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There are many reasons why a player chooses to join a particular club. Often it is because he believes in the project that a team is embarking on. Sometimes it is because he wants to play in a certain league or has a genuine connection with the side in question. On other occasions, it is primarily down to money or the desire for a fresh challenge.
James Rodriguez had a different motivation when he opted to join Everton from Real Madrid this summer. The Colombia international found himself out of favor at the Santiago Bernabeu and, aged 29, was keen to reignite his career with more regular football elsewhere. But, with all due respect to Everton, he almost certainly would not have ended up at Goodison Park was it not for the presence of Carlo Ancelotti in the dugout.
Rodriguez made a €45 million move from Porto to Monaco in the summer of 2013 and enjoyed a positive first season with the principality club. However, it was at the 2014 World Cup where he made himself a global superstar. Rodriguez won the Golden Boot after scoring six goals as Colombia reached the quarter-finals for the first time in their history. He might even have been named Player of the Tournament had his country progressed to the last four.
Rodriguez’s performances earned him a switch to Real Madrid, for whom he started well with 14 goals and 15 assists across La Liga and the Champions League in his maiden campaign. Ancelotti helped get the best out of the attacking midfielder, but the Italian departed at the end of the season and Rodriguez slipped down the pecking order. He continued to make an impact following Zinedine Zidane’s appointment, but the Frenchman did not value Rodriguez as highly as his predecessor and was happy to loan him to Bayern Munich – then managed by Ancelotti – in 2017.
Rodriguez performed well at Bayern, but Ancelotti was replaced in September 2018 after a poor start to the club’s Bundesliga title defense and the Colombian returned to Madrid at the end of that season. After again failing to convince Zidane he was worthy of a regular spot in the starting XI, Rodriguez left for Everton last month.
The Toffees are a historic club within the English game, but attracting a player of Rodriguez’s caliber was a major coup. After all, Everton finished 12th in the Premier League last season and had no European soccer to offer their summer recruits. However, the pull of Ancelotti worked to their advantage – as it also did with the signing of Allan, who played under the Italian at Napoli.
Even more impressive than the acquisitions of Allan and Rodriguez was the appointment of Ancelotti as manager last December. The Toffees were without a permanent head coach for a couple of weeks following the dismissal of Marco Silva, with Duncan Ferguson stepping in to take caretaker charge. Few Everton supporters would have viewed Ancelotti as a realistic target when Silva’s services were dispensed of, and the club hierarchy deserves credit for convincing the former Milan, Real Madrid, and Bayern boss that Goodison Park should be his next destination.
As well as those three clubs, Ancelotti has been entrusted with the managerial position at Juventus, Chelsea, and PSG during a career that began with Reggiana in the mid-1990s. Everton, for all their rich history and potential, has not finished in the top four of the Premier League for a decade and a half and have not claimed a piece of silverware since Ancelotti was taking his first steps at Reggiana.
The Toffee’s boss gradually got his ideas across the last term, but it is only now that Everton is beginning to look like an Ancelotti team. With Allan anchoring the midfield, Abdoulaye Doucoure providing box-to-box dynamism, and Rodriguez supply the ammunition for Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin upfront, there is plenty to like about this current iteration of Everton. DraftKings Sportsbook offers odds of -134 on Ancelotti’s side making it four wins from four against Brighton and Hove Albion this weekend.
Ancelotti said before Saturday’s 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace:
I think James Rodriguez is going to help the strikers because he is a fantastic assist man, The target for Dominic is I hope he can reach 20 goals because he has the quality and ability, like Richarlison. With James at the time in Madrid, Ronaldo scored 56 goals: I am not honestly going to ask Dominic to score 56 goals but he has to try to do his best.
Rodriguez did not register an assist in the win at Selhurst Park, but he was the man most responsible for creating the opportunity that led to Calvert-Lewin’s opening goal in the 10th minute. Having taken up a threatening position in the half-space, Rodriguez received possession from Doucoure. It was not that good a pass in truth: the ball was played behind the Colombian and towards his weaker right foot.
But that did not matter. Without breaking stride, Rodriguez delivered a sublime first-time pass into the path of Seamus Coleman, who duly squared for Calvert-Lewin to convert. With one touch of the ball, Rodriguez fashioned an opportunity, cutting through a Palace defense that is rightly renowned for its solid organization. Even though the 29-year-old was not credited with an assist, it was clearly he who made the goal possible. It was a fine example of the vision, invention, and technical excellence that once persuaded Real Madrid to bring Rodriguez to the Spanish capital.
Over in Merseyside, no one will be getting too carried away just yet – particularly as Everton have experienced many a false dawn in recent years. Yet while it is evidently still early days as far as the 2020/21 campaign is concerned, Ancelotti could not have asked for a better start to his first full season in charge at Goodison Park. With Rodriguez in the team, Everton fans are daring to dream of a return to European soccer.
Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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