James Rodríguez might have been the best player throughout the World Cup. Where did he come from? Well, he broke free from the reality in which Colombian stars had to play with cocaine belts around their stomachs and guns directed against their heads.
Colombian football has changed
It is clear that there are connections, there are always connections. Exactly 20 years have passed since Andres Escobar was shot and everything culminated. Not more, nor less. This team and their stars are about to play their way out of the story, but they have not really had time to finish yet.
Colombian football is no longer the same as narcofútbol, the poisoned structure which meant that all of the national football system was driven around by drug money. José Pekerman's national team was not forced to load up for the World Cup with a visit to any cocaine cantata eagle's nest, and now players can become stars without being dependent on the druglords.
James Rodríguez has no own memories of Andrés Escobar or the World Cup in 1994. He was just a two year old back then, albeit a two year old who showed unusually strong interest in balls. His biological father was a professional footballer and even though his father vanished from the family's life almost immediately he had left behind some sort of genetic talent.
Spotted at a young age
He was 12 when the talent was first noticed at a national level. During the televised youth tournament League Pony - he dominated, scoring directly from two corner kicks. The bids came from the traditional big clubs Atlético Nacional and Independiente Medellín, but Rodriguez signed for a small club called Envigado, an association that had existed for less than 15 years.
After Pablo Escobar was shot dead in 1993, he was buried in an Atlético Nacional flag. His death was the symbolic end of the era when drug cartels ruled the society and football in Colombia. The owner of Envigado, Gustavo Upegui was himself shot dead in 2006, just two years after he persuaded Rodríguez family that Envigado was the football club for them.
When Rodriguez was 16 years old, the Argentine club Banfield came knocking and the decision was easy. James Rodriguez was now out on the other side, inside a fairly normalized football environment.
Who is James Rodriguez? How did he get so good? Well, he has natural talent with an exceptional drive and very fast maturation. He provided himself with his own special coach when he was 12, and he moved alone to a foreign country when he was 16. He became the youngest foreigner ever to debut in the Argentine top division, and at 18 he made Banfield champions for the first time in the club's then 113 year history.
Since Europe. Now the world.
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