Highlights - Everton 1-0 ArsenalFeb 5
James Rodriguez exclusive: Carlo Ancelotti trusted me when nobody else did - I’ll forever be grateful
Everton’s new poster boy has instilled a sense of optimism at Goodison Park. Fighting fit after recovering from injury, Rodriguez turns his attention to Manchester United, live on BT Sport.
James Rodriguez’s arrival at Goodison Park was accompanied by two divergent schools of thought: Everton were either getting a global superstar capable of catapulting the Toffees into contention or a player living off former glories.
Proponents of the first theory have been proved emphatically correct. The Colombian already has three goals and three assists in six of the club’s first seven games of the season. He has revolutionised a tired Everton midfield and captured the imagination on Merseyside.
The former Real Madrid man has recovered from a minor hamstring complaint that ruled him out of last week’s 2-1 defeat to Newcastle but looks set to return against Manchester United on Saturday in a match you can watch exclusively live on BT Sport.
Rodriguez has a much-publicised symbiotic relationship with legendary manager Carlo Ancelotti and has played for the revered Italian for three different clubs: Real, Bayern Munich and Everton.
He started 40 games and scored 17 goals during his first season at the Bernabeu, but then Ancelotti left and he quickly found himself on the periphery under Rafael Benitez and Zinedine Zidane.
James moved to Bayern on a two-year loan and quickly picked up where he left off. His influence in Bavaria was so profound that Bayern’s CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge thanked Ancelotti for luring James to the club.
Soon after his return to Real Madrid, the pair linked up yet again when Rodriguez signed for Everton in a major coup for the club and a demonstrable example of Ancelotti’s pulling power.
Speaking exclusively to BT Sport ahead of his return to action, Rodriguez revealed his deep gratitude for Ancelotti’s unwavering faith in him.
“Both [Everton and Ancelotti] trusted me when nobody did,” he said.
“I’ll forever be grateful to the club and to Carlo. That’s why I try to show my best in every game, that’s why I try to play at my highest level. This is what I want to do for the club.
“He’s a very easy-going person, knows how to treat players and how to get the most out of us. That’s why he worked along with all those great clubs, and now, with this new project, we expect him to do his best to achieve extraordinary things.”
Everton raced out of the blocks this season, winning their first seven games in all competitions before stuttering somewhat in recent weeks. Rather fortunately they rescued a draw against Liverpool in the Merseyside derby before succumbing to successive defeats to Southampton and Newcastle.
Nevertheless, Rodriguez is confident that Everton can buck the trend, rediscover their early season form and even qualify for the Champions League for the first time since 2005.
“I think we’ve got what we need to be there next year,” he said.
“For qualifying, we need willingness to play, we have to be hungry to succeed in every game. I believe all players need to have that same feeling. We need to follow the same path.
“Carlo Ancelotti is a king in terms of European football.”
In a notable subplot ahead of Saturday’s encounter, the Colombian star had the chance to sign at Old Trafford earlier in his career.
Sir Alex Ferguson was in pole position to land the midfielder after they failed to sign Eden Hazard from Lille, but he opted to sign for Monaco where he was a major success ahead of his breakout tournament at the 2014 World Cup.
I’m a very curious person in terms of football, I feel like I really want to work, so learning new things is such a positive aspect for my life
“The club had offered me something,” he revealed. “But in the end, that didn’t happen because of some reason I don’t know.”
“Football always leads you to the correct path, to a team where you can actually play well. If it didn't happen, it was for some consistent reason. Maybe I wasn’t ready for it, or maybe it was because I was made to play in another great team.
“In the end, I had the opportunity to go to France, and that was the path that I could follow.”
Has he ever wondered about what it would have been like to play for Man United?
“No, not really. When I went to France, I was so focussed on performing well that year.
“It was precisely the year in which the World Cup was to be held. I always, always had that in my mind.
“And well, after that I received the offer from Real Madrid. The decision to play with the team was made very quickly.
“As I said before, I missed the previous opportunity, but 10 months later, I got that offer. That is the big door I mentioned earlier: a great team where I’ve always wanted to play.
“That was like a dream come true.”
The 29-year-old has played with a stellar cast of forwards including Cristiano Ronaldo and Robert Lewandowski and he has extolled the virtues of Everton’s pre-eminent marksman Dominic Calvert-Lewin.
“He’s a player always willing to score, he’s hungry to score goals,” he said of Everton’s leading goal scorer.
“That’s a great thing, because all strikers are always looking for opportunities to score. I think he’s the same. He’s also a very young player, but still, he seems to be so ambitious.
“He’s hungry to score. I hope this year he’ll score 30-40 goals.
“This would definitely help the team achieve great things and get points. He’s an amazing player. We’re also aware of him and of his talent.”
In a moment of introspection, the nomadic superstar revealed that he is still learning as he approaches his 30th birthday in a league he has long admired.
“I’ll turn 30 years old next year, so that gives me a lot of experience, as we say,” he said.
“These new experiences give you a strong background, you learn new things. I try to learn new things every day, and I always see new things.
“In my opinion, that’s very positive, I’m a very curious person in terms of football, I feel like I really want to work, so learning new things is such a positive aspect for my life.
“You always learn new things, on a daily basis. I believe we learn new things even at 80.
“I feel like the club brings me many positive things in my life, and I learn day by day.”
The Ancelotti-Rodriguez axis has underpinned Everton’s evolution. Reeling from successive defeats and with their new poster boy fit and firing, Saturday’s match promises to be captivating.
Everton v Man United is exclusively live on Saturday 7 November on BT Sport 1 HD, Ultimate and online from 11.30pm (12.30pm KO).