CARDIFF, Wales (AP) — After exquisite touches and exceptional goals established him as the World Cup's breakthrough star, James Rodriguez has a new platform to showcase his skills at Real Madrid — starting with his debut in the UEFA Super Cup on Tuesday.
The versatile 23-year-old playmaker, who landed a $108-million move from Monaco after scoring a World Cup-leading six goals for Colombia, will be in the starting lineup for the European champions against Sevilla at Cardiff City's stadium.
"He can help the team to be better," coach Carlo Ancelotti said Monday. "He can play both in front and on the wings. He can also play behind the forward as he did at the World Cup, and he can also be deeper down as a more attacking midfielder."
Even though the Super Cup lacks the status of the Champions League, Ancelotti is preparing to unleash the full might of his team against the Europa League winners with another new signing, midfielder Toni Kroos, also being handed his debut. Kroos, who joined from Bayern Munich for around $40 million, hasn't played since featuring in Germany's World Cup final win over Argentina.
"He has joined training for past five days and shown he is up to the task," Ancelotti said. "He is a player with great abilities, in strategic terms, positing and helping other players."
It was only a year ago that Real spent $130 million to bring in Gareth Bale from Tottenham to link up with Cristiano Ronaldo, who cost only slightly less in 2009 when joining from Manchester United.
The spotlight in the Welsh capital at least is not on the newcomers or Ronaldo but on Bale, the Cardiff boy preparing to play for the Spanish giants on his home soil for the first time.
"It could be strange if he starts on the bench," Ancelotti said, before reassuring the local media that Bale would start. "He is in perfect condition — physically and mentally."
The winger is in the Welsh capital with little to prove, having completed a debut season at Madrid by netting the decisive goal in May's Champions League final win.
"It's nice not being new and to start the season settled in and to have a good preseason," said Bale, whose move from Tottenham took until September last year to be completed. "It's obviously a lot easier having a preseason under your belt rather than sitting at home waiting for a transfer to go through. I feel I can start the season with a better tempo.
"I don't feel the pressure of being back home. It's a big trophy we want to win."
It is a chance to put down an early marker as the European season begins after Real ended a 12-year wait for the coveted "Decima" — a 10th European Cup.
Bale already raised some eyebrows when training ground photographs last week showed a bulked-up physique for the once the scrawny Welshman. But when asked about his growing muscles, Bale said: "I've done nothing in the gym or anything like that. It's pure conditioning training."
Those expanding shoulders could have another trophy to raise aloft by Tuesday night in Cardiff — the first of potentially six for Real this season.
Rob Harris can be followed at www.twitter.com/RobHarris