James Rodriguez sets an example for Colombian kids

Colombia's president calls James Rodriguez an example that young people can look up to. Getty Images

This is a profile of James Rodriguez, who is part of ESPN's World Fame 100.

James Rodriguez is the most successful Colombian footballer of all time. And perhaps also the best. Even though it is difficult to compare different eras, his influence on local soccer and on his national team has been greater than those of Willington Ortiz and Carlos Valderrama, for example. This is the main reason why Tricolor's No. 10 is beloved by the Colombian people, but it's not the only one, as his personality and humility are cherished in his homeland too.

"All Colombians take great pride in James. He is an example of how young people in our country can get very far with effort and dedication," Colombian president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Juan Manuel Santos said.

"James Rodriguez should definitely be shown as an example to the boys who start playing soccer. Through the game you can do things right in order to get far," said professor John Jairo Londono of Antonio Narino University.

He was born in Cucuta in 1991 and made his top-flight debut with Envigado at 14. But his country enjoyed him only briefly, as he was signed by Argentina's Banfield at 16, where he excelled as the star of the championship team in 2009.

Still, emigrating at such a young age didn't deprive him of his country's love -- quite the contrary. Whenever he returns to Colombia, James is given a hero's welcome. In fact, before the last World Cup qualifying match against Peru, the national team was seen off by a big crowd, and this is how he remembers it: "All the people in Barranquilla gave us a warm sendoff that was great. That gesture made us tougher and also gave me the strength I needed. I tell all the people that stood by us during the whole process, that our qualification is dedicated to all of them".

With more than 36 million of followers in Instagram, he's the second-most popular Colombian on the social network, behind Shakira. (Among footballers, Radamel Falcao Garcia stands far behind him, with less than 10 million.) James' popularity transcends the Colombian market, and that became evident during his last season with his Bayern Munich jersey.

He has been the face of international brands like Adidas, Huawei and Calvin Klein, and of Colombian brands such as Pony Malta, Milo and Claro Colombia.

James is the first Colombian player to win the Champions League, and he's done it twice. He was the first Colombian crowned the top scorer in a World Cup, and he led the Tricolor that made history and got to the quarterfinals at Brazil 2014. And last but not least, he's the great hope in the face of Russia 2018.

For all these reasons, he's simply the most beloved Colombian nowadays.