James Rodriguez wasn’t aware that Everton were playing Leeds United on Saturday. He would do well to watch the highlights back and catch a glimpse of the highly dramatic and equally absorbing football that the English game can offer played to a backdrop of whole-hearted support.
The Colombian’s availability has been called into question of late. He did go on Everton’s pre-season tour to the US but hasn’t featured in either of their two opening Premier League games this season sighting coronavirus issues as the reason. However, the 30-year-old has been told that he is available to leave before the transfer window closes on August 31.
It is quite remarkable that the player who Everton signed as a free transfer last summer and was the one believed to provide a sprinkling of stardust to an otherwise workman-like squad could depart so quickly. One summer’s star signing is another’s ugly duckling.
James cannot rely on manager's favouritism
James joined Everton because of Carlo Ancelotti. Elastic appears to stretch between the veteran Italian manager and the creative midfielder because wherever Ancelotti goes, James usually follows. Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Everton were all clubs in which their paths crossed. The hope when James joined Everton was that Ancelotti could reinvigorate the Colombian’s stalling career.
James’s first season at Everton can be split into two halves. The first was promising in which he showed glimpses of the talents he possesses. In September and October last season, James started five successive matches of which Everton won them all. Furthermore, in those games he scored four goals and provided assists for three more. Across the first half of the season stretching from mid-September to the end of January, James featured in 17 games for Everton.
But in the second half he was largely anonymous and rarely seen on the pitch. He only took to the pitch in nine games, scoring twice in two draws. There was a spell out with a foot injury sustained in February but he didn’t return to the team consistently thereafter and failed to live up to the early season hype.
His absence was felt by Everton. Their results nose-dived in the new year and a poor run at home led to them squandering the chance of qualifying for European competition this season. Why James was rarely available, and remains so, is up for debate. There is certainly an argument that the pace and physicality of the Premier League took it out of him and he struggled to retain match sharpness.
What’s more, the lack of crowds most likely failed to whet his appetite. It was pretty sterile in stadiums last term and that combined with the usual north-west weather could have led to James turning a cold shoulder to the Everton cause. The supporters have not been able to build a relationship with him due to their absence from stadiums for the past 18 months. However, he is the type of player that Everton need.
James's future remains uncertain
Luxury players are not something that Everton can afford to have sitting around. The supporters demand, and the club require, every player to get stuck in and demonstrate that they are willing to fight for the shirt. Yet, what James brings can outweigh his seemingly nonchalant approach. His visionary passing, quick bursts through defences and ability to score goals are exactly what Everton lacked in the second half of the last campaign.
When Ancelotti needed a creative player he couldn’t send for him. That, initially at least, appears to be the same with Rafael Benitez. The new manager has brought in Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend to assist with the supply to striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin whilst Richarlison hoovers up around him. There is a clear emphasis on sending balls in from wide areas; something which Everton have excelled at previously thanks to the left foot of full-back Lucas Digne.
Yet, where does this leave James? If he wanted to he could work his way into Benitez’s starting XI - a team like Everton cannot pass up the opportunity of having a player like him. But if his attitude extends to not being bothered about starting games or he’s not ambitious enough to demonstrate to the Premier League that he can still shape matches in his favour, then it looks increasingly like his time is up.
“Until August 31 he is in my plans,” was Benitez’s response last week when asked if the club had plans on selling James. Everton could do with getting their highest-paid player off the wage books but leaving it until the last minute suggests that either there are not enough suitors or he’s comfortable seeing out his contract which runs until next summer.
Either way, the situation epitomises James’s career: potential largely unfulfilled. Everton’s plans have clearly changed in the past 12 months since James’s arrival, Benitez will not accommodate a player who doesn’t buy into his ways of working. It may come to the point that he presses on without James. He may have already decided to do so.