James' golden chance to regain golden touch

James Rodriguez has gone from first choice at the Bernabeu to forgotten man but injuries at Real Madrid has opened the door for him.
James Rodriguez has gone from first choice at the Bernabeu to forgotten man but injuries at Real Madrid has opened the door for him.PHOTO: REUTERS

MADRID • Real Madrid's James Rodriguez, the golden boy of Colombian football, has struggled to establish himself at Real Madrid since he burst into the limelight at the 2014 World Cup Finals.

However, with Toni Kroos, Alvaro Morata and Gareth Bale all out until next year with injuries, the door has opened for the 25-year-old winger to try to win over coach Zinedine Zidane.

Rodriguez came under scrutiny on Saturday after failing to muster a shot on goal during his third La Liga start of the season in the 2-1 win at Sporting Gijon but Zidane defended him.

"I don't consider him to be disinterested," the Frenchman said. "He played well, as did the others. He may lack a bit of rhythm, but I'm happy that he got some playing time."

Rodriguez will be hoping to get more minutes under his belt at Barcelona in Saturday's first El Clasico of the season after his career in Madrid started brightly but then faded.

Having won the Golden Boot as the World Cup's top scorer with six goals, the winger secured a dream €80 million (S$121.07 million) move to the Spanish giants from Monaco.

He shone in his first season under Carlo Ancelotti, starting 46 games in all competitions, with 17 goals and as many assists.

Since the Italian's departure, however, Rodriguez has slumped from first choice at the Bernabeu to forgotten man.

Last season under Rafael Benitez and his replacement Zidane, he made 21 starts in all competitions, with eight goals and 10 assists, although a thigh injury limited his opportunities.

He was the subject of transfer speculation in the close season but, under contract until June 2020, he stayed put.

His experience at Real is the opposite to his time at Monaco, where he endured a slow start in the 2013-14 campaign, having joining the French side after three seasons at Porto. He eventually scored nine goals and provided 12 assists to help Monaco finish runners-up to Paris Saint-Germain in Ligue 1.

At Real, the fierce competition did not seem to affect him in his first season but Zidane has Casemiro, Lucas Vazquez and Marco Asensio ahead of him in the pecking order. He is only 20th in minutes played for Real this season with 570, having made 12 appearances in all competitions, scoring once and creating six assists.

Saturday would be a good time for him to shine.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2016, with the headline 'James' golden chance to regain golden touch'. Print Edition | Subscribe