The Colombian star James Rodriguez was a shining figure in the last World Cup competition.
However, the Colombian’s future is at a standstill as no team between Bayern and Real Madrid is ready to accommodate him.
The Bundesliga side refused to commit to a permanent transfer at the end of the season, while Zidane’s return means the Madrid door may now be closed.
He has ability that is the envy of almost any player on the planet.
He is blessed with elegance and class on the ball, a winning mindset and one of the most potent left feet in the entire business.
At 27, he is in his prime – yet nobody seems to want James Rodriguez anymore.
As we inch towards the fifth anniversary of the summer in which he exploded onto the global scene at the 2014 World Cup, why has James failed to go on and become a superstar with either Real Madrid or Bayern Munich?
James is approaching the end of his two-year loan at the Allianz Arena, a move sealed in the summer of 2017 when it became clear that Zinedine Zidane considered him little more than a bit-part player at the Santiago Bernabeu.
Having joined Real in the aftermath of his stellar showing in Brazil for the mammoth fee of £63 million ($83m), the buyout clause included in the deal that brought him to Bavaria was just £36m ($47.5m), underlining just how dramatically his stock had fallen in Madrid.
However, even at that relatively bargain price, Bayern are reluctant to make the transfer permanent.
“James’ future depends on the coach; if [Niko Kovac] says he is good but doesn’t use him on the field I am not going to spend €42m for someone who isn’t playing,” club president Uli Hoeness explained in February. “If the coach tells me that he needs him and plans to make use of his talents, then we will sign him.”
The Colombian does have one unconditional backer in Bavaria, though.
“I admit that I am one of his biggest fans. He is a great player with perhaps the best left foot in the entire Bundesliga,” said Karl-Heinz Rummenigge of James.
The Bayern CEO, however, went on to push the same line as Hoeness: if the star is not playing, the transfer is less certain.
“I think we all want to see James on the pitch more often, but the decision is the coach’s. I must say sincerely, though: I love that player.”
James has been in and out of the Bayern first team for the entirety of his two seasons at the club.
In 2017-18, he started 19 Bundesliga games, just over half of the side’s league commitments, contributing an impressive seven goals and 11 assists to the cause.
This campaign that ratio has dropped: he has kicked off in 12 of their 26 matches, and just four times in Bayern’s abortive Champions League bid, which ended with defeat to Liverpool earlier this month.
It is hard to recall a defining performance for the German giants, a moment that made him impossible to ignore. In Bayern’s biggest games of the season, James suffered from the same general malaise that has affected his team this season.
He was far from the only culprit in the Liverpool loss but his inability to come through when it matters explains in part why, for all his talents, few at Bayern have embraced him as a club hero.
The Bavarians’ instability has also counted against him. Counting Willy Sagnol’s brief caretaker spell in 2017, James has played under four different coaches in less than two years, each of whom has had different ideas over his role in the squad and first team.
Kovac, too, is less than certain to begin 2019-20 on the bench, having suffered through Bayern’s hardest-fought Bundesliga race in years and early European elimination. The decision to sign James may be up to the coach, but we don’t even know who that will be come the end of the season.
In Madrid, too, James’ future looks bleak.
The return of Zidane seems to have scuppered the Colombian’s own hopes for a comeback, a possibility which he hinted at just weeks before the Frenchman’s appointment.
“I am still under contract at Bayern and, in June, we will see,” he told Cadena Ser. “I have everything in Madrid: a house, people who love me… I don’t know, let’s see what happens.”
If Bayern ultimately decide to exercise the clause, James will be obliged to stay. If they opt against making his transfer permanent, he will return to Madrid with a contract that runs until 2021, but with slim chances of regaining a place in the starting line-up, given Real are set to spend heavily on reinforcements after underachieving this term.
Reports from Spain suggest that the playmaker will be placed straight on the market to help fund Zidane and Florentino Perez’s ambitious spending plans, with an asking price estimated at €70m (£60m/$79m).
The usual suspects from Europe’s elite – Juventus and Napoli in Serie A, Premier League giants Arsenal, Liverpool and Manchester United – have been mentioned as possible suitors, but as of yet no team has shown concrete interest.
For now, James is enjoying himself in the one place he can feel truly, intensely admired.
The Colombia faithful greet him as their favourite son every time he links up with the national team, in recognition of the talents that have helped the Cafeteros reach the World Cup knock-out rounds in two consecutive tournaments.
James is a rock star in his home country and even on the nation’s current tour of Japan and South Korea, he has been continually mobbed and hailed at every public gathering.
It is the kind of treatment he can only dream of at Bayern or Real.
The lack of enthusiasm over one of the world’s most natural football talents seems almost perverse, but it is also a symptom of how James’ career has appeared almost to stand still since those heady days of Brazil and his rapturous introduction at the Bernabeu.