Copa America the stage for James Rodriguez to save Real Madrid career – or seal move to Man United

Andy Mitten looks at Real Madrid's outcasted midfielder James Rodriguez, and with the Copa America looming, the Colombian can go a long way to securing his future.

James Rodriguez is a Uefa Champions League winner with Real Madrid, but he only made fice appearances in the tournament this season. Pierre-Philippe Marcou / AFP
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A picture of a determined looking James Rodriguez has pride of place on a wall in the main stand of CA Banfield, a first division club based in the suburbs of Buenos Aires.

Eighteen years old with his hair gelled in a fashionable crop, the Colombian is running at a defender. Next to him, the club’s other most famous alumni, Javier Zanetti, wears the green and white stripes of the club started by British expats.

Rodriguez, 24, arrived at Banfield aged 17 and left for Porto while still in his teens. After excelling there, at his subsequent club Monaco and for the Colombian national team in the 2014 World Cup finals where he scored six goals, Real Madrid paid €80 million (Dh327.8m) to sign him on a six-year contract, a fee which made him the fourth most expensive player in history.

So far, so good, but if there is one Madrid star set to follow the trend of Mesut Ozil and Angel di Maria in this close season, then it is Rodriguez.

Madrid’s president Florentino Perez knows that the Colombian is one player who his club will get top dollar for from an English rival who are little threat to the European champions because they perform so poorly in Europe.

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If the pattern is to follow recent seasons, Perez will spend all the close season being asked about he future of Rodriguez and he will answer by complimenting him and describing him as a great player.

Asked by Marca on Monday about the future of the man known simply as 'James' by Madrid fans, Perez said: "We've had no offer for anyone, nor have we spoken about future. He's one of the great players we have."

He said similar things about Ozil and Di Maria. He will play the waiting game until the end of August if he needs. Madrid are under no financial pressure to sell anyone and Rodriguez is contracted until 2020, but things have not worked out as well as he might have hoped.

The Colombian featured in only 32 of Madrid’s games last season and five of their 13 in the Uefa Champions League. He was on the bench in Milan for the final against Atletico Madrid and did not feature. It was the same in the semi-final first leg against Manchester City.

A muscle injury did not help his case at the start of the season, but he played 1,858 minutes all season. He played almost twice that, 3,520, in his first season at the Bernabeu when he was starter. He scored 17 goals that season against only eight this.

There was no lack of enthusiasm as Rodriguez ran to celebrate with his teammates after Cristiano Ronaldo scored the decisive penalty. He even picked up the shirt which the Portuguese had ripped off.

Zinedine Zidane will be under pressure to use the €80m man, but judged from his 27 games so far, his favoured midfield three is Casemiro as the holding midfielder, with Toni Kroos and Luca Modric in front. Modric, in particular, enjoyed a stellar season in Spain.

Rodriguez can play as holding midfielder, but he is more often used in an attacking role. He can play on the right of a front three too, but at the expense of whom? Madrid play Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema up front. They also have the home-grown Lucas Vasquez who has excelled on the right.

Madrid do not play the same eleven every game but if there is one star who is dispensable, it is Rodriguez. He has been linked with Manchester United and Arsenal, two of the few clubs who could afford him. Being a client of Jorge Mendes will help advance his case at United now that Jose Mourinho is manager. Rodriguez is young enough to have a long future, talented and good looking enough to have that star appeal.

He insists he is happy at Madrid — a club he describes as “ideal” and where he wants “to stay for many years”. Such talk is to be expected, but footballers want to play football. Besides, it will not be his decision whether he stays or not.

For now, Rodriguez will be looking to find his 2014 form in the Copa America Centenario with Colombia. He will feature in the tournament’s opening game on Friday against the hosts, United States, in Santa Clara.

He knows it is a chance to shine again.

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