Bayern Munich came to his rescue, and the Colombian has thrived in Germany. So much so, that he’s regained his place among the best attacking midfielders in the game.
He tops our list of the best at his position – who else made the cut?
1. James Rodriguez, Bayern Munich
This season has brought James full circle. He earned a move to Real Madrid after a stunning showing at the 2014 World Cup. Having left Madrid on loan last summer, he heads into this year’s World Cup at the top of his game again.
2. Lorenzo Insigne, Napoli
There were so many things to love about Napoli this season, even if their title bid ultimately fell short. Insigne’s form was one of them, leading a thrilling attack with flair, skill and no little drive.
3. Heung-min Son, Tottenham
4. Nabil Fekir, Lyon
If anyone was worried that Fekir’s severe injury debacle would derail his progress, they needn’t worry anymore. The Frenchman has been absolutely superb this term, leading Lyon’s charge for a Champions League spot.
5. Christian Eriksen, Tottenham
Eriksen must have felt that Harry Kane and Dele Alli had been hogging the headlines for too long. It’s been a stunning season from the Dane, who also scored a hat-trick in a World Cup qualifying play-off to seal Denmark’s spot.
6. Douglas Costa, Juventus
It’s strange that Bayern Munich let him go to Juventus on loan in the first place. The Brazilian is certainly not complaining – he’s hit top form for the Serie A‘s best side. He’s going to make Bayern rue their decision someday.
7. Memphis Depay, Lyon
Cut free from the pressure and expectation at Manchester United, Memphis has thrived. He had a run of six games with either a goal or an assist at one point, making sure Lyon didn’t miss a beat when Fekir was injured.
8. Luis Alberto, Lazio
What Insigne did for Napoli this season, Alberto did for Lazio. Ciro Immobile and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic stole the headlines for the Rome team, but the Spaniard’s incisiveness and vision underpinned their play.
9. Paulo Dybala, Juventus
It says it all that a season where he scores twice as many league goals while recording nearly the same number of assists as the previous year is considered a disappointing campaign. Granted, Dybala hasn’t hit the heights of last season, but he’s still a rising star.
10. Raheem Sterling, Manchester City
It’s tempting to wonder how good Sterling’s season would have been had he been a better finisher. Would we be talking about him in the same breath as Mohamed Salah? Of all the players to have grown under Guardiola’s tutelage, the Englishman showcases it best.
Hyperbole? Absolutely. But not by much. City’s dominant season in the Premier League was a result of De Bruyne’s consistent brilliance in the centre of the park, a player so attuned to the demands of his manager and the vision behind a historic success.
The Belgian duly tops our ranking of midfield maestros in Europe’s top five leagues – see who else made our top 10.
1. Kevin De Bruyne, Manchester City
Only an unexpectedly stunning season from Mohamed Salah has kept De Bruyne from sweeping England’s end-of-season awards. City have a squad full of riches, but De Bruyne is the reason they’re champions.
2. David Silva, Manchester City
Speaking of that squad full of riches – was this Silva’s best season in a City shirt? He’s been so good for so long that it seems hard to believe, yet the Spaniard found another level this season to lead his side to the title.
3. Ivan Rakitic, Barcelona
Rakitic has had a resurgent year for Barcelona, often looking like the third-best player in his side behind Messi and Marc-Andre ter Stegen. He rediscovered himself this season after a few below-par campaigns.
4. Miralem Pjanic, Juventus
Pjanic cemented his status as the Serie A‘s best midfielder this season. He’s a player who can be a metronome when Juventus are recycling possession, and visionary and lethal in attack. And that’s before you get to his set-piece prowess.
5. Fernandinho, Manchester City
Pep Guardiola’s insistence on full-throttle attack from even his defenders makes Fernandinho City’s most important player. He’s still glued in to their possession football, but he’s also the rock that anchors their defence.
6. Jorginho, Napoli
It says it all that with Fernandinho at 33, Jorginho is the favourite to deputise and eventually replace him at City. The Brazil-born Italian has had an utterly superb season for Napoli.
7. Saul Niguez, Atletico Madrid
Another player who’s turning heads at Europe’s other leading clubs. Saul’s been a great find for Diego Simeone, an energetic midfielder with an eye for goal.
8. Geoffrey Kondogbia, Valencia
Kondogbia’s stock had dropped sharply going into this season, but he’s redeemed himself just as his team have. Valencia have gone from relegation battlers to the top four, and Kondogbia’s been vital to that transformation.
9. Radja Nainggolan, Roma
He shoots as if his foot is a cannon, bulldozes through midfield like a tank, and runs like he’s a literal engine. Calling him a one-man army might be a disservice to the rest of Roma’s midfield, but he’s been their heartbeat this season.
10. Dani Parejo, Valencia
Much like Kondogbia, Parejo has embodied Valencia’s resurgence. This is a player who started off at Real Madrid but never quite seemed to be good enough for that level. He’s put that theory to bed this season.
Liverpool midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum admits the dream of joining the ranks of Champions League “legends” is driving the players to succeed in Kiev later this month.
Despite winning the competition five times ,Liverpool have been starved of success among Europe’s elite since their last victory in Istanbul 13 years ago.
In Ukraine they face Real Madrid, the defending champions who have won three of the last four finals to extend the club’s all-time record to 12 victories – five more than anyone else.
The Real side already contain their fair share of the game’s greats but Wijnaldum believes Liverpool’s players can write their own piece of history.
“You can put yourself there with legends that won the Champions League. That’s what everyone wants,” said the Holland international.
“That is what makes it really exciting for us, because we have the opportunity now to win a big trophy with a massive club waiting for a lot of years for a trophy.
“We are lucky that we can give them one if we win.
“Two years ago it was the Europa League final (which Liverpool lost to Sevilla) but the Champions League final is the highest you can play for a club so everyone will look forward to it.
“For a lot of us it will be the first time in the final, so I’m really excited to play in that one.”
Since lifting the Champions League in 2005 Liverpool have won just one trophy, the 2012 League Cup, and the weight of expectation of adding to their European haul grows ever greater on Jurgen Klopp’s players.
It is, however, something Wijnaldum believes the squad can cope with.
“The supporters support the club for many years. It’s a big chance for them to win a big trophy, the first in years, so of course you know how important and big it is for them but this is also for us,” he added.
“We have to make it together, support each other and make the chance even bigger to win the Champions League.”
After a couple of days off Liverpool’s players will reconvene for a gentle training camp in Spain, before returning at the weekend to begin preparations in earnest.
Wijnaldum admits it will be difficult to switch off with such a huge game looming on May 26.
“To be fair it’s difficult to not think about it because everyone is talking about the final,” he said.
“Even before the Brighton game nobody is talking about that game. When you see people, they were wishing me luck for the final, they didn’t wish me luck for against Brighton.
“Everyone reminds you that you’re going to play a final. Even if you don’t want to think about it, people remind you that you’re going to play a final so you will think about it.”
And what of Madrid?
“Good players, good team. They are really professional, this is their third final in three years so that says a lot about that team,” the 27-year-old added.
“They are used to playing in games like this. It’s going to be difficult but I think that’s something we can deal with.
“You don’t look at the past and say, ‘You know we scored a lot of goals so we are going to create them against Real Madrid’.
“We have to see how we going to perform. The only thing we have to do is play our own game and not be nervous. I think then we will make a chance to win the game.”