James Rodríguez, the Colombia playmaker whose breathtaking form at the World Cup has seen him lauded as one of the players of the tournament and has thrust his national team into a first ever quarter-final, was offered to Manchester United for around £5m as a teenager, only for United to pursue other options.
The forward, now an established performer at Monaco whom he joined from Porto for £38.5m last summer, scored twice to eliminate Uruguay at the Maracanã on Saturday and swell his goal tally to five in four matches before a meeting with the hosts, Brazil, in Fortaleza in the last eight on Friday.
Rodríguez has scored in each of his last six games for his country and his abilities were likened to those of Diego Maradona, Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez by the defeated Uruguay coach, Óscar Tabárez, in the wake of the youngster’s match-winning display in the last 16.
While the Brazil coach Luiz Felipe Scolari frets over how to quell the threat posed by a player who turns 23 on the eve of the World Cup final, United might curse their oversight from four years ago. Intermediaries first approached senior scouts at Old Trafford in 2010, when the teenage forward was establishing his reputation at Club Atlético Banfield in Argentina. Rodríguez had made his debut at 17, the youngest foreigner to have played in the Argentinian top-flight, and helped lead the club to their first league championship in 2009 with the manager, Julio Falcioni, convinced he would go on to excel in Europe and for Colombia.
Even so, the player was available for as little as £5m when he was touted to United, a club who employed a permanent scout in South America and had close ties with the region having recruited Uruguay’s Diego Forlán and, albeit via Wigan Athletic, Antonio Valencia of Ecuador.
Sir Alex Ferguson was close to securing Javier Hernández from Guadalajara at the time, but the agents attempting to bring Rodríguez to Europe received no response from United. A few weeks later, United instead spent £7.4m on Bebé – only five weeks after the Portuguese had signed for Vitória Guimarães – to bolster their attack – despite Ferguson later admitting he had never seen the striker play.
Rodríguez moved from Argentina to Portugal when he signed for Porto in 2010 for £4m, with 30% of the player’s economic rights retained by third parties, and was part of André Villas-Boas’s unbeaten team who claimed the domestic double and Europa League that season.
United’s interest was rekindled in the midwinter transfer window of 2013, when Chelsea also sounded out the Portuguese club over his availability, but the player’s price tag had swollen considerably by then and a hefty release clause had been inserted into his new five-year contract. Third party ownership issues also complicated any move, and the player left for France and Dmitry Rybolovlev’s money-flushed Monaco last summer, along with his team-mate, João Moutinho, for a combined £60m.
Monaco will compete in the Champions League next season, but are nevertheless braced to field interest in their young Colombian, with Real Madrid and Napoli having initially made clear they are monitoring his situation.
Rodríguez spoke of his admiration for Real in the aftermath of Saturday’s win at the Maracanã. “It would be a dream to play in Spain, one of the best leagues in the world,” he told the Spanish radio station, Cadena Cope.
“I have spoken with Napoli, but they are not the only ones following Rodríguez,” said the player’s agent, Aytekin Erayabakan. “There are several European clubs after him, so let’s see what the future holds. His price has no doubt increased after the way he has played in these last few months.”