for the 26-year-old to make himself an indispensable cog in the Bayern machine, adding an element of creativity and unpredictability in midfield that has spurred the record champions onto even greater heights in 2017/18.

Watch: Bayern's title celebrations on Matchday 29

"In terms of his current form and how well he has settled in, James has been a godsend for Bayern," Heynckes said in February. "At Real Madrid, he wasn't getting the game time that a player of his calibre deserves. You get the feeling he is happy in Munich, which is something because it's not easy adapting to a new country, culture, language and way of life."

James has taken to the Bundesliga like a duck to water, both on and off the pitch. When he wasn't busy visiting a Bayern fan club in the small village of Hopferbach or working to improve his German, the attacking midfielder was doing his best to ensure the five-time defending champions would make it a cool half-dozen by the end of the season.

In 19 Bundesliga appearances this term, James has scored six goals and provided 10 assists, helping no fewer than seven of his teammates get on the scoresheet. He has teed up a shot on goal every 22 minutes, while his pass completion rate is an impressive 89 per cent. He has also demonstrated his tactical versatility by thriving in a slightly deeper role than the one he enjoys with his national side.  

"I played in a similar position at Madrid under Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane," he explained. "In this position, I can create more. I feel comfortable in different roles, which is great, because Colombia coach Jose Pekerman like me to play further forward, as a second striker or a left winger."

James joined Bayern on a two-year loan deal from Real, and on current form it is hard to imagine the club passing up the opportunity to activate his buyout clause at the end of 2018/19. Under the terms of the agreement, they would only have to pay Real €42 million – to secure the services of a player who would arguably be a bargain at twice the price.

"James has been a very, very good transfer," Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge acknowledged recently. "We are absolutely delighted with his development, especially since Jupp Heynckes took over as coach again."

The future is therefore looking bright for James, who will be one of many Bundesliga stars lighting up the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia this summer. But before he starts thinking about facing teammate Robert Lewandowski in the group stage – or even defending his Golden Boot from the 2014 tournament – Bayern's playmaker extraordinaire is determined to help his side bag more silverware in the final weeks of the campaign. 

"I hope I can win more trophies," he said, after starring in the 4-1 win over Augsburg that guaranteed Bayern their 27th Bundesliga crown. "I'm very happy to have another title. In the end, that's what you're working towards."

Watch: James plotting more titles

Bayern still have their eyes on two more trophies as they look to repeat their phenomenal treble of 2012/13, which was also masterminded by Heynckes. They host Sevilla in the second leg of their UEFA Champions League quarter-final on Wednesday – holding a 2-1 lead from the first leg in Spain – while a trip to Bayer Leverkusen awaits in the DFB Cup semi-finals on 17 April.

The scariest thing about it all? James may not have even reached his peak just yet. "He is playing well, but he can play better," Heynckes insisted. "I've told him how I think he can improve."

If the Colombian's first 19 Bundesliga games are anything to go by, the sky is apparently the limit. For James, Bayern and the fans, it looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

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