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James won't sit down


Golden boy: James Rodrigues has scored three and made four of Colombia’s World Cup goals so far

Golden boy: James Rodrigues has scored three and made four of Colombia’s World Cup goals so far

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Golden boy: James Rodrigues has scored three and made four of Colombia’s World Cup goals so far

James Rodriguez is halfway through his announcement. The little midfielder has been the player of the World Cup so far. He has led Colombia's dance through Group C, making it very clear to anyone watching that he intends to be one of the best footballers in the world.

It has been compelling football from the player known simply as James, who is ready tonight to play the biggest match of his career: a World Cup knockout match, in the Maracana, against Uruguay, for the right to face Chile or Brazil in the quarter-finals; it would daunt any 22-year-old.

But James is yet to face a test he has not passed, or a responsibility he has not assumed. It is the story of his young career but also of his World Cup.

James has played two and a half of Colombia's three group games, and has already produced a whole montage worth of brilliance. The delightful shimmy and chip for his goal against Japan was wonderful, but so was the sharp stab to score against Greece, the step-over for Pablo Armero's goal in that game and the punchy header against Ivory Coast. Of the eight Colombia goals while James has been on the pitch, he has scored three and made four.

Coach Jose Pekerman, who has rebuilt the team around his precocious No 10, is delighted. "He has reached the very highest standards among players with his characteristics," Pekerman said last week, and a list of better creative midfielders in world football would not be very long.

James, for anyone unlucky enough not to see much of him yet, has two balletic feet, a firework burst over short distances and a priceless awareness of what is going on around him, the priceless apparent ability to see through the holes of his ears. He has limitless imagination and the hard skills to beat teams. James is a magical realist in Colombia's midfield and the nation's new favourite son.

Ever since he was 12, James Rodriguez has been a well- known big name in Colombia. He dazzled at the nationally televised Pony Futbol tournament in 2004, helping winning the cup for Tolimense Academy and scoring direct from a corner in the final. James was quickly signed by professional side Envigado FC, nat the age of 15.

It did not take long for the baby-faced midfielder/winger – he barely looks 15 even now, at the age of 22 – to outgrow Colombian football and in 2008 he was signed by Banfield, a small club in the Buenos Aires suburbs, whom he helped to inspire to their first league title.

The next test was his debut in the Copa Libertadores, in 2010, for the first time in his career. James took to it better than anyone, scoring five goals as Banfield reached the last 16.

Of course, European clubs started to notice and Porto signed James in July 2010 on a four-year deal for £3m.

If James' first season in Europe was for adjustment, it was not exactly without success. Andre Villas-Boas' Porto side were unbeaten league champions, as well as winning the Portuguese Cup and Europa League.

It was the first of three league titles in three seasons but James, even though still 21, was ambitious and wanted something different. With team-mate Joao Moutinho they signed for Monaco for a combined €70m. Former Porto team-mate Radamel Falcao followed from Atletico Madrid.

What stood out most was how, when Falcao ruptured his knee ligaments in a French Cup game in January, ruling him out of the rest of the season, James took responsibility for the side. He had more freedom to move, and he used it, making the team function even without their star name. Monaco finished second and will be back in the Champions League next season.

It is the same responsibility that James has assumed for Colombia. Pekerman said that it was his "saddest day" as coach when he could not take Falcao with him to Brazil. His happiest one could come in the next few weeks. The final is on 13 July, the day after James turns 23.

Belfast Telegraph