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James Rodríguez Is Here to Entertain You

Two games in, that effect has been magnified. To his coach, Ancelotti, his gifts lie in his simplicity. “His football is not so complicated,” he said. “If he has space, he uses his qualities to play passes. If he is under pressure, he plays simple. This is what every player has to do.” To his captain, Seamus Coleman, it is the “calm” that comes from such a celebrated, high-pressure career.

But to an outside eye, it is the artistry with which he does it all: the flourish of his left boot as he plays a pass; the fade on a ball to make it fall just so for a teammate; the ingenuity with which he lofts a pass to Richarlison to create Calvert-Lewin’s second goal.That he drifts in and out of games, in a way, only adds to his aura. Rodríguez plays like a star in an almost old-fashioned sense, not expected to dictate a game from start to finish but to influence it in moments. He makes fans believe that anything can happen at any second, that nothing is ever lost, that there is always reason for anticipation, for hope.

On the stratified plains of European soccer, that is no small thing. Though Ajax, Monaco and the rest prove that it is possible to succeed from a position of weakness, it is a Sisyphean task: no sooner has the boulder been rolled up the slope than the process must begin again. Tomorrow, for most, never really comes.

Everton, instead, has chosen to make today as enjoyable as possible, to give its fans reason to find every game compelling. It is not an acquiescence to its status — an admission that it can never catch the modern giants — but it is a recognition of it. Everton cannot join the entrenched elite overnight; it may as well enjoy the wait.

Ultimately, professional sports are not just about long-term aims and models of success and age profiles and philosophies. They are not entirely about economics, either. Strip away the tribalism and the emotion and they are, at their heart, a form of entertainment. They are supposed to be fun. That is what Rodríguez has done: allowed Everton to have fun again.

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