Back in April this correspondent made a huge declaration on the Royal Blue podcast when I proclaimed that James Rodriguez is arguably ‘the most talented footballer’ to have ever played for Everton Football Club.

Just four months later the midfielder appears to be on his way out of the Blues with it understood that he’s surplus to requirements under new manager Rafa Benitez and able to go if a suitable offer comes in for his services.

Despite this dramatic turn of events, less than a year after his arrival, and by a quirk of fate due to the global pandemic, before he he’s even kicked a ball in front of fans at Goodison Park, I stand by my bold statement.

It will be a real shame if Everton are unable to harness James’ terrific abilities – especially given the aforementioned circumstances – but it would hardly be one of football’s biggest surprises either.

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Ahead of his signing last September, Bogota-based English football journalist Carl Worswick told the ECHO that this was James’ last chance to show he is still a world-class player and that he’d heard one of his Colombian colleagues remark: “If he doesn’t make it at Everton, let’s turn the lights off and go home.”

Ultimately it looks like James is going to be a gamble for the Blues that didn’t quite pay off but that’s probably more down to Carlo Ancelotti, the coach who signed him three times during his career, making a sudden defection back to Real Madrid in June.

With his long-time mentor’s arm around his shoulder, perhaps James could have kicked on this season having already got a year in English football under his belt, although there would be some who still think the Italian over-indulged him.

James was allowed to leave Merseyside before the season had finished to return to Colombia and get himself ready for Copa America – a picture inside a luxurious private jet when Everton were still fighting an (ultimately losing) battle for Europe left a bad taste in the mouth – but in the end he wasn’t picked for his country anyway because they too felt he wasn’t in peak condition.

It would be unfair to brand James a flop, and given he arrived on a free, he was a risk worth taking even if he departs in the current transfer window.

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When he was on the pitch, he was very effective – famously tearing West Bromwich Albion apart without having to break into a sprint once – but he could not be depended upon to go flat out for over 40 games a season.

While James, the 2014 World Cup Golden Boot winner who in many people’s minds was also the player of the tournament at those finals rather than the recipient of the trophy Lionel Messi might indeed be the most talented footballer to have donned the royal blue jersey, he's probably a long way off being considered Everton’s greatest Premier League player.

Perhaps it’s a semantic dispute here in how you actually phrase the term but we asked several members of the ECHO sportsdesk just who does deserve that crown.

Chris Beesley

Everton, with some justification, like to emphasise the many things they do well as a club but one factor the Blues have struggled with is departures and the manner in which both the players involved and the fans have reacted to high-profile partings of the ways in recent decades.

From Wayne Rooney to Joleon Lescott, there’s been plenty of bad blood when one-time Goodison Park idols move on.

As much as we as passionate supporters might not like it, big players are always going to move on and while it’s easier to leave on good terms when you’ve won everything in the game, Raphael Varane showed how it should be done when saying a dignified goodbye to Real Madrid last week.

One of the most unsavoury scenes I saw live came at Old Trafford in 2017 where Romelu Lukaku turned to the travelling Evertonians who’d booed him all afternoon with a cupped ear celebration after netting in a 4-0 victory for Manchester United.

Yes he’s a striker and he always wants to score but he’d been positively itching to get a goal all day just to do that.

This is the same Lukaku who did one of those ‘non-celebrations’ out of respect when he scored his first goal after signing permanently for Everton against West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns even though he’d only ever been with the Baggies for one season on loan.

The Belgian is an affable and intelligent young man who speaks several languages but it was his constant chatter about how the Blues were always a stepping stone for him that irked the Gwladys Street faithful during his time at the club.

You might not have liked his attitude at times but nit-picking over a poor first touch seems petty and criticisms for not running around as much as Denis Stracqualursi are just ridiculous.

If you’d asked me this question a decade ago I’d have said Andrei Kanchelskis without hesitation but the Russian international’s achievements over just 18-months have since been eclipsed by Lukaku, both the greatest goalscorer and indeed player for Everton in the Premier League era.

Perhaps one of the reasons that many Blues never truly took him to their hearts was that nagging realisation that because he was so good, he was never going to stick around for a prolonged period?


Elliott Breland

Wayne Rooney was the real deal at the age of 16.

Possessing pure God-given talent, the teenager mixed raw power with elegant grace on the ball and could produce explosive moments of magic from nowhere.

Everton had Rooney at his fearless, care-free best and he treated Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and Highbury like they were the back streets of Croxteth.

Passing through the eye of a needle, hitting the target with pinpoint accuracy from anywhere on the field and driving forward with a ravenous desire to create danger, Rooney had it all.

The fact he was a boyhood Blue, growing up just down the road from Goodison Park, made his debut Premier League goal, a winner against the unbeaten Arsenal, even more special.

Sam Carroll

Who is the best Everton player of the Premier League era?

Well, you can find several different answers using different parameters.

There is the swaggering, untouchable Leighton Baines, possessing a highlight reel fit for most midfielders and wingers.

You also have the tenacious, never-say-die Tim Cahill, and his goals which fuelled the David Moyes era.

Others have a genuinely realistic claim too, and all for unique reasons. Wayne Rooney, Andrei Kanchelskis, Duncan Ferguson, Mikel Arteta and Marouane Fellaini the first to spring to mind.

But if you want the player who ticks the most boxes, it has to be Romelu Lukaku.

