Bayern Munich announced this week that James Rodriguez suffered a knee injury in training, and that he is expected to be absent for the next few weeks. That means the Colombia captain could well have played his last game of 2018 already.
Their final Bundesliga game of the year comes on December 22 against Eintracht Frankfurt at which point they will finish up for the winter break. It is unlikely that we will see Rodriguez in a Bayern shirt by then.
It was somewhat of a surprise that the Bayern coach Niko Kovac left him out of the starting line-up against Borussia Dortmund last week for Der Klassiker. It was more surprising still that Kovac used all three substitutes but neglected to summon Rodriguez to salvage something.
He hadn’t played a few days earlier – in the Champions League against AEK Athens – but that was put down to a niggling calf strain. He had been expected – at least on some level – to take part in Dortmund.
The fact that he didn’t play might well have had something to do with an alleged fallout with the coach the day before the game.
BILD reported that Rodriguez turned up late before the final training session for the Dortmund game and was duly sanctioned. It would not have been the first time this season that the playmaker had fallen foul of club rules.
At the start of October, it was alleged that Rodriguez exclaimed: “This isn’t Frankfurt!” in a locker room criticism aimed at his coach, in reference to the gap in pedigree between the club Kovac left and the club he joined.
Also, it’s been reported that Kovac has requested every member of the matchday squad warms up together before games following a win against Wolfsburg, but Rodriguez has not been complying with that request either.
Furthermore, Rodriguez is said to have refused to shake the hand of sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic when he was on the bench for a game against Mainz and appears frustrated at being left out at the expense of other players.
And that is a recurring issue; he has only played 90 minutes once in 11 matches all season and is thought to have been particularly aggrieved at being demoted for the 3-1 win over Leverkusen.
Bayern are struggling by their high standards this season having lost three of their last six league games and languishing outside the Champions League positions.
The damage inflicted by the defeat to Dortmund did little to alleviate the pressure around Kovac, who is apparently running out of chances to prove himself to the Bayern hierarchy. They are seven points back and lie fifth.
His tactics have yet to be fully understood by the squad and his constant rotation has also taken its toll. Rodriguez in particular has been affected by the lack of match rhythm.
He has played well in fits and starts – with goals against Leverkusen, Schalke and Wolfsburg – but has not really been able to nail down a starting berth under the Croatian.
Now, though, he’s sidelined and an unhappy second half to 2018 is all but over. He joins the likes of Arjen Robben, Corentin Tolisso, Kingsley Coman and Thiago Alcantara on the Bayern treatment table. It means that Kovac could have a job on his hands in helping the club to reach their short-term goals considering the quality of the absent players.
Signed on a two-year loan deal from Real Madrid by Carlo Ancelotti, it took James a while to get going at Bayern but he settled into the line-up under successor Jupp Heynckes.
And James was a man in demand over the summer following his return to form with Bayern. It was said that Real president Florentino Perez and new coach Julen Lopetegui had plans for the 27-year-old and wanted him back. No deal, however, could be reached with Bayern who held all the aces in any transfer talks.
And next summer – whether Kovac is there or not – could bring massive changes to the Allianz Arena. There is a pressing need to reduce the average age of the squad where many of the first-team regulars are the wrong side of 30.
Arsenal's Aaron Ramsey, Benjamin Pavard of Stuttgart, Hoffenheim’s Kevin Vogt and the young Bayer Leverkusen stud Kai Havertz have been mentioned in dispatches while the young Frankfurt attackers Ante Rebic and Luka Jovic are being floated as alternatives to the Rodriguez signing.
It’s being reported that Bayern are reluctant to commit to the permanent transfer given the troubles they’ve had this season. That would be a shock considering that Rodriguez is a proven world-class performer available for a relatively low price – the €12m loan fee notwithstanding.
At one stage it looked a no-brainer for Bayern to capitalise on the €42m purchase price stipulated in the agreement between them and Real Madrid.
Now, however, things aren’t so secure.