It is increasingly hard to see any meaningful future for James Rodríguez at Real Madrid; yet whether the Colombian star leaves the Bernabeu before the end of the transfer window remains to be seen. If a move fails to transpire, it promises to be a second consecutive season of huge frustration for a player who just two years ago was being hailed far and wide as the next big thing following his starring role at the World Cup.
James’ €75 million transfer from Monaco in the aftermath of winning the Golden Boot in Brazil was the latest example of Real Madrid signing up the current hottest name whether or not it made sense on the pitch. Essentially asked to replace Angel di Maria as a two-way, industrious midfielder, it was a role the former Porto star was never truly cut out to fulfill. Yet, despite being shoehorned into the side, his first season in Spain was still an impressive one, contributing 17 goals and 18 assists.
But then his Madrid career took a sharp turn for the worse when Rafa Benitez arrived as coach and desired a more balanced side. With Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema entrenched in the side up front, James was the man to make way. And he would continue to be the odd man out when Zinedine Zidane replaced Benitez as coach midway through the season.
Despite his past as the ultimate Galactico when a player for Real Madrid, Zidane put the function of the team above accommodating the stars purchased by president Florentino Perez. Brazilian defensive midfielder Casemiro was now undroppable. And with Luka Modric and Toni Kroos, players who also helped the balance of the side, as the other two midfielders in a 4-3-3, James started less than half the games in La Liga and only three in Madrid’s run to the Champions League title.
It appeared that James would be on the move this summer. But then the 25-year-old went to the Copa America Centenario and, given the freedom to express himself on the pitch, he showed flashes of the ability that promoted Real Madrid to sign him in the first place. When he returned to Spain, Zidane insisted he was keen to keep the player on board, while James signaled a determination to fight for his place.
That, however, now looks now to be a losing battle. Preseason saw the emergence of Marco Asensio, who has returned from a season on loan at Espanyol and been a revelation. The 20-year-old’s form continued into the opening day of the season, when he scored in a 3-0 win at Real Sociedad. Meanwhile, despite Zidane being unable to call upon Benzema, Ronaldo and Modric, James only got on the pitch as the third and final substitute, after both Isco and Lucas Vazquez.
James’ stock at the Bernabeu has never been lower. Unsurprisingly, recent days have seen plenty of speculation once again linking him with a transfer away from the club. Spanish publication Mundo Deportivo believes Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool have all expressed an interest, along with Milan and Paris Saint-Germain.
Of those, it is difficult to envisage Arsenal or Liverpool being prepared to match the fee Real Madrid paid for James, which is what it will likely take for him to leave. Chelsea likely could afford him, but have priorities elsewhere in the final days of the transfer window. Milan, meanwhile, is still in a state of turmoil and cannot offer any European competition.
PSG would appear a likelier destination and has been linked with James before this summer, but is questionable whether he fills a specific need for new coach Unai Emery. Elsewhere, Juventus has also been credited with an interest, particularly after a real estate firm bizarrely claimed to have been put in charge of finding a villa for the player in Turin. But Juventus chief executive Giuseppe Marotta has since played down those reports.
At the very least, it certainly appears that James will still be a Real Madrid player when the club hosts Celta Vigo on Saturday. But, with the chances of him getting significant time on the pitch appearing slim, the transfer speculation surrounding the supremely talented left-footer looks set to ratchet up once more before the transfer window comes to a close next Wednesday.