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Jul 22, 2014

Can James Rodriguez live up to fee?

Security at the Bernabeu is a bit relaxed today as two Real Madrid fans rush the pitch to hug James Rodriguez.

There were more questions than answers following James Rodriguez's 80 million euro move from Monaco to Real Madrid.

Where will the Colombian play? Is he worth one of the largest transfer fees ever? Do Real Madrid really need him?

Los Blancos president Florentino Perez certainly had no doubts. The attacker's performance for his country in the World Cup saw Madrid make Rodriguez their "galactico" signing this summer, even edging out Bayern Munich's Toni Kroos, who penned a six-year deal with the European champion last week.

For all Rodriguez's talents, however, Madrid fans have been left to wonder if their new No. 10 is a flavour of the month signing given his star turn in Brazil.

The former Porto man bagged six goals to clinch the World Cup Golden Boot and led Colombia to the quarterfinals. He shone for Monaco in Ligue 1 last season too, but only really came into the wider public eye this summer.

While Kroos arrived for less than a third of the fee and having won the World Cup, the Champions League and numerous Bundesliga titles and domestic cups, Rodriguez arrives as the man of the moment.

James Rodriguez capitalized on an extraordinary World Cup to earn a big-money move to Real Madrid.

A talent, no doubt, but still with plenty to prove. Monaco and Porto count among his former clubs, but can Rodriguez cut it at the football anomaly that is Real Madrid -- a club that has chewed up and spat out numerous stars in the past and will do so again?

First things first: The 23-year-old has talent. Playing just behind the front man for Colombia in Brazil, Rodriguez bagged arguably the goal of the tournament, was the top scorer and looked ever so comfortable on the biggest stage in football. He also contributed the most assists, 12, in the French league last season and added nine goals for Monaco, being named in the league's team of the year. Madrid have signed a player who can cut it at the top level.

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Where will he fit in at the Bernabeu though? With Kroos already bolstering a Champions League-winning squad that is the envy of most clubs on the planet, Madrid's midfield is packed. Angel di Maria and Sami Khedira may depart the Spanish capital this summer, but a question mark will still hang over whether the Colombian should be a regular starter next season.

Politics may dictate so. After Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale, Rodriguez will be the most expensive member of Madrid's squad, and Perez will not want to see that amount of money sit on the bench. Manager Carlo Ancelotti may have to make room for the new arrival whether he likes it or not.

But from a purely tactical point of view, Los Merengues may be best served with the Colombian not being a regular starter at all. Rodriguez likes to play just off the front man, in this case Karim Benzema, but with Bale and Ronaldo all but guaranteed starters, the addition of Rodriguez would make Ancelotti's starting lineup too attacking. That's the norm for Los Blancos, some might say, but the balance would not be ideal.

Two central midfielders would be left to protect the defence and link to the attack, but Madrid were sometimes overrun in the middle of the park last season against the bigger teams. That problem would only worsen a year on. A 4-2-3-1 lineup including Madrid's biggest stars may look exciting for the neutral, but it would do Ancelotti's men no favours as they look to better a campaign that saw them clinch La Decima and the Copa del Rey.

Florentino Perez has had a heavy influence on Madrid's star signings. Will Carlo Ancelotti be able to fit James Rodriguez in his starting XI?

Instead, a 4-3-3 lineup, with the much-feared "BBC" of Bale, Benzema and Cristiano, a middle three of Kroos, Xabi Alonso and Luka Modric, and Rodriguez on the bench, looks more complete. While that middle three can chip in defensively, none are out-and-out defensive midfielders. To leave two on their own to occupy Rodriguez in a more attacking role does not seem wise.

So what for Rodriguez? Ancelotti looked to add some defensive grit to Isco last term to use him in a more central and deeper role. To an extent it worked, but with that comes the risk of blunting his star's attacking flair that lit up Brazil. A role as a false nine in Benzema's absence? Possibly. It's another role that Isco tried in but ultimately failed at last season.

Rodriguez may be better suited to that position, and it would offer variety in attack given Alvaro Morata's departure to Juventus this summer. There are, at least, possibilities, and Ancelotti will be exploring them.

The transfer fee has not helped Rodriguez; those kind of fees never do. There is always huge pressure on players who pull on the demanding all-white of Madrid, but a fee that is the fourth highest in transfer history will add more weight on the attacker's shoulders.

Whether he can live up to the fee and not go the same way as his new teammates Isco and Asier Illarramendi, who arrived at the Bernabeu for large sums last season but now look destined for the exit door, remains to be seen. As things stand, Rodriguez's signing looks like a luxury rather than a necessity. It's up to him to prove people wrong.