At just 21 years of age, Colombian international James Rodriguez has had the kind of meteoric rise that would leave some players suffering from vertigo. The young forward has already shown that he can not only compete, but also impress in competitive leagues such as in Argentina and Portugal. Currently a Porto player, his explosive pace and powerful shot have recently enabled him to make the considerable step up to his country’s senior side.
And just a year after taking part in the FIFA U-20 World Cup, the left footer has already taken on the responsibility of leading the attack on Jose Pekerman’s improving side, and is now harbouring dreams of inspiring Los Cafeteros to the FIFA World Cup™ finals for the first time in 16 years.
So far in the qualifying competition, in which sixth-placed Colombia presently lie four points behind upcoming opponents Uruguay, Rodriguez has played in all five of his team’s games. Moreover, he was also chosen by FIFA.com’s Spanish-speaking users in October 2011 as the most influential player of the early qualification fixtures.
If that were not impressive enough, in June of this year, he scored the first competitive goal of the Pekerman era in a crucial 1-0 victory over Peru in Lima.
In Madrid for a national squad gathering ahead of important qualifiers versus Uruguay and Chile, Rodriguez took time out to speak to FIFA.com about various topics, including his own personal development, memories of previous Colombian exploits, and his dreams of following in the footsteps of his childhood idol, Carlos Valderrama.
FIFA.com: A year ago you were playing at the FIFA U-20 World Cup, but you have since established yourself as one of the first names on the senior teamsheet, first under Leonel Alvarez and now Jose Pekerman. Has the No10 jersey come to you more quickly than expected?
James Rodriguez: I’m very proud, of course. Being so young and already part of the full national side is very important to me, and it’s even more special when I think that just a year ago I was playing in the U-20 team. Since I was a young boy, I’ve always dreamed of wearing the No10 shirt for Colombia, and luckily that’s what I’m able to do now. It’s such a massive thing for me; I want to always do well for my country.
Of the other Colombian stars to have worn that jersey, who did you admire when you were young?
‘El Pibe’ – Carlos Valderrama – was the main one, really. At the time, he was a top player and I had a lot of admiration for him. I met him once and he’s a great person, someone who provided the country with a lot of joy. He was a very intelligent footballer who could create something out of nothing as well as score goals. For those reasons, when we were kids, Valderrama was the No10 we all wanted to play with.
Last year, the Colombian fans played an essential role at the FIFA U-20 World Cup. Despite that, during the current qualifying campaign for Brazil 2014, you’ve yet to pick up a home win.
That’s true, we’ve had trouble getting results at home so far. We really need to win these two games that are coming up; they’re going to be very important for us. We’ll have to be fully focused. That’s why we’re here in Madrid – to get some hard graft under our belts and to work on a plan that we can put into action on the pitch.
Does the lack of home success add extra weight to Colombia’s next match against Uruguay?
We’re playing the game in Barranquilla, and we have to go out to win the match. Uruguay have had some excellent players over the past few years, and their current batch is no different. They’re doing very well. They’re in second spot in the qualifying table and have a strong team, one that is the product of long development process. On top of that, up front they can count on guys who have been pretty successful in Europe. We’ll have to be wary, although we also have good footballers capable of delivering a win for us.
How would you explain Colombia’s failure to achieve meaningful results over the last couple of years? Do you feel that they are ready to turn the corner now?
Our dream, and the entire country’s dream, is to qualify for the World Cup. At the moment, we have a great crop of players. We’ve probably not had such a high-quality squad for about eight years or so. We’ve not had much luck in front of goal so far in our qualifying campaign, which is always a very tricky prospect. But that’s why we’re here, to turn our plan into reality and get through these matches successfully.
What are the keys to success for Colombia?
Most importantly, players who are doing very well in Europe. The best example of that is Radamel Falcao in Spain. Last season he was immense in La Liga and he won the UEFA Europa League. He’s very important for the national team.
How much of an effect has the arrival of Jose Pekerman had on this group of players?
It’s been very positive, in all areas. He’s a coach with bags of experience in World Cup qualifying matches and he guided Argentina to Germany in 2006. I think he’s going to be a great help to us.
After taking on Uruguay, you play Chile, who are currently top of the qualifying table. How many points would you ideally like to take from these two encounters?
Six points out of six. That’s all we’re thinking about. We’re aware that both of these matches will be difficult, but we have the players to get the right results.
You were just seven years old the last time that Colombia qualified for the FIFA World Cup. Do you remember anything about it?
I was very young, but I do remember a few things, such as David Beckham scoring against Farid Mondragon. Truth be told, although Colombia didn’t get out of their group, they still had a good World Cup. Now we’re the ones hoping to qualify and to put in a good show in Brazil.
If that were to happen, can you see yourself following in Valderrama’s footsteps?
Let’s hope so! It would be an absolute dream to make it to the World Cup. And not just to take part, but to actually have a go at winning the tournament. The fact that it’s being played in Brazil means that more fans will be able to travel from Colombia and be there to support us. We’ll do our best to have a successful qualifying campaign and be part of things in 2014.
Finally, knowing full well that you feel settled at Porto, would you like to play in another league one day? And if so, which league and why?
I’m very aware that I’m still young and have a lot to learn, but I would eventually like to play in Spain. It’s a league that I’ve always watched – it’s different from the English League, which is very physical. The game in Spain is more about technique, and about getting more touches on the ball. That’s why I like it so much.