James Rodríguez hasn’t lived up to expectations at Real Madrid, that much is clear.
When he arrived at the Bernabéu in 2014 for €80million, he was the fourth most expensive player in history.
There is always a danger of buying someone on the back of an impressive performance at a World Cup, and if James’ Madrid career continues as it is, he will go down in history as one of a long list of players who disappointed after being brought in after a good international tournament.
It would be a little unfair to James though to say he was bought solely on the back of displays in Rio de Janeiro.
Although he was exceptional in Brazil, he was also one of the stars of Ligue 1 at the time, with Onze Mondial crowning him the best player in France.
What has gone wrong for James?
The Colombian’s career at Real Madrid got off to a great start, but has slowly faded away over his three seasons in Spain after his move from Monaco.
Under first boss Carlo Ancelotti, James played in 46 games, scoring 17 times and getting 18 assists in 3526 minutes on the pitch.
But after Ancelotti’s departure, Rafa Benítez’s arrival at the Bernabéu signalled the start of his downturn in fortune. He played just 11 times in the former Liverpool manager’s 25 games in charge, getting just 717 minutes of game time.
That struggle to get onto the pitch has continued under current boss Zinedine Zidane. He has made 44 appearances under the Frenchman, netting 10 goals and providing 16 assists, but while that is only two games less than under Ancelotti, under Zidane James has played over 1000 minutes fewer – 2479 minutes. As Diario Gol says, Zidane simply doesn’t trust the Colombian enough.
There are other players ahead of him in Los Blancos’ pecking order, too.
The 25-year-old has not completed 90 minutes for Madrid since December’s 3-2 win over Deportivo La Coruña, and at the moment he isn't anywhere near a first-choice starter. In fact, the Colombian has only started six league games so far this season. This is partially due to Real Madrid’s preferred 4-3-3 formation.
James is a No.10, and playing in a 4-3-3 means he will either play on the wing, or in the midfield three — neither of those positions are his preferred places to play on the pitch.
Much like Isco, who is also arguably best playing in the No.10 role, he is struggling for game time because of that.
The Isco problem
While Isco is also not getting a huge amount of game time either, it feels like Zidane would prefer to use him than James, despite the Colombian’s recent impressive form — especially in the weekend’s 4-1 win over Eibar, where he got a goal and an assist and was involved in the build-up for the other two goals.
It’s only natural that the fans will want to see Isco — there’s not much better for a fan than to see a relatively young player from the same country playing regularly for your team — and that buys the Spaniard a bit more time than the Colombian.
So it’s no surprise that, according to AS, James wants Isco to leave before agreeing to stay at the Bernabéu. With the Spaniard out of contract in 2018 and unhappy with his lack of time on the pitch, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him leave.
But if he doesn’t, that would be yet another setback for the Colombian and could push him towards the exit door.
Does James want to stay?
In December, after not appearing for a single minute in the Club World Championship and having Isco, Lucas Vázquez, Mateo Kovacic and Marco Asensio ahead of him in the pecking order, he threatened to leave, saying he had offers elsewhere.
“I’m happy here, but I want to play more,” James said.
“I want to stay at Madrid forever, but you have to think about everything and look at your options.
“I have offers and I've got seven days to think about it.”
But those seven days passed and he started against Sevilla in the Copa del Rey, where he scored two goals in a 3-0 win.
After the game, he told the media in the mixed zone he wasn’t going anywhere, saying: “I’m staying.”
And yet again speaking after the game at Eibar, he reiterated that desire.
“Whenever I get given a chance, I try to do well,” he said.
“That’s all I’m focused on, I want to be here forever.
“You need to be aware that in life and in football you never know what’s going to happen, but I want to stay here.”
Could this all be part of a bluff on Real Madrid’s part?
The aforementioned Diario Gol's report claims that Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez is not willing to make a substantial loss on the Colombian.
Gran juego en equipo, siempre unidos. pic.twitter.com/HS8XrmHajn
— James Rodríguez (@jamesdrodriguez) March 4, 2017
And as is the case with most Spanish clubs, the president rules.
If James publicly said he wanted to leave, it would drive his price down, whereas him saying he wants to stay will only push his price up.
And if he gets more game time this season, with Real Madrid transfer rumours at the moment linking them to the likes of Eden Hazard and Dele Alli, you would expect him to fall further down the pecking order next year if he stays.
And if James truly does want to stay, all he can hope for is he carries on his recent good performances and convinces the Madrid hierarchy he is still the player they paid €80million for three years ago.
But with moneybags Inter linked with a move for the Colombian, it seems a Bernabéu stay will be unlikely.