James Rodriguez hits form at perfect time for Bayern Munich
Background Image: Martin Povysil, CC-BY-4.0
In January, James Rodriguez was only a few inches away from Bayern Munich's exit door. With every snub from Niko Kovac, the Colombian edged further. In a dramatic turn of events, however, the 27-year-old drifted back inwards. Thoughts of departure are now forgotten.
Rodriguez was fed up in Bavaria. It's traditional music, historic museum and beer culture, Oktoberfest wasn't enough motivation. He wanted more, especially on the pitch. Kovac didn't offer. The on-loan Real Madrid playmaker was not more than a bit-part player. That wasn't the case in the previous season.
James was an integral part of Jupp Heynckes’ side that recovered from a false start to clinch the Bundesliga. He finished the campaign strongly with eight goals and 14 assists in 39 games across all competitions.
Things looked up for the Colombian. The prospect was absolutely tantalising, already envisioning his stay beyond 2019. Bayern director general Karl-Heinz Rummenigge even assured to exercise the option to purchase at the end of his loan for a fee of 42 million euros.
Kovac didn't align. In Bayern’s opening two league games he was afforded only 18 minutes. James featured just over half of all available minutes across all competitions - 639 in 13 games, starting seven. Suddenly the cameo appearances waned. He was unused against both Augsburg and Mainz in October.
After the Opel Arena visit, James threw his manager under the bus. He railed against his methods and apparent neglect. In the dressing room, the attacking midfielder reportedly shouted “We’re not at Frankfurt!” in allusion to Kovac’s previous club.
Bayern was poor against Mainz. Utterly Sluggish out of the blocks, the reigning champions exertions of the midweek UEFA Champions League trip to Greece appeared to weigh heavily. Leon Goretzka and Thiago got the goals but it was another unconvincing and forgettable outing for Bayern and James.
The Colombian added Hasan Salihamidzic. When the sporting director attempted to speak to the Colombia international after the game, James refused a shake and muttered “you’re mistaken” in Spanish before stalking off.
Fast forward to the return leg in March, James was the star as Bayern romped to a 6-0 victory. The Colombian struck a beautiful hattrick to ease the pressure on Kovac after a frustrating Champions League exit at hands of Liverpool. If anything, the treble is proof of how far the 27-year-old has come since the year's turn.
After two months with a knee ligament problem, James returned stronger. His excellent recent performances convinced Kovac to start him in Bayern's last seven league assignments. That's more in little over one month than he managed throughout the whole of the Hinrunde.
In those seven games, the record champions registered six wins and one defeat against Bayer Leverkusen. That game marked James’ first start since mid-November. He got back into the groove, teeing up Lewandowski for his 100th goal at Allianz Arena. Further assists followed in the league victories over Hertha Berlin, Gladbach and Wolfsburg.
Besides his renowned ability to slice a ball through a Bundesliga defence, he boasts a pass completion rate of 87.5 per cent. His remarkable tactical ingenuity enabled Kovac to adopt a variety of systems. Above all though, James hasn't shirked the defensive side either, winning over half of his challenges. Suddenly Kovac is a fan.
"I've always said that James Rodriguez is an extraordinary player. We needed to ease him in somewhat after his injury, but when he's fit he plays like he did against Hertha: brilliantly! And that's the best.”
James' return to form will be crucial. The Bavarian giants lead Borussia Dortmund on goal difference. With a potential Der Klassiker title decider on the horizon, his wand of a left foot could make all the difference.
Colombia's new manager Carlos Queiroz will be licking his lips. The ex-Iran boss begins a new La Tricolor era after six years under Jose Pekerman. Jame will play a key part, as long as he stays away from that dreaded Bavaria door.