The Colombia star, 23, is the fourth most expensive player of all time after joining the Champions League winners for €80 million [£63m] from Monaco, but his career path could easily have been very different.
"In the summer of 2010 we were very advanced and the priority for us was signing James Rodriguez," Espanyol's former sporting director Ramon Planes said.
"He was very, very close to Espanyol. Talks were in the final part. There was an economic agreement between the clubs, we talked several times and he was eager to come.
"The problem was in guaranteeing the payment and a few days later, he signed for Porto."
James sealed his move to the Santiago Bernabeu following a rapid rise to prominence during Colombia's World Cup campaign.
The forward scored six goals to win the Golden Boot as the tournament's top goalscorer, with his goals helping his nation reach the quarter-finals of the competition.
They were beaten by host nation Brazil in the last-eight, but James did enough to catch the eye and seal a six-year deal at Madrid.