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The new Valderrama? Why Man Utd scouts are now watching James Rodriguez every week

Many inside Colombian football regard James Rodriguez as the best they've had since Carlos Valderrama.

And local fans are buzzing over Manchester United's interest in the FC Porto midfielder. United have had scouts in the stands for Porto's last three games, including Saturday's win at Braga.

For fans in Bogota, it's becoming increasingly apparent that Rodriguez is on the brink of becoming the first Colombian to pull on a Red United shirt.

Rodriguez is well aware he's on the radar of United manager Sir Alex Ferguson and confessed Saturday night: "I'm focused on Porto right now, but I could not refuse Manchester United."

Ferguson's scouts also followed Rodriguez all the way to Miami last month, where he shone in a friendly against Mexico.

Peruvian legend Teofilo Cubillas, regarded among the nation's greatest ever, declared: "I just saw James Rodriguez play in Miami, against Mexico. He confirmed the idea I formed during the U-20 World Championships: he has a bright future."

Played mainly on the flanks at Porto, those who have followed Rodriguez's career see his future as the ideal midfield quarterback - in the mould of Paul Scholes.

For Valderrama, this has to be Rodriguez's long-term position. The former midfield great believes even at Rodriguez's tender age of 20, Colombia should build their World Cup team around the youngster.

"Colombia do not need me. James is comfortable in that position. We have to give support to the young man, help him stay motivated and we must be there for him because I think we have a great player on our hands," declared El Pibe.

Many pundits in Colombia agree. Indeed there's a growing opinion that Rodriguez can surpass Valderrama on and off the pitch as the nation's next great football icon.

"This generation is the best we've had (since his time)," said Valderrama, "and James is a big part of that. He needs time to develop, but the potential is definitely there."

Local fans have known about Rodriguez's talent for years. At just 15, he was playing regularly for Envigado's first team and after two years of senior football was sold to Banfield of Argentina.

Like many foreigners, particularly at just 17 years of age, Rodriguez found his first season away from home difficult. But the following campaign, he announced himself to fans across South America enjoying two superb runs in the Copa Libertadores, including hitting five goals in just seven games in the 2010 tournament.

It was at the end of that campaign when the offers from Europe began to flood in. First from Espanyol of Spain, then Russia's CSKA Moscow before Benfica made contact with Banfield. A deal was close to agreement before great rivals Porto swooped in to table a superior €5 million bid and nick Rodriguez from under Benfica's nose.

"It's really a dream. All players aspire to play in European football and I will now have that opportunity," he said at the time. "I hope to meet everyone's expectations and continue to grow in my career."

Those expectations were met under then manager Andre Villas-Boas, who pushed for Rodriguez to have his contract upgraded after he played a significant role in their Treble winning season.

Indeed, it was one of the last pieces of business AVB did before his departure for Chelsea as he oversaw the youngster's contract extension to 2016 and his buyout clause increased to €45 million last year.

This season he hasn't looked back, establishing himself as an ever-present under new coach Vitor Pereira, who told fans when AVB and several of the Treble team had left, they could be assured that Rodriguez would fill the void.

Now his form has all but convinced Ferguson to make a move at the end of the season. The one stumbling block will be Rodriguez's registration, which is owned by several investment firms. The onus will be on Porto to clear up the youngster's ownership before United make a firm offer.

For Rodriguez, he won't want Porto to dither. He's made it clear if United are serious, he wants to see the move happen:

"I feel very happy here, but if you give me the option to go to United, I am not going to deny that I would like to play at a like club that."

Chris Beattie
About the author

Chris Beattie

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