James Rodriguez became the world’s fourth most expensive footballer when he joined Real Madrid this summer after a star showing at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. But by fitting James into their line-up, are the European champions stunting the development of one of their most promising talents: Isco?
Before James had taken Brazil by storm, crowning his tournament with an unforgettable long-range volley against Uruguay, Isco was wowing La Liga crowds with his searing pace, electric turns and eye for goal.
Robert Jarni, the former Madrid left-back from Croatia, spelled out the potential dilemma: “It took me by surprise that they bought James when they already have Isco, who is young, can score and who can make an extra man on every inch of the field.”
We analysed both players’ data from last season to determine who is the most effective attacking midfielder.
James was the Brazil 2014 Golden Boot winner, notching 6 goals on his country’s march to the quarter-finals, and the dynamic number 10 also proved he can create too, racking up 2 assists at the tournament. For his former club Monaco in Ligue 1 last season, James averaged 7.5 chance creation attempts, while in La Liga for Real, Isco averaged 6.1.
However, Isco’s success rate is slightly superior. The 22-year-old, who has represented Spain at every level from under-16s, creates an average of 2.4 chances per game, to James’ 2.3. A close call – but both it is clear both would be effective weapons in the division – their figures are significantly higher than the average for an attacking midfielder in the Spanish top flight.
While both are capable of finding the net – Isco scored 11 times last season with James scoring 10 – James is accustomed to shouldering more responsibility when it comes to going for goal. In action for Monaco, who were runners-up to Paris Saint Germain in France last year, he accounted for an average of 19.1% of his team’s shots per game, while Isco registered 10.9%.
With sharp-shooters such as Ronaldo, Benzema and Bale around, James may find himself in less scoring situations at his new club. That considered, James lags behind Isco in terms of shot conversion – 18.2% of Isco’s shots result in goals, compared to 8.1% of James’s efforts. Scoring chances don’t come by the bucketload for a Madrid midfielder, and Isco looks to be the more reliable at exploiting them.
Running with the ball appears to be another area in which the young Spaniard trumps his pricey potential replacement. While Isco (13.0) averages only 2 more dribbles per game than James (11.0), he breaches the 1st (1.9) and 2nd (1.3) defensive lines more per game than his new teammate. Nearly half of Isco’s dribbles (49.5%) are classed as ‘good’, compared to 40.3% of James’s.
After being a lynchpin for his club and country’s attack, James may find himself in an unfamiliar support role for Real. Whether he can fit into Carlo Ancelotti’s unit with the ease of Isco is the £63 million question.