Yes. That is all Carlo Ancelotti wanted to hear when he dialled James Rodríguez’s number to ask whether the Colombia playmaker fancied swapping the shadows of Real Madrid for centre stage at Everton. The reply was instant and one of the most ambitious moves of the summer – that would end this week with Rodríguez’s new No 19 shirt adorning the Colpatria Tower in Bogotá, Times Square and a boat off Miami Beach – was under way. The pulling power of Ancelotti in full effect.
Not every player approached by Everton this summer has felt an irresistible urge to work with the three-times Champions League-winning coach, notably Pierre-Emile Højbjerg and Gabriel Magalhães. But in Allan, Abdoulaye Doucouré and the star of the 2014 World Cup, signed within four days for a total of about £60m, Ancelotti believes he has found the commitment as well as quality that was painfully lacking at Everton last season.
“There is a key question when you talk to a player: do you really want to come?” the Everton manager said as he sat along from Rodríguez at Finch Farm on Thursday. “There are some that say yes and others that say: ‘Maybe … I have to think about this.’ These three players we signed simply answered yes, full stop. I want to have players that have a desire to come to this club. The player that doesn’t have this desire, we move on. These three players said yes, simple answer.”
Five league starts under Zinedine Zidane last season simplified the decision for Rodríguez, along with the attraction of reuniting with the manager who got the best from him at Real Madrid and Bayern Munich. “As everyone knows, I played little last year and so I spoke to Carlo and I think it is good for me to be able to play again,” said the 29-year-old. “I see a club with fans with passion too. When I spoke to him I said yes. It wasn’t: ‘Well I’ll think about it and then I’ll tell you.’ I said yes straight away. It was the right thing for me because now I can play.”
It is six years since Rodríguez inspired his country to a first World Cup quarter-final, won the Golden Boot and cost Real Madrid £63m in the aftermath. He left for less than a third of that, taking a pay cut on his £140,000-a-week wage in Spain, but is adamant he can rekindle the glorious form of 2014 at a club and with a manager who want him.
“Six or seven years ago I had something good, I had a good level,” Rodríguez said. “I am someone who wants to keep improving day by day. That doesn’t go away. In football, when you play well you have to have people beside you who trust in you, so you can give your best. In football it is not only you, you have to have people next to you, on and off the pitch, who are with you. There are many factors.
“I still think I am young and have many years left in me of playing good football and that’s why I am here, to do it at this great club. This is what I want. I hope I can be at a top level. I look around me and I see winners on the field and in the backroom staff. It’s a club where I see serious people inside, who want to win, and this is a strong point for all those that the club want [to sign]. I am full of positives.”
Ancelotti believes Rodríguez has the capacity to be a better player than the one he welcomed from Monaco in 2014. “When he came to Real Madrid he was young,” he said. “Now he has more knowledge about football, about tactics. I think the time he spent in Madrid, and in a different league with Bayern Munich, helped him to be a better player with more knowledge. He is a more complete player.”
Rodríguez deflected a question on where he would prefer to play at Everton. That one, he insisted, was for the manager. Ancelotti obliged: “I think he has the qualities of a No 10 but he played really well my first year in Madrid as a midfielder. We played three and he played on the left with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos. He had a fantastic season. He also played really well as a right winger with Bayern. He can play everywhere, but he’s not going to play as a defender, that’s for sure.”