This initial two-year loan deal at Bayern Munich under a coach who trusts him is just what James Rodriguez needs to get his career back on track.
Madrid possess an embarrassment of riches but even so it was surprising that James did not even make the bench that night. To rub salt in the wounds it was Marco Asensio – named ahead of the Colombian as an attacking substitute – who came on to score the fourth and final goal.
It was a final insult at the conclusion of a Champions League campaign that saw James flung to the margins. He featured for only a few minutes in the quarter-finals against Bayern and played no part across two semi-final legs against Atletico Madrid.
Frustrations grew until James lashed out after being substituted against Leganes in the league in May. It was understandable but the situation untenable.
Zidane seems possessed of a unique ability to foster trust among his senior players and that in turn has got the best out of many of them. Cristiano Ronaldo, Isco and Casemiro are just three who have benefited from Zidane’s calm demeanour and excellent man-to-man skills but it seems nothing could rescue James from his Madrid tailspin.
He only started 13 matches last season in La Liga as Zidane found the perfect formula for balance in his starting XI. Unfortunately for the playmaker, those plans didn’t include him.
Casemiro, Luka Modric and Toni Kroos were non-negotiable in midfield while Isco proved a more than capable deputy for Gareth Bale when injury forced Zidane to switch to a diamond shape with Ronaldo and Karim Benzema up front.
James was squeezed out and his frustrations showed. After the Club World Cup victory against Kashima Antlers in December he declared he had “seven days” to decide his Real Madrid future and he expressed frustration at having played no part in the Japanese final.
Manchester United were then linked with his signature as he was reduced to a bit-part role in a double-title push that saw Madrid conclude their season with their 12th Champions League in the bag as well as the Spanish league championship.
It was Bayern though who moved quickest and moved decisively. The week began with reports that Carlo Ancelotti had personally ordered the signing of Rodriguez.
No matter the talent at Ancelotti’s disposal during the pair’s season together at the Santiago Bernabeu there always seemed to be space for James in the line-up. Sometimes he featured as an orthodox No.10, at other times he featured from either flank or else from further back in midfield.
That kind of versatility will come in useful at Bayern where there appears to be no natural opening for James in the starting XI. Douglas Costa is widely expected to depart for Juventus in the next couple of days while midfield slots have also opened up with the retirements of Philipp Lahm and Xabi Alonso.
Up front James can provide something extra on the wings as a replacement for either Franck Ribery or Arjen Robben. There is also the benefit of James’s creativity behind an out-and-out striker like Robert Lewandowski.
A loan deal looks surprising on paper but it is a good fit for all parties concerned. Madrid are clearly struggling to raise interest in James at the price being asked. They paid some €80 million to extract him from Monaco following the 2014 World Cup and were looking to recoup most if not all of that. No clubs were biting. The finances on this deal are closely guarded but it is believed to be a €10m loan fee to cover the two seasons until 2019, with €35m-€50m required to make the deal permanent at that point.
It is just what James needs at this stage of his career. At 25 his best days are presumably still ahead but he was stuck in a rut at Madrid. No matter how many goals he scored or created it was never going to be enough to elbow his way back into the first team.
“We’re delighted we’ve been able to complete this transfer,” Bayern CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge said. “Signing James Rodriguez was our coach Carlo Ancelotti’s biggest wish, following their successful spell working together in Madrid.
“James is a very versatile player. He’s a goalscorer himself, he sets up a lot of goals and on top of that he’s great from set-pieces. There’s no question that this transfer further increases the quality in our team.”
He now has a coach who knows what he can do and is at a club with maximum potential for success. Indeed there is a shade of Robben about this deal given that Bayern took a punt on that Real Madrid outcast in 2009.
Eight fruitful years later and he can be said to be among Bayern’s best signings of all time. If things go well for James he has all the conditions to replicate that success.