Rafael Benitez says James Rodriguez is working to adapt to Everton’s new style of play despite a move away from Goodison Park failing to materialise.
James arrived as a marquee signing on a free transfer from Real Madrid in September 2020, with Carlo Ancelotti keen to reunite with the playmaker.
However, James was absent for much of Everton’s run-in as the Toffees missed out on Europe, ultimately ending the season in 10th place.
With Ancelotti gone and Everton turning to Benitez – who did not seem to trust James during his short stint as Madrid boss – speculation mounted that he would leave Everton.
A part-exchange deal with Porto for James’ compatriot Luis Diaz was worked on but did not come to fruition, though as late as this week Everton were still seemingly willing to let the 30-year-old leave, with Istanbul Basaksehir reportedly agreeing a loan move.
James elected to stay put, but Benitez warned he must now work hard to regain his place.
“He’s training with the team. Obviously we have been talking about his future, we had some clubs interested. He still is here, he is training with the rest of the team-mates,” Benitez said when asked if James could feature for the first time in 2021-22 when Everton host Burnley on Monday.
“I was not in the conversations, I know there was some clubs interested. If the offer was good, you know the financial fair play rules that we have with salaries and to bring players in so it was important for us to create some space with other players but we couldn’t manage that.
“The team is doing well, the players understand what we want to do and he has to understand that. Then we have to bring the best from each player, in this case he has to adapt to the team and then we will try to get the best from everyone.”
Though injuries restricted him to 26 games in all competitions last season, James scored six goals and provided eight assists, creating 54 chances, placing him second in Everton’s squad behind Gylfi Sigurdsson (60), who made 18 appearances more.
James led the way for Everton with chances created from open play (38) and when it came to crafting big chances (defined by Opta as a situation where a player should reasonably be expected to score).
Per 90 minutes played, James created 0.56 big chances in the Premier League, putting him just below Jack Grealish and Bruno Fernandes (0.58), ranking sixth in the competition in that metric from players to play 20 or more matches.
Benitez’s tenure at Everton has started with two wins and a draw in the league, as well as progression in the EFL Cup. Only West Ham and Manchester City (both 10) have scored more goals, while the Toffees’ xG (expected goals) value of 5.34 is the fifth-best in the division.
On the face of it, having a player of James’ undoubted quality to drop into the side could only improve matters.
“It was not easy because he was available in the transfer window. Now he has realised he has to focus and show his commitment and it’s what he is trying to do and that is good news for us,” Benitez added.
“It is good news for us because he can give us something more, we don’t have any doubt about his quality but we have to be sure that we have players playing 90 minutes with intensity and the quality that they have.”
Completing games may well be the biggest challenge for James. He was substituted in 16 matches last season, more than any other Everton player.
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