They blew out the candles on Zinedine Zidane’s one year birthday as Real Madrid coach this week and every player he’s managed in that time should have brought him luxury ‘thank-you’ gifts worth tens of thousands of pounds – except James Rodriguez.
There’s not a Madrid footballer who hasn’t benefited one way or another from Zizou’s triumphant arrival.
They are all richer, vastly, thanks to the unbelievable bonus system at the club which means winning three trophies in a year, the Champions League in particular, will have made them another seven figures on top of their existing mega-salaries.
Almost every single member of his squad is now either playing better, looking sharper, more confident, getting more game time or progressing in his personal development thanks to the Frenchman’s attitude to both daily work (intense) and team selection (fluid).
Cristiano Ronaldo’s had what he calls ‘my best ever year’, Casemiro’s gone from dispensable to indispensable, Luka Modric has earned a whopping new contract, Karim Benzema’s been coaxed through the most traumatic personal and professional moments of his life.
Sergio Ramos keeps on popping up with dramatic goals to enhance his legend. He thinks he’s football’s Harry Houdini.
I could go on.
But not our Jimmy. You really do pronounce it Hamezz, but no matter how the Colombian’s name should be said, it should be said that if you’ve not followed James Rodríguez since summer 2014 then you’ll be shocked.
Our Jimmy was the undisputed ‘breakthrough’ star of the last World Cup .
Hollywood features, massively revered in his football-mad Colombia, electrically confident and creative throughout the tournament in Brazil as his country surged to the last eight and nearly turfed out the hosts.
His ‘Goal of the Tournament’ for a bullishly powerful and ambitious chest-control/volley against Uruguay plus his eventual goal-tally of six meant that he could mount the elite pantheon.
By winning the Golden Boot he entered a Hall of Fame occupied by legends like Kocsis, Juste Fontaine, Garrincha, Gerd Müller, Mario Kempes, Stoichkov, Eusébio, Gary Lineker, Miroslave Klose, Paolo Rossi, ‘Toto’ Schillachi and Davor Suker. Not bad.
Only Ronaldo Nazario, had notched more than him – 8 for the Brazilian all-time great – in the forty years since Grzegoz Lato hit seven in 1974.
When Florentino Pérez pushed through his £70m signing from Monaco that summer it was, of course, wholly coincidental that the Madrid President’s company was in the midst of one of its most lucrative ever construction contracts – in Colombia.
But, initially, the live-wire little playmaker looked like might just add value to the thoroughbred stable which had just won the Champions League.
His first season saw him starting all 29 of his Liga matches and scoring 13 times. Personally it was a mature, assured presentation.
But it was a false start. Carlo Ancelotti’s sacking meant that Rafa Benitez largely saw James as a £70m sub. Even when Zidane took over last January it was a silk-glove, iron-fist situation.
The silky words were: ‘James is important’ ‘James has a future’ … ‘We haven’t fallen out…’.
The iron-fist truth was that the Colombian was discarded. This season the only players who’ve fewer minutes than him in Madrid’s triumphant two-trophy 2016/17 campaign, partly fueled by a run of 38 consecutive unbeaten matches, are those who have either been injured (Pepe) or are duds (Danilo) or kids (Mariano).
The guy who stamped his class all over the World Cup and joined a Ronaldo-Gerd Müller-Hristo Stoichkov band of brilliant brothers, now stamps around in frustration and anger.
Wee Jimmy’s started a grand total of FOUR league matches and is several hundred minutes behind a Zidane favourite like Toni Kroos.
Every so often the toys are thrown out of the pram. When he’s with Colombia, win, lose or draw, he’s likely to say daft things like: ‘Here, they play me even when I’m lame’ or he posts a social media picture of him looking trim with the message; ‘for those who don’t think I’m in shape to play…’
The latest seemed to signal the end. A bitter one too.
Madrid won the World Club title in Tokyo in December and James was told to sit down. On the bench.
Post the extra-time win over Kashima he told assembled Spanish journalists in the mixed zone that: ‘It’s time to look for an exit’.
The fact that he was pictured dallying near a British Consulate during the Festive holidays led, not surprisingly, to many suspecting that Chelsea’s alleged interest in him (following their golden Oscar moment) would take Rodriguez to become Stamford Bridge’s second exotic Jimmy after the Floyd Hasslebaink variety.
Instead, it transpired, there was light at the end of the tunnel. And it wasn’t an oncoming train.
After the dramatic 1-1 draw at the Camp Nou in a vital Clásico for Madrid to maintain their lead at the top, while playing in Japan, James had decided to show Zidane that he’d not given up.
When the Madrid squad reached their Valdebebas training ground that Saturday night, at about 11pm, the Colombian asked for the floodlights to be put on so that he could go out and train. On his own.
Zidane took note. Once the ‘misfit’ showed that he was trim after the Christmas break, Madrid’s French coach not only took the risk of resting Cristiano Ronaldo but benching Karim Benzema too (with Gareth Bale still injured) and gave wee Jimmy his opening.
Sevilla, visitors in the Copa, were trounced 3-0 and the Colombian’s first goal was finished with World Cup 2014 style before he grabbed the ball when a dubious penalty was awarded in Ronaldo’s absence and slotted it home with pure cold blood.
“I’m staying and I’m going to succeed here”
Zidane now says: “James is fit, ready to start and I’ll treat him the same as any other player’.
The crowd which was booing him, viciously, in November as no-good, lazy and stroppy, now suddenly remember that on his day you can put the Colombian in a ‘no exit’ situation, either individually or when his team is getting a ‘doing’ and he can conjure up escape solutions.
A dribble, a shot from distance, a rocket free kick, one-two passes to turn a clutch of defenders in to a cluster of confusion – glorious goal-assists. His personal locker is bulging with tricks and flicks.
As he came off against Sevilla a full Santiago Bernabéu rose and roared.
A new beginning. But just a beginning. The golden kid of the Brazilian World Cup fell so far that he’s got a long distance to claw back.
But it will be at Real Madrid , for the moment, rather than Stamford Bridge, Juventus or PSG