Real Madrid manager Zinedine Zidane has admitted that he would rather