The club-record Premier League goalscorer, his £28m signing quickly proved to be a bargain. You will never sign a £28m striker like Lukaku again.

Lukaku had it all. On his day he was unplayable, with his pace and power matched by a venomous left foot and unerring ability to be in the right place at the right time.

It was a short and sweet love affair, but his double against Chelsea in the FA Cup in 2016 nearly took the roof off Goodison Park and he remains the only Everton player to score more than 20 goals in the Premier League in a single season.

Put Lukaku into any Everton team of the modern era and he improves them tenfold.

Adam Jones

This question all centres around what “greatest” means to you.

If we were talking about technically the most gifted player in the Premier League era for Everton, then it probably would be James Rodriguez.

But if we're talking about the “greatest”, to me that marries natural ability with a connection to the supporters and a long-term influence on the side as a whole.

There's a few players who fall into that category, but I think Leighton Baines stands head and shoulders above anyone else.

At one point he was the best left-back in the Premier League and had interest from a lot of other clubs, but he made the decision to stay loyal to Everton and make himself a hero at Goodison Park.

He made that position in the squad his own for a decade, being not just a top quality player but representing the club perfectly on and off the pitch.

In the modern day, he's about as close it gets to an Everton "legend", and so he's got to go down as the greatest in the Premier League era.

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Phil Kirkbride

It takes some doing even to put yourself in contention with Leighton Baines, when discussing the club's greatest Premier League player.

Baines should be near to the top of everyone's list in this debate but there is someone else who gives the left-back a run for his money.

A player who looks as though he could be on his way back to the Premier League.

A man who has scored more goals in the Premier League era than any other Everton player? Sixty eight of them, in fact.

Romelu Lukaku.

He's a player that may still divide opinion among Blues' fans. Some will pine for a striker of his ilk while plenty of others, albeit respecting his goals return for the club, remain hurt by his decision to leave. Lukaku never really hid the fact that Everton was a stepping stone to a bigger club.

And that lack of an affinity is sure to make Lukaku a controversial choice for many here, but he scored more goals than any other Blues' player in the Premier League era.

That has to put him firmly in the mix to be considered Everton's greatest ever Premier League player, right?

Connor O’Neill

For me, there is one standout contender when it comes to who is the best player to play for Everton in the Premier League.

And events earlier on this week further strengthened the case for this individual to be handed such a prestigious title.

While there is no doubting that there are a number of players who deserve mentioning, none produced like this man did.

Going back to the 90s, and although he only had one full season with the club, Andrei Kanchelskis is still fondly remembered by Blues supporters for his fine displays.

His brace at Anfield will live long in the memory of Evertonians, but unfortunately for them, his sudden exit left many asking themselves just what might have been.

Then there is the emergence of Wayne Rooney. No one has done what the Croxteth-born forward did in the Premier League at such a young age.

It is often forgotten just how good Rooney was during his first spell with the club, with his two exits and second spell often being what fans prefer to focus on.

But Rooney was just a young boy playing like a man first time round, and for many Evertonians was the first superstar they had seen at the club.

While another forward who deserves mentioning is Romelu Lukaku. His Everton goal scoring record is still nothing short of phenomenal.

But even now it feels as though the Belgium international doesn’t get the full credit he deserves, and while many were quick to criticise his lack of work rate, he sure knew where the goal was.

The biggest compliment that can be paid to Lukaku is that four years on from his Goodison departure, he still hasn’t been replaced.

But for me, there is only one winner, and that is Leighton Baines. The now 36-year-old was simply superb for the Blues and one of the best left-backs in world football for a prolonged period of time.

Not only were his performances always of the highest standard, his attitude and commitment could never be questioned either.

There is no doubt that Baines could have left the Blues and gone to play for one of Europe’s top teams during the peak of his career.

But the fact he stayed loyal to the club and never once looked to kick up a fuss and force his way out, even when Manchester United came knocking, is testament to him.

And in a week where Harry Kane has seemingly gone on AWOL in a bid to force through his Tottenham exit, it shows not every player operates with the class that Baines did.

He's not only the club’s best player in the Premier League, but simply an Everton great.

David Prentice

Greatest Everton player of the Premier League era?

The Blues have employed some of the most sublime talents the Premier League has ever witnessed - Paul Gascoigne, David Ginola, Samuel Eto'o, Wayne Rooney ... sadly either before their talents had fully flourished or after they had long since faded and withered.

Andrei Kanchelskis was arguably at his peak when he was signed by Joe Royle in 1995 - but his neon bright ability dazzled for only a year.

Which leaves us looking elsewhere. Leighton Baines' enduring consistency is an obvious contender - with claims to have been the Blues best left-back since a certain Ramon Wilson while Nigel Martyn was rated by David Moyes as his best ever signing - and he bought some serious players.

Duncan Ferguson will have his admirers, too. But with 68 goals in 133 Premier League starts, Romelu Lukaku scored at a ratio better than a goal every other game - with 87 in 155 starts in all competitions the ratio is even better.

He is Everton's record Premier League goalscorer, he boasted power, pace and excellent finishing skills.

Okay his touch was occasionally errant, he missed a penalty in an FA Cup semi-final and he consistently made it clear he believed he was destined for horizons beyond Goodison Park - but in the Premier League era I've not seen anyone better in Royal Blue.