Real Madrid attacking midfielder James Rodriguez is close to joining Everton, and you have to feel for how his time in Madrid ended.
Whereas not every player gets to leave a team on a positive note amidst a year of transfer rumors and speculation, James Rodriguez will exit Real Madrid as a fan favorite. Amidst rumors that James is close to moving to Everton and reuniting with Carlo Ancelotti, Madridistas are preparing to say farewell to the Colombian.
James joined Real Madrid in 2014 after a sensational World Cup with Colombia, and it didn’t take him long to establish himself as one of La Liga’s best players. In his first league campaign, James scored 13 goals with 13 assists, showing a penchant for setting up his teammates on a platter or scoring absolute worldies. In 2015-2016 and 2016-2017, James had a combined 29 goal contributions before making his way to Bayern Munich on a two-year loan.
The first year of his loan deal went well, as James was a key player for Bayern under Carlo Ancelotti. Again, his passing was sublime, and he regularly showed up on highlight reels with 11 assists. But in 2018-2019, James was mostly doomed to the bench under the amateurish direction of Niko Kovac, who seemed to think he was still managing Eintracht Frankfurt and not one of Europe’s most prestigious clubs.
So James fell out of favor in Bavaria and returned to Real Madrid and Zinedine Zidane – the manager who viewed James as a surplus to goods and had him shipped off to Bayern for two years. And as expected, James found it difficult to start consistently under Zidane, as he wasn’t deemed a fit for the system.
James Rodriguez tried to leave Real Madrid last year
In a recent interview, James Rodriguez stated that he asked Zidane and Real Madrid to sell him in the summer of 2019. He knew that he wouldn’t fit Zidane’s system and wouldn’t be preferred by the manager, so he requested a transfer in order to get the playing time he’s earned. But Real didn’t sell, likely because they didn’t have enough depth and didn’t know how much they could count on midfielders like Isco, Luka Modric, and Fede Valverde.
Those three players went on to have great seasons, while James Rodriguez was left in the dust after a troublesome knee injury. James was cast out on the periphery of the squad, earning fewer than 500 La Liga minutes in 2019-2020. He appeared in just one game after October, recording a whopping five tackles in a 78-minute shift against Real Sociedad.
Before 2019-2020, James Rodriguez wasn’t known as a defensive player. Most fans saw him as a playmaker who could provide goals and assists but little in terms of defensive output. He turned that narrative on its head, working his absolute tail off to prove to Zidane that he had a place. The result? James finished second on the team behind Casemiro in tackles per game in La Liga.
Of course, James also showed up in the Real Madrid leaderboard as a creative playmaker, leading the team with 1.8 key passes per game in Spain’s top flight. In short, the 29-year-old was quite good when he was on the pitch, playing a key role for the team early in the season, memorably leading the charge in a tough 1-0 win at the Ramon Sanchez Pizjuan.
But in the end, James must leave the Santiago Bernabeu as a bench player, cast aside despite his own best efforts. Blaming Zidane is unwise. Where would James have played? Isco was great in the second half of the season, and Modric is much better in a three-man midfield. Valverde is a bigger defensive presence as well and needs minutes as the future of Madrid.
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Even though there’s nobody to blame, it’s still possible to feel for James Rodriguez. He may only have a few years left of elite-level football left in him, and he lost time sitting on the bench under Zidane. The 2019-2020 season has been difficult for James professionally, including injuries. And Madridistas, in appreciation for his talent and for what he’s done at the club, hope he can help another respected figure of the club’s past, Ancelotti, a major boost in 2020-2021 if he does end up in Everton.