The Ancelotti-Rodriguez Reunion: Is Third Time The Charm For The Duo? Ft. Everton
There are many love stories from around the world that make us believe that when the right person comes around everything will get better. James Rodriguez has been living in such a story for a very long time. The only problem is that it’s excruciatingly long and we still don’t know how it ends. What I want to look at here is whether Carlo Ancelotti is the “right person" in James Rodriguez’s fairy tale to make things better for him.
When Everton sealed the signature of Rodriguez almost a week back, football fans around the world heaved a sigh of relief at the news of the player reuniting with Ancelotti, for the third time, having already linked up at Real Madrid and, briefly, at Bayern Munich. What makes this particular signing a big deal and of significance? Two reasons.
Firstly, the brand new Allan-Abdoulaye Doucouré-James Rodriguez trio is a ray of hope for Everton fans. With this new look midfield, the Toffees hope to claim a top-six spot this season. Given their age, the club are not looking to draft long term plans with them. But having experienced players like those three in their ranks is definitely going to benefit the youngsters in the squad while also boosting their immediate chances of returning to Europe. Goodison Park also provides Rodriguez and Allan, who many believe are past their best, with a stage to prove themselves and maybe make a comeback.
Secondly, the last time Rodriguez had a great season was almost six years back when he played under Ancelotti, at Real Madrid. In what can be called an on-again-off-again relationship that saw them link up twice but with little success, there needs to be a happy ending. And if Ancelotti, as people believe, could get the player to unleash whatever is inside of him it is going to benefit both the club and the player.
If I were to go back in time to the first half of the previous decade and tell a football enthusiast, reading the news of James Rodriguez signing for Real Madrid, that the Colombian’s career would get lacklustre as we move on, he or she would probably think I have no real idea of what I’m talking about. I, personally, believed that Rodriguez is a promising talent and that he would cause the biggest of waves in top-level European football (which he did, but not for the right reasons). He is talented, indeed. But for a player of his calibre, he has had a pretty rough career.
We can divide the decline of the player’s career into 3 phases: Madrid phase, Munich phase and the post-loan phase.
The Madrid phase: When Rodriguez signed for Real Madrid back in 2014, on the back of a spectacular World Cup campaign with Colombia, Carlo Ancelotti was the man in charge of Los Blancos. The youngster kicked off his debut season in the La Liga with 17 goals and 18 assists in 46 matches, of which he found himself in the starting XI in 44. When we take a look at his career from that point to the day he signed for Everton to reunite with the other main character of his story – Carlo Ancelotti – we can say that it has been a rough ride. After Madrid parted ways with Ancelotti and moved on to Rafa Benítez and then to Zinedine Zidane, the amount of time Rodriguez actually got to play went downhill. From appearing in almost every match under Ancelotti (3,526 minutes) to being benched for eight and more number of matches in the subsequent seasons, it was obvious that the time has come for him to take up a new challenge (he played 1,889 and 1884 minutes in the 2015-16 and 2016-17 season respectively).
Taking a look at his overall statistics, during his time at Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, he played and missed a total of 183 and 114 matches respectively. The player we all thought would play a vital role in carrying a team forward spent most of his career warming benches for numerous managers. One of the many reasons why Rodriguez became a mere spectator in a large number of matches was because of his fragility that led to a large number of injuries (missed 69 matches out of 114 because of injury) which haunted him every now and then.
The Munich phase: The 29-year-old worked with the Ancelotti again, after almost rotting his career away under Zinedine Zidane. It was back in 2017 when he joined Bayern Munich on loan but, unfortunately for him, the reunion was cut short a few weeks in as the Italian was sacked by the club for failing to deliver what they had ordered – a sluggish start to that season and losing the dressing room caused a stir within the club and became few of the reasons that saw him out of Munich. After his departure, Rodriguez played out the rest of his term in Germany under Jupp Heynckes and Niko Kovač. Under both managers, he could not rise and become the player that his admirers wanted him to be.
Why did Rodriguez fail in Germany? It is quite confusing to answer, even for those who have watched him play there. Performance-wise, he was really great. There was nothing that could possibly keep him off the team except for his injuries. But somehow, it happened and the only explanation for that is the presence of Thomas Müller in the team. Bayern Munich’s method of playing Müller behind the striker, which coupled with the German's brilliance gave rise to a whole new position category - the Raumdeuter, rather than using the option of going for an attacking midfielder (which is what Rodriguez is) could be the reason why he failed to properly fit in the system of the Bundesliga giants. It was obvious that the player was not ready to make the deal permanent -- nor was the club making a move for that -- and was just waiting for the time to run out.
The Post-Loan Phase: Germany wasn’t the wonderland of his dreams. After his loan expired, he decided to go back to Madrid. In the 2019-20 season under Zidane, he missed a fair amount of games being injured and only featured in a total of 14 matches. His stats from the previous season is not something his admirers would be proud of and it does not do justice to the player he is, a world-class playmaker with an exemplary vision and lots to offer.
Summing up the three phases and topping it with a dash of how much the player can still provide, it hopefully means only one thing: Third time is the charm and the Ancelotti-Rodriguez duo finally proves fruitful.
And the blue side of Merseyside might just be the perfect stage for the climax of the manager-player duo's story to play out. As they disappointingly fell further down the Premier League table, arch-rivals Liverpool have gone on to become champions of England, Europe and the world and the likes of Leicester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sheffield United have leapfrogged them. It is time for Everton to get back on their feet and compete with England's elite and Ancelotti and Rodriguez might be their ticket back to Europe.
(Top Image: Tony McArdle/Everton)