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Kelly: James Rodriguez delivers as tournament’s breakout star

Colombia's James Rodriguez celebrates after scoring his side's first goal during the group C World Cup soccer match between Colombia and Ivory Coast at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, June 19, 2014.

Associated Press

No one can seem to agree on how to say his name.

Colombia's James Rodriguez is referred to by first-name only. While all Brazilians assume that right, it is extended abroad to only a few other Latin players of exceeding quality.

The British call him James with a 'J'. Brazilian announcers here refer to him as 'Hamz'. Spanish speakers inflect it a little more – 'Himes'.

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That'll get worked out in the time he's one of the biggest football brands on the planet – probably meaning the next couple of weeks.

Last summer, the 22-year-old starlet was sold for $65-million to Ligue 1 side, AS Monaco. That team is one of the recent beneficiaries of a new, wildly profligate Russian billionaire owner.

But despite a side shot through with stars (most notably, James's countryman, Radamel Falcao), it still toils on the periphery of international attention.

He came here an unusual sort of surprise package – the sort no one expected to be particularly surprised by. Most experts tapped him as the breakout star of the tournament.

He has delivered magnificently. James has been the overwhelming star of Colombia's first two games, including Thursday's defence-free 2-1 win over Ivory Coast.

He's noted as a playmaker rather than a goalscorer, but he already has two goals here. Despite standing only 5-foot-10, he scored the second of them on Thursday with his head from a set piece. In between, he has dictated play from the middle of the park for a surging Colombian side.

On the evidence of 180 minutes here, he can do it all.

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The World Cup is a place to make personal history, but it's also a place to get really rich and famous. Pele embedded himself on the global consciousness in the 1958 tournament. Then he disappeared from view – back into the Brazilian club system. Every four years, he'd return for just a few weeks.

Try to imagine that now – a player who only rolled around like a passing comet, yet still managed to imprint himself on the world's imagination. That's the power of this tournament.

In recent history, 18-year-old Englishman Michael Owen made himself an overnight sensation in 1998 with a slaloming run and goal through most of the Argentina squad. That's really all it takes – 10 brilliant seconds. Though Owen would go on to a decent club career, that always remained his highlight.

While James is already worth a great deal, he's not paid like it. According to reports, his salary hovers around $1-million. That is nowhere close to his true value.

Already, the biggest clubs in the world are sniffing around. Manchester United has a long-standing interest, but balked at the asking price. That team is desperately looking to retool under new manager Louis van Gaal. They'd pay that in a heartbeat for James now.

But Monaco will not want to sell what is now definitively their most precious asset. In order to prise James away, the player himself will have to force a move (as you may have heard, not all that hard in European football).

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If he's going to leave, James will want to go a huge team playing Champions League football (so, not United).

Based on his performances here, he can take his pick.

Arsenal and Chelsea would scoop him easily. That means Manchester City is in the mix somewhere.

Real Madrid always have an eye for the great star of the moment – regardless of whether they have a tactical need for him or not. James is quickly edging into that territory.

Barcelona is totally reliant on two aging midfield string-pullers – Xavi and Andres Iniesta. The performances here of those two players (particularly Xavi) will have their club-side desperate for young creativity.

Teams will want to beware of the amplifying effect of a big-tournament surge. Just mention the name Karel Poborsky to any United fan you know, and wait for the tears.

But James has done something here very, very few players ever do – arrived trumpeted by impossible hype, and found a way to live up to it.

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