Time for Monaco to cash in on James
Falcao and James Rodriguez -- who wouldn't want this dynamic duo lining up for their team? Falcao, the 60 million-euro clinical finisher, the one-chance, one-goal man who hasn't even reached the peak of his career yet at the age of 28. James Rodriguez, the 45 million-euro prodigious playmaker, the man who can do with his left foot what most can't even do with their hands. At the tender age of 23, the younger of the two Colombians is the future of world football. They both belong to Monaco.
They signed them both last summer -- Falcao arrived from Atletico Madrid, James from Porto. However, Monaco didn't have the chance to play them together much last season. Rodriguez spent his first three months in Ligue 1 on the bench because Claudio Ranieri, his manager at the time, didn't think he defended enough. Shortly after James finally got his chance, Falcao tore his ACL and missed the rest of the season while his Colombian friend shone.
The sad thing is that they may never feature again together for the principality as Monaco are now willing to sell. But which one could it be?
Last month, reports in France suggested that the Ligue 1 runners-up were ready to let go of Falcao.
Despite a good start to his Monaco career, nine goals in his first 13 league games and none after, the experiment failed. There was a clash with Ranieri in November. Then came the weird aftermath when Falcao was injured but not really injured -- the player didn't play or train but the manager kept saying scans showed nothing wrong. He reappeared before Christmas, played 45 minutes against Valenciennes and missed a penalty. A few weeks later he suffered the cruciate injury and his season was over before it had really begun.
What the Monaco hierarchy hadn't anticipated, though, was James' World Cup. It has changed the whole dynamic of their summer. Before the competition, Falcao was the hottest property in their squad. Despite the price they paid for him and his film-star wages (14 million euros and no taxes to pay on it), they could still have made some money by selling him.
However, now they can make even more money by selling James. The pendulum has swung. Monaco know that, for all their money and their ambitious project, they were lucky to land them both in the first place. They knew Falcao and James would not stay at the Stade Louis II, playing in front of the second-smallest crowd in Ligue 1 for the rest of their careers.
The club can't afford to let them both go this summer, but they will surely lose one of their Colombians, and it looks very likely that it will be the younger one.
Indeed, Rodriguez seems to be on his way to Real Madrid. His agent, Jorge Mendes, has had a few meetings already in the Spanish capital with Madrid president Florentino Perez and Monaco owner Dmitry Rybolovlev. Talks are ongoing and positive; reports in Spain and in France indicate that everything is sorted between the player and the European champions. Rodriguez said publicly that it is his dream to play for Real Madrid, and usually when Mendes is involved a deal materialises.
Monaco are looking to almost double their investment. The negotiations have started around 80 million euros. Casemiro, the young Brazilian midfielder, or Pepe could be included in the transaction to drive down the price. The sales of Angel Di Maria (reportedly to PSG for 60 million euros), Sami Khedira (likely to Arsenal or Chelsea for around 30 million euros) and Alvaro Morata (potentially to Juventus for around 25 million euros) will fund the transfer of James, which would be one of the biggest deals, if not the biggest, of the summer.
James' move to Madrid won't become a saga like Gareth Bale's departure from Tottenham a year ago. Mendes is too powerful for that, and it's not in Monaco's interest either. They need to replace him quickly -- Real Sociedad's France international Antoine Griezmann has been linked with the principality, as has Wesley Sneijder -- and Ligue 1 starts before Europe's other major leagues.
It would be a shame for Monaco and Ligue 1 to lose such a talented player after just a year. He was a delight to watch last season (nine goals, 12 assists in 34 games), but not many clubs can compete with Real Madrid in the transfer market. There are some things in life that can't be turned down.
Monaco, who fly to Colombia on Thursday for a preseason tournament while James is still on holiday, can't keep him against his will. It is almost impossible for them to refuse him the chance of playing for the biggest club in the world.
Julian Laurens is a London-based French journalist who writes for ESPN FC and Le Parisien. Follow him on Twitter @LaurensJulien.