James Rodriguez's Crucial Year

Every football fan likes the months of July and August. In the football world, these months are characterised by many transfer rumours and signings, and the transfer window usually provides us with many exciting stories. One of them in this current window is without a doubt the one of James Rodriguez.

The Colombian figure who reached the top at the age of 22 when he was crowned as the 2014 World Cup top scorer. This success brought Real Madrid to sign him, but unfortunately, he didn’t find his place in the team after his excellent debut season. He moved to Bayern Munich on loan and suffered from instability. He didn’t have the best relationship with coach Niko Kovac, and eventually, he asked Bayern’s chairman, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, not to use his buyout option since he wants to play regularly. From this moment, two clubs were determined to sign him – Napoli and Atletico Madrid.

To understand why Real Madrid has an excellent player like James, but they don’t use him, we need to go back to January 2016, when Zinedine Zidane was appointed as the head coach instead of Rafa Benitez. Since that day, James wasn’t in Zidane’s plans. He barely gave him time to play, most of the times only a few minutes as a sub. The few times James started the match, he usually was the first player to be substituted. This issue created frustration for the Colombian midfielder who was determined to leave the club soon after that. However, a conversation with Zidane made him change his mind and stay another year with the Blancos. But the following season was maybe the worst in James’s career, and in one of the regular substitutions, James seemed to curse Zidane on his way to the bench. At the end the explosion was inevitable, and James was loaned to Bayern at the end of the season, as Zidane became as one of Real’s greatest coaches.

Real Madrid’s plans for James didn’t change when Zidane came back to coach the club after a short break last season, but when the dilemma was whether to negotiate with Napoli or Atletico Madrid, Real’s talented player, Marco Asensio, tore his ACL and will miss the entire season. When Real already had an agreement with Atletico to sell James for €50m, Florentino Perez, Real’s president, regretted in the last minute to sell him to their fierce rival and decided that he’ll stay. This decision was made against Zidane’s opinion and if there’s anything worse for players is that they remain in a club where the coach doesn’t want them. And Zidane isn’t just a coach. He isn’t a ‘yes man’, he will decide whether James will or won’t play, and as we saw in the past, for him, James doesn’t exist. In one of his press conferences last week he said:” I don’t know if James will stay and I’m not dealing with it. I’m dealing only with the players I have here.”

This disagreement between Perez and Zidane may help Napoli, who is coached by Carlo Ancelotti, one of James’ admirers who already coached him successfully in Real Madrid and again another half-season in Bayern. In every chance he has, Ancelotti expresses his opinion and says how much he wants to have James in his team. Since Perez doesn’t want to sell him to Atletico, Napoli may get James even for a lower price since this is James’s last year in his contract. Next year he will be able to move to a different club as a free agent. But despite all, the Spanish press is convinced that James will stay with Real this season and will be forced to get along with his coach. The fans are also disagreeing with Zidane, and 74% of them voted that they would like to see James return.

But is this even a real option for the player? To stay in a team where the coach doesn’t also consider him as one of the squad? I don’t see it happen. Since the coach announced that the club is waiting for offers to sell him and the club will keep him only if they don’t sell him at the end, nothing good will come out of it. And even if Zidane will use him, tactically he doesn’t have a place in the lineup. Last time Zidane preferred Isco over him, and it’s not going to change. As a winger James is too slow and doesn’t have the defensive abilities to play in this role.

James didn’t forget to play football, and he can also play in the highest levels as well as he did in Real under Ancelotti in his debut season. When he gets the confidence and the keys to controlling the team as he does with the national team, he plays excellent. But James also is the one to blame here when he suffered too much from inconsistent and injuries, which caused him to miss too many games and cut his momentum. Now we must wait and see how this soap opera will end, and the best scenario for all sides is that James will play in another club. 2020 should be a crucial year of his career, at least at the international level, when Colombia will start its road to the 2022 World Cup but even more importantly, will host the 2020 Copa America. It may be his most significant and last opportunity to bring an international title for the current golden generation of Colombia. The last thing that Carlos Queiroz and the fans would like to see is their main star comes to the tournament in lousy form. At the age of 28 and when he still has several years ahead of him, James needs to play and mostly in a place where he’ll be welcome.