Neil Humphreys: The Rodriguez renaissance begins at Everton
Colombian superstar may finally live up to billing at Evertonby Neil Humphreys
Fate is a cruel mistress. Just look at James Rodriguez. Six years ago, he was scoring the goal of the 2014 World Cup and launching himself into the galactico cosmos.
This morning (Singapore time), he was playing for the Toffees on a sticky, empty stadium with a fake crowd atmosphere and facing Jose Mourinho's customary low block.
Whatever ambitions the rising Colombian had when he signed for Real Madrid in 2014, turning out for the weaker team in Liverpool probably wasn't one of them.
|(Dominic Calvert-Lewin 55)|
And yet, the boy from the equatorial country might just belong at Everton.
The 29-year-old didn't dominate in Everton's comfortable 1-0 win against a drab Tottenham Hotspur, but he certainly did enough to hint at a bright future at his new club.
A fitting epilogue looms for a career that has never quite lived up to its early billing.
It's too early to talk of a Rodriguez renaissance, but the early signs were encouraging.
Certainly, his appearance at Spurs' space-age, deserted stadium was entirely in keeping with the surreal surroundings.
A new English Premier League season has arrived, one that isn't bigger or brighter than the previous one, but just as quiet, sedate and rather ponderous.
Four other newcomers joined Rodriguez in making their debuts, but the hype surrounding the arrivals of Everton's Abdoulaye Doucoure and Allan and Spurs' Matt Doherty and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg couldn't drown out the deafening silence from 50,000 empty seats.
Health considerations always trump the trivial concerns of the eternally hopeful purist. But the sooner some sort of socially distanced crowd returns the better.
The sterile atmosphere inevitably filtered down to the pitch.
In Spurs' central midfield, Hojbjerg settled quickly alongside Harry Winks, arguably because the Dane was playing in front of a mirror. The two men are effective anchor men, rather than artists.
Mourinho's reluctance to press or dominate possession, even at home, remains. Tottenham's 4-2-3-1 formation ensured the hosts were content to turn the ball over, with Harry Kane failing to touch the ball in Everton's box in the first half.
Carlo Ancelotti's new recruits were more attackminded, with Brazilian Allan willing to carry his teammates forward as Doucoure held the line.
But Rodriguez was the diamond in a rough, ragged fixture, particularly in the opening hour, when his passing range felt almost exhibitionist, such was its eye-catching range and audacity.
Quite honestly, he was a class above.
Inevitably, and somewhat hilariously, co-commentator Andy Townsend had to wave that jingoistic EPL flag and wonder if Rodriguez would cope with the incomparable physical rigours of English football.
Yes, a kid who grew up in 1990s Colombia - where street executions were commonplace and his own uncle was killed in a gang fight - is going to fear a wet Wednesday night at West Bromwich Albion.
Rodriguez will be fine, as long as his new teammates find the Colombian's wavelength. Several times, he sprayed glorious passes from right to left, only for overlapping colleagues to be a tad slow to react.
But Ancelotti has assembled an encouraging forward line and the Toffees deservedly went ahead when Dominic Calvert- Lewin met Lucas Digne's curling free-kick with a thumping header in the 55th minute.
Mourinho will certainly moan about the location of the free-kick, which was taken at least five metres further forward, but the Portuguese manager's protestations cannot distract from an opening performance short on dynamism.
Tottenham were worryingly tepid at home. Mourinho removed an erratic Dele Alli and a redundant Winks, but Spurs still lacked any real sense of attacking urgency.
With Mourinho in the dugout, hysterical cries of negative, stale football will soon be heard if this drab fare is churned out regularly.
But at this stage, the emphasis should be on Everton's first away victory at a ''big six'' side in the EPL since December 2013.
Two clubs in Liverpool are teasing us with the promise of exciting, attacking football this season.
And Rodriguez, like six years ago, will be one to watch. Hopefully, he doesn't disappoint this time around.
Lloris, Doherty (Ndombele 76), Alderweireld, Dier, Davies, Hojbjerg, Winks (Bergwijn 60), Moura, Alli (Sissoko 46), Son, Kane
Pickford, Coleman, Mina, Keane, Digne, Gomes (Sigurdsson 68), Allan, Doucoure, Rodriguez (Davies 90+2), Calvert-Lewin (Kean 89), Richarlison
LAST NIGHT'S OTHER RESULT:
- West Brom 0 Leicester 3