“Surround yourself with human beings, my dear James. They are easier to fight for than principles.”
That is some decent advice for the legendary James Bond in Ian Fleming’s Casino Royale and also perhaps words of caution for another famous James, James Rodriguez, ahead of his move to Bayern Munich following a largely disappointing spell at Real Madrid.
Subject to a medical, James will sign a two-year loan deal at Bayern with an option for a permanent transfer — eerily similar to the Kingsley Coman deal with Juventus earlier this year. James will turn 26 on Wednesday, the same day the Colombia international is set to be unveiled as a Bayern player at the Allianz Arena.
Ultimately, it proved a typically efficient Bayern transfer — with the Bavarians seemingly content to let Manchester United, Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Juventus do all the running and sweet-talking for the player before swooping, completely under the radar, late and decisively, to snatch a major signing from under the noses of their European rivals.
Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez has reportedly been Bayern’s top summer target. However, that particular deal has become unmanageable in recent weeks due to the Chilean star’s apparent extravagant wage demands. Sadly, it looks like Arturo Vidal’s WhatsApp persistence has been of no avail, as their attention turned to another supremely talented South American in James.
President Uli Hoeness, still seething from losing to Real Madrid at the business end of last season, promised a marquee signing, and James is the chosen one.
At first glance, the deal looks a win-win for all parties. With the Champions League holders seemingly intent on going all-out for wunderkind Kylian Mbappe of Monaco, James had absolutely no future at Real. He had become the proverbial bit-part player in Spain, banished to the fringes, suffering the absolute humiliation when left out of Zinedine Zidane’s Champions League final squad, which serenely romped to a second successive title last month against Juventus.
He hardly had a chance to impress his former boss, Carlo Ancelotti, in their crunch quarterfinal tie in April, either. James was an unused substitute when Bayern exited in the Bernabeu and managed a meagre seven first-leg pity minutes in the Allianz Arena when Zidane opted for fresh legs with the game in the bag against Ancelotti’s 10 men (minus Javi Martinez).
Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said Ancelotti was desperate to lure James to the club, having signed him when in charge of Real in the aftermath of a superbly impressive 2014 World Cup campaign. The Spanish giants reportedly paid Monaco nearly €80 million for his services when the attacker was still glowing from winning the 2014 World Cup Golden Boot as top goalscorer, catching eyes as a No.10 with an eye for goal and silky dribbling ability. The Italian is clearly relishing an opportunity to restore the Colombian to former glory.
James is equally comfortable playing in wide areas, which will come in handy, as veterans Arjen Robben (33) and Franck Ribery (34) are both in the twilight of their careers. Although the two Bayern stalwarts remain brilliant, they are brittle at best and cannot be relied upon to stay injury-free.
Ancelotti did get some value out of James in his debut season in 2014-15, when the Colombian international notched 17 goals and laid on 18 more in 46 appearances. However, during his three seasons in Madrid, James was completely outshone by Toni Kroos, who arrived in Madrid from Bayern that same summer.
James suffered an alarming fall from grace under Rafa Benitez and Zidane, languishing on the bench for long periods. Last season, he managed only 22 appearances in La Liga — with only 13 starts — and completed a mere five games over the full 90 minutes: against Villarreal and mighty (no disrespect) Granada, Deportivo La Coruna (twice) and Sporting Gijon.
Therefore, James has something to prove once again, which is not necessarily a bad thing. With Douglas Costa about to be shown the door, James can boost Bayern’s goal threat and, with the right attitude, easily replace the disgruntled Brazilian winger. James’ arrival also means former Arsenal man Serge Gnabry is also likely to go out on loan to Champions League aspirants Hoffenheim.
By the way, it is not unheard of that Bayern take a player from Real and revitalise that struggling force. Back in 2009, Louis van Gaal plucked a certain Arjen Robben from Real when he was struggling to hold down a regular spot in Spain. The rest is history, as they say.
One thing is certain, though: James’ pending arrival is another kick in the teeth, a further jolt for a fragile Thomas Muller.
Rummenigge cranked up the pressure on Muller ahead of the new season, saying that the Bavarian needs an improved season after bagging a paltry five league goals last term.
By signing his tried and trusted James, the Italian maestro is hardly giving doubting Thomas a vote of confidence ahead of the new season.