Sunday, October 22, 2017

James didn´t fit the Zidane puzzle, but Ancelotti reunion will be his renaissance

SoccerNews in La Liga 11 Jul 2017

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When James Rodriguez became the latest Galactico to join the star-studded ranks at Real Madrid in July 2014 it was obvious what part of the puzzle he provided for Carlo Ancelotti.

It says everything about James’ quality that a team that had finally achieved their “La Decima” dream by winning the Champions League saw it necessary to fork out €71million to Monaco for his signature.

You don’t have to ponder for long to realise why Madrid made the decision.

James had just taken the football world by storm at the World Cup, winning the Golden Boot award with six goals including a volley against Uruguay that will forever be among the pantheon of great goals at football’s most prestigious tournament.

He did so after spending a solitary season at Monaco in which he scored nine goals and provided a further 12 assists.

Perhaps just as important for Madrid were the devilish good looks and an award-winning smile. Put simply, James was a marketing dream for one of the world’s most globally lucrative clubs.

And in Ancelotti, James had the perfect coach to utilise his talents. 

The Italian trusted James to be the man in the hole in a 4-2-3-1 system, the link between the midfield prowess of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric, and the fearsome BBC attack of Gareth Bale, Karim Benzema and the jewel in Los Blancos’ expensively assembled crown Cristiano Ronaldo.

His versatility and Ancelotti’s trust also saw James used deeper in a 4-4-3, or even wide in a 4-4-2.

Whatever the system, Ancelotti made room for James.

And he was rewarded by a brilliant first season that yielded 13 goals, as many assists and 77 chances created. 

An untimely fractured metatarsal meant he missed two months of that campaign, while injuries to Sami Khedira and Xabi Alonso, two other crucial cogs in Ancelotti’s wheel, curtailed Madrid’s chances of silverware as fierce rivals Barcelona ran roughshod thanks to the brilliance of Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar en route to the treble.

Suddenly, Ancelotti was gone. Rafa Benitez didn’t last much longer.

And then, in January 2016, the puzzle was changed completely under Zinedine Zidane. 

Madrid found themselves with an expensive, glorious jigsaw piece that simply did not fit Zidane’s template.

The Frenchman’s preference for utilising Casemiro as a deep, defensive-midfield pivot in a 4-3-3 made it so.

With Kroos and Modric sure starters in midfield and the BBC untouchable, James was consigned to a bit-part role.

Even a switch to a 4-4-2 diamond last season did not bring a turnaround in fortunes.

Zidane opted to use Isco in the attacking midfield role, the most likely position for James, while the emergence of fresh talent in Marco Asensio and Lucas Vazquez meant that not even a bench role was guaranteed – as proved the case in the Champions League final as Madrid outplayed Juventus to become the first team to retain the title in its current guise.

That snub meant that just three years on from being football’s most sought-after talent, the writing was on the wall.

What was not so inevitable was James’ next destination. Manchester United seemed to make sense. His agent Jorge Mendes is also the representative of Red Devils boss Jose Mourinho. Chelsea have money to spend and a Premier League title to defend, while Paris Saint-Germain remain desperate for star quality to finally entrench themselves among the Champions League elite.

But a reunion with Ancelotti is without question the best fit for both parties.

For James, it means a return to playing for a coach that trusts his undoubted game-changing abilities. At Bayern, he will be the biggest fish in an admittedly quality pond.

For Ancelotti, James can provide the quality that will see Bayern win the Bundesliga with the same conviction that they did under Pep Guardiola and Jupp Heynckes before him, and could even prove a difference maker for a Die Roten side that have fallen short in the Champions League over the past few seasons.

Anyone that doubts James’ credentials need only look at the Opta stats. Since August 2014, only two Madrid players have more LaLiga assists, three more have had more involvement in goals, and just Kroos alone has created more chances for Los Blancos.

His talent is without question. And, after 18 frustrating months, a reunion with Ancelotti means James finally has a puzzle to slot seamlessly into.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

SoccerNews

Soccernews.com is news blog for soccer with comprehensive coverage of all the major leagues in Europe, as well as MLS in the United States. In addition we offer breaking news for transfers and transfer rumors, ticket sales, betting tips and offers, match previews, and in-depth editorials.

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