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How Real Madrid are misusing James

How Los Blancos are playing the Colombian out of position and why that is affecting his game

Denis Doyle/Getty Images

Following a stellar debut campaign under Carlo Ancelotti, much of the footballing world was left wondering what the Colombian could NOT do. Scoring goals from both close and long range, high work-rate, defense-splitting crosses and vision, the number 10's footballing talent is without a doubt unique. For me, his performances made it hard to miss the mercurial Di Maria.

However, this season has been overshadowed by inconsistency and incidents off the pitch. Considering the amount of money the club paid for James, along with questions surrounding his professionalism, some of the Madrid faithful have been calling for his exile. But what exactly happened to the former Porto and Monaco man? The key is his positioning at Real Madrid.

Albeit James was deemed a promising talent, he really became a household name when he showcased his skills in the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Playing as a false 10, the ambidextrous 24-year-old showed viewers all over the world his ability to be a real goal-scoring threat.

Now what exactly is a false 10 you may ask? The false 10 is a new tactical/positional trend in modern football. With positions, roles, and responsibilities beginning to mesh together, traditional figures such as the winger and number 10 have almost dissipated entirely. We have modernized wing-backs inheriting the jobs of wingers, as well as inverted wingers becoming revolutionized forwards.

To put things back into perspective, the false 10 is the second/shadow striker per se. Instead of focusing exclusively on creating plays from an advanced position (because aforementioned wing-backs, midfielders, and inverted wingers can create) like a Riquelme-type, the false 10 can become a true goal-scoring weapon by making late runs into the box and taking shots from distance. In other words, James' specialties. If you need more clarification on what the false 10 brings to the table, there are other real life examples that bring this concept to life. Brilliantly executed by Mesut Ozil and Wesley Sneijder during the 2010 FIFA World Cup, they proved that the job of goal-scoring does not need to be limited to only strikers.

In a perfect world, Madrid would play a 4-2-3-1 to accommodate James' false 10 assets. In this formation, there is defensive stability in the form of a CDM and anchor/DLP-type player, as the team revolves more around the false 10 rather than the B-B-C.  As we all know however, the culture and environment at Real Madrid is far from perfect. Madrid currently plays an expansive 4-3-3. Because the team already has three forwards, when James or Isco go forward for support, the mid-field suddenly loses it's shape.

The fact that James is playing out of position is not his fault. This stems from Madrid's 'lack of identity' problem. Because the team does not have a clear ideology/philosophy on how to approach games, the team visually looks disjointed during competition. The defense struggles against pace, relying heavily on Navas' heroics, the mid-field has the tendency to get overrun while failing to effectively link up with the trident, and the front three still haven't had the opportunity to get into a solid groove playing together.

Madrid plowing through every manager in the game, in addition to recruiting the world's most attacking array of talent has ultimately left Madrid fans, board, and technical staff scratching their heads on what the ideal playing style and starting eleven should be. As a result, Zidane is now tinkering with his team to find balance, while maximizing the squad's depth. Teetering the likes of Isco, James, Kroos, Modric, Bale and more, all players who could excel in the false 10 role, is posing quite the challenge.

Zizou has tried to integrate everyone he can. He attempted to give James a shot as a false 9 and a try on the wings. But even though James has experience playing on the wings, the Colombian mogul thrives playing through the middle. Since the pressure in Madrid is immense, trophy-less seasons tend to make scapegoats out of players. Last year it was mostly Bale. This year, do not be surprised to hear James as the front-runner.

Nonetheless it is important that Madrid fans do not get carried away. James is truly a unique player who could prove vital for years to come. With criticism from fans and the media, he has been associated with a swap-deal involving Chelsea's Eden Hazard. But should all of the weight of the critics fall on James' shoulders? Absolutely not. The team as a whole has been sub-par and Madrid need to understand that in order to get the most of players like James, they need to find an ideology and trust the players they have invested so heavily in. So no, James is not a bad player; he is merely being misused.

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