This is the first of many weekly mailbags on Managing Madrid. Every Thursday, I'll be posting a piece to answer questions tweeted in my direction throughout the week. These questions, of course, are mainly relevant to Real Madrid - but feel free to ask me anything if you think it might generate some cool content. This week, everything was about James, and even when it wasn't, I turned it into, you guessed it - something about James.
OK, let's do it.
Given that the Zidane era is still in its fledgling stages and that two games is not the best measuring stick, we can only draw calculated assumptions here. Zidane has a depth chart, it seems, and it looks something like this.
There are some unknowns in the above line-up - is Nacho really the back-up left back over Arbeloa, or is it simply Danilo for both flanks? And, would Kovacic be ahead of Casemiro in the event of a Kroos absence? All that is trivial of course. The main point here is that Zidane sees one slot in the line-up which acts as the glue between midfield and attack - the de-facto 'Kaka role'. If there's room for just one of these players, then Zidane sees room for only one of Isco / James to act as the '10'.
It's also another question to ask if the above question - why isn't James a starter - is actually a legitimate question or not. Despite it seeming like an eternity since Zidane took over, it has only been two games, and, two games isn't enough to draw conclusions about anything. Maybe James is - or eventually will be - a starter, and Zidane is simply still in trial mode and what he draws up could change. The twist here is that given what has unfolded in the past two games, it would be hard to see any line-up changes unless it's by force. Isco is playing well and James isn't.
There are also external concerns about James' attitude which we can't really confirm as reasonable or not. The video of Zidane being angry at him is pretty ambiguous - as most AS / Marca propaganda videos are. Let's remember that these Spanish 'journos' are riddled with agendas, and they liked to exaggerate everything that Mesut Ozil did before he was shipped out too. I personally don't think James' attitude is the main issue here, even if admittedly I'm in the dark about this - aren't we all though? The season is long, and there will be plenty of time for James to prove his worth - he's a tremendously gifted player who, when on his day, is pretty unrivaled at what he does.
The reality is that Zidane really likes Isco, and he mentioned in the past that if Isco realizes his true potential, he could be the Frenchman's heir. This is from Ancelotti back in 2013:
"He is very similar in terms of ability and mentality," the Italian said. "I asked (if Isco was as good as him) and Zidane said 'no, not yet but he could be very close in the future'."
Again, Zidane really likes Isco, just like he likes Jese. The fact that he loves both creates an entirely new discussion - why is James seemingly behind Jese too?
In order words, in what world does James have to compete with Jese, and for what reason do I have to live in the same world that such a conundrum exists?
It's complicated. James is the better overall player by all measures. In particular, he's a better passer and creator, while Jese is arguably the better dribbler and goalscorer - and that's why Zidane sees the Castilla product a more natural direct substitute for BBC while James is reserved for the Isco role. That Jese is the better dribbler and attacker is highly debatable. There seems to be a myth going around that James can't play an advanced role as it's not his strength to do so - a theory that is from from truthful. I elaborate more on this in a question below.
Zidane is not wrong in his approach though, and that should be noted. Keep in mind that Zizou has the interest of developing young talent from the Cantera, and the only way to develop these players is to give them regular playing time. I would perhaps still keep James as the first off the bench for Bale / Ronaldo while keeping Jese as Benzema's understudy, but I can appreciate the logic Zidane is taking here. Ever since Zidane arrived in 2012, he has been highly invested in mentoring players like Jese, so there is a certain responsibility he feels to groom Jese properly and get him back to his pre knee injury form.
A quiet buying season will coincide with a quiet selling season - so yes, it absolutely impacts potential sales. I've said it a few times before (and I'm going to shamelessly plug in an article I wrote for FourFourtTwo on this subject), but some forced continuity here could be a good thing for Real Madrid. What the transfer ban guarantees is that there won't be drastic changes to the team. Of course, there are massive downsides to the transfer ban which I also mentioned, but if we read the reality of the Club's modern history, not delving into the bank this Summer isn't necessarily a bad thing, even if it means it will be a quiet year from a business / branding perspective .
Like Eileen hinted though, it absolutely interferes with selling players as well. I've been tantalized a lot with the idea of parting ways with Ronaldo this Summer in order to push James up and start incorporating him in a role with a higher usage rate, but any chance of that happening now is highly unlikely unless the club can delay the transfer ban for one more window if the appeal becomes successful.
*Note, that I like the idea of selling Ronaldo this off-season does not mean I don't appreciate him or value him.
On the flip-side, losing James because of Ronaldo is terrifying. You don't have to do much more than look at their age to understand the consequence of choosing Ronaldo over James. Regardless of Zidane's depth chart or where he sees James fitting in with this team, the Colombian absolutely can play in an advanced role. With Colombia, he is the focal point of an attack where he hovers around the area and creates all kinds of havoc with his dribbling, shooting, and intricate through-balls. With Monaco, his best position was the right-wing slot, which further debunks the myth that James can't play on the right.
I don't see players leaving during the transfer ban, but I would make an exception for disgruntled players who are too good to warm the bench. James is one of those I'd be concerned about. The good news is that the ball is in Florentino's court, as James' contract runs until 2020.
@KiyanSo will James Rodriguez leave Real Madrid due to lack of playing time?— Sir Madridisimo (@SirMadridismo) January 20, 2016
Oh, jeez. Yes, it's possible. But, again, it's unlikely now with the transfer ban. Plus (again), we don't actually know for sure where James stands in the squad. Injuries and suspensions will happen, James will almost surely have some great performances and make Zidane's line-up selection that much more difficult. One month from now, we could actually be asking will Isco leave if he doesn't get more playing time? These scenarios get turned upside down all the time. James is far from being a lost cause. Also, let's not forget that this happened this season:
In order to differentiate this from one of the above questions, I will focus on the who is sellable part.