The fall of James Rodriguez: Qatar switch a new low for Colombian icon
Just over a year after arriving at Everton in search of a fresh start, James Rodriguez is on the move again.
A host of clubs were said to be considering the Colombia playmaker over the summer when it became clear his future lay away from Goodison Park.
Former club Porto, where he first made his name in Europe as one of football's most sparkling teenage talents, were mentioned, as well as Italian giants AC Milan and even a move back to Real Madrid under Carlo Ancelotti.
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None of those transfers materialised, however, and James is now preparing for gilded exile in Qatar.
And while his switch to Al Rayyan will provide ample financial riches, it is a huge step back for a man whose unique abilities should have been enough to place him firmly and irreversibly within the game's elite.
James certainly looked the part following his reunion with former Madrid boss Ancelotti at the start of 2019-20. Eager to prove a point following his travails at the Bernabeu, he formed a dynamic attacking relationship with Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin, and repaid Ancelotti's faith with a string of fine performances to kick-off the season, raising hopes that the Premier League would bring out his mercurial best.
Instead, a familiar story played out: Injury and fitness problems; long, damaging, ineffective periods when he did make it onto the field; and making the headlines for his off-pitch behaviour.
And when Ancelotti's more indulgent, laissez-faire management style was packed up and shipped back to the Spanish capital along with Carlo himself, it did not take a football visionary to see that James and his replacement, strict disciplinarian Rafa Benitez, would not be seeing eye to eye.
“He wouldn’t be a Rafa player,” former Toffees manager Sam Allardyce told Sky Sports News after James failed to engineer a way out of Everton over the summer.
“They (Benitez's players) know how to do the job, they all know how to play the system and know they have to do this and that. They spend loads of time on the training ground.
“Rodriguez is an instinctive player, wants freedom, he doesn't want the handcuffs. He's just not a Rafa player, that’s where the conflict lies.”
If any doubt remained over James' plans to stay on Merseyside, they surely went up in the vape smoke he puffed out into the Ibiza air while partying on a yacht at the start of September, while his team-mates were celebrating a strong start to the Premier League season in his absence.
Even before that, he seemed blissfully unaware of matters back in England. “I don’t even know who Everton are playing, can you please tell me?” he asked a Twitch interviewer in the build-up to August's 2-2 draw with Leeds United.
The playmaker had behaved in an almost identical fashion after being cut from Colombia's Copa America plans, leading to an almost irrecuperable rift with the Cafeteros just a few short weeks before seemingly burning his Everton bridges too.
Whether it is down to bad attitude, bad luck or a combination of both, James has failed to sustain his obvious abilities and reach the heights he is capable of on a consistent basis.
To see him cash in his chips at the age of just 30 and move to Qatar is hard to take for anyone who has seen him at his best, even if the switch makes financial sense for Everton and at least gives 2014 World Cup Golden Boot winner the opportunity to play competitive football in 2021-22.
If he does return from this temporary - in theory, at least - exile, he would not be the first player by any means to play at the highest level following a stay in one of football's lucrative backwaters. But the odds do seem to be stacked against him.
James' Everton move was supposed to rejuvenate his stalled career and prove the early predictions of greatness were on the money; now, he looks further away and less interested in ever in fulfilling those ambitious portents.