BERLIN, Germany, Feb 19 – Unloved at Real Madrid, yet declared a “godsend” by Bayern Munich, James Rodriguez has rebooted his stuttering career in Bavaria and is set to shine again in the Champions League.
In his preferred attacking midfield role, Rodriguez is set to face Besiktas on Tuesday in the first leg of the last-16 tie at Munich’s Allianz Arena.
In Germany, the Colombia international has rediscovered the form which saw him light up the 2014 World Cup and finish as the competition’s top scorer.
Working alongside veteran head coach Jupp Heynckes has rejuvenated the 26-year-old after three challenging seasons at Real, where he fell out of favour under Zinedine Zidane.
Real paid Monaco 75 million euros ($93 million) in the wake of his dazzling displays in Brazil four years ago, but the Spanish giants shipped him out to Bayern on a two-year loan deal last June.
It is a move that will actually cost Bayern only 13 million euros over two seasons, and one that is reaping rich rewards with Rodriguez the provider of six assists and four goals in 16 Bundesliga games.
He has found a consistency in Bayern’s attack that only surfaced sporadically while exiled out on the wing at the Bernabeu.
His fortunes took off in Munich last October when Heynckes replaced Carlo Ancelotti.
“He’s playing in a position he never played at Real Madrid,” said Heynckes.
– ‘Fish in water’ –
“In Spain, he was playing on the left wing or right wing, but I’m playing him in an attacking middle position.
“Here he is like a fish in water.”
Rodriguez was instrumental when Bayern beat Paris Saint-Germain 3-1 in December to avenge the 3-0 away defeat which cost Ancelotti his job.
He wreaked havoc alongside Corentin Tolisso in the centre of the park and set up the Frenchman’s second goal, although Bayern still finished second in the group.
Rodriguez has also shone in Bundesliga wins against Bayern’s main rivals — scoring against RB Leipzig, Schalke and Leverkusen while providing two assists against Borussia Dortmund.
He scored a superb free-kick in the 3-1 win at Leverkusen in January and capped a man-of-the-match performance with a goal in a 2-0 victory at Mainz at the start of the month.
“His development has been outstanding,” said Bayern defender Mats Hummels. “He is always a weapon 25 metres in front of goal. He has a brutally good left foot.”
Rodriguez is Heynckes’s favourite midfielder, starting 12 of his 13 league games since October, and the 72-year-old — a Spanish speaker himself after managing Real Madrid — can also take some credit for helping Rodriguez settle into his new surroundings.
“In his current form and how he has integrated, James is a godsend for Bayern Munich,” Heynckes said.
“At Real Madrid he wasn’t getting the game time that a player of his calibre deserves.
“You get the feeling he is happy in Munich, because it’s not easy when someone comes into a new country, culture, language and way of life.
“He is playing well, but he can play better and I have told him personally how I think he can improve.”
– No fear –
Heynckes has made it clear that he wants Rodriguez to roam the space behind Bayern’s top scorer Robert Lewandowski, encouraged to shoot more and take risks.
“He realises that he’s allowed to make mistakes and that it’s not a reflection of his performance if he’s taken off,” added Heynckes.
The Colombian’s hard work in training and on the pitch has impressed Bayern’s coach.
“James is generous and many people do not see how much he runs, how much he saves himself for the defensive work in the service of the team,” said Heynckes.
Bayern are 19 points clear in the Bundesliga and have won 22 of their 23 games since Heynckes took charge.
Now Rodriguez sees the Bavarian giants as one of the top teams in Europe.
“Bayern is my favourite to win the Champions League,” the Colombian said. “We have a super team with top players. Why shouldn’t we win the Champions League?”
And there is no talk of returning to Madrid.
“Bayern is fantastic, I’m happy and I can imagine myself playing for many more years here,” he added.