James — Hero to .. ?

Sandipani Basu
4 min readFeb 27, 2021

We all remember James Rodriguez’s gem of a goal in the 2014 World Cup. The entire world of football was in awe of such a young and skillful attacking midfielder producing a moment of brilliance. Florentino Perez loved it too and an 80 mil euros transfer later, James was ready to play in La Liga. His previous stints had been in Porto and AS Monaco, most recently. Aged 22, he had contributed a total of 22 goals and assists for Monaco in the 2013–14 season. Couple that with being the go-to Columbian in the absence of Falcao in the 2014 World Cup and anybody would think he would be a future Galactico.

Well, under Carlo Ancelloti he did prove to be one indeed. Rodriguez played 29 games that season(starting each one of them), a total of 2265 minutes, scoring and assisting 13 times each. A total of 26 goal contributions that season from a 23 year old number 10.

Highest per 90 values in the 14–15 La Liga season

The median player 90s in La Liga that season was 23. So I have chosen players who have played more 90s than the median just to be fair(often players with a smaller sample space skew the plots).

If you see above, the first figure shows how James achieved a high assists per 90–0.52, with Suarez leading at 0.54. In the second figure, we see him contributing in goals and assists at a per 90 rate (1.03 per 90) at par with Messi and Ronaldo.

Looking at these numbers any pundit might have predicted a fabulous career ahead for the Cololmbian. However, things did not pan out as he would want to. The number 10 missed 9 games for Real Madrid during the tail end of the season. Ancelloti was sacked before the start of the 2015–16 season. James then was out for almost two months, missing 11 games from September in the 16–17 season. He ended up starting just 17 times (La Liga) as opposed to 29 starts the previous season. Although he played 26 matches in La Liga, it added up to only 1516 minutes on the pitch. Los Blancos were going through a rough patch, Benitez was accused of not selecting James more often, but he was injured from till November.

Zidane took over from January, and James was given chances here and there but with just 7 goals and 8 assists he could not recreate the magic of season gone by.

The next season(2016–17) story was the same. He missed around 10 games from the start of the season till February. Fortunes turned in the month of April, with him getting regular starts and scoring 6 goals and one assist.

Fun fact — he was not started in the El Classico on 23rd April, 2017, was brought on, on the 82nd minute, had a shot blocked on the 84th minute, drew Madrid 2–2 on the 85th. He managed 3 shots on target and a goal in 8 MINUTES of being on the pitch. That has to account for something. Scored 2 more against Granada in May, but then again got ruled out for the remaining few matches of the season. In total he played 13.1 90s. For reference, the median 90s throughout La Liga that season was around 14.5. A player of his caliber was ruled out mostly through injury, and tactical choices.


If you click on the link above, you will see James(in red) is right up there with the likes of Thomas Mueller, Timo Werner and Mark Uth. The odd man out is Robert Goalanski(G+A/90 of 1.28). Attaching the same graph(click on link to see the interactive plot).

James Rodriquez in red. Plot of actual goal contributions to expected goal contributions in Bundesliga

After a good season in Bundesliga, things did not go as plan again the next season with the German giants. Repeated knee and calf problems led him to miss more than 10 league matches. Additionally, he was a misfit in the team’s tactical setup. He moved on back to Real Madrid in the 2019–20 season. James played a total of 28 league matches over the two seasons.

However, history has repeated itself and he has been picked up again by Ancelloti(3rd time) at Everton. He has started close to 88% of the matches he has played(18) scoring 5 times and assisting 4. He has been instrumental in creating key passes, leading to shots, 33 times in the league. He has a goal creating action value of 0.80 per 90, which is not bad, considering the charts being led by Bruno Fernandes at 0.94 and De Bruyne at 0.91. And with a successful dribbling rate of 68.6%, I feel he is just settling in a much more tougher and physical league than he has played in, in the past.

Whether James Rodriguez will perform well or not, time will tell, but now we know he has the capability and the statistics to justify his position as one of the finest in the Premier League.

Statistics — https://fbref.com/en/



Sandipani Basu

An aspiring data geek with a keen interest in sports analytics, primarily soccer. I am on a gradual learning curve. But as they say good things take time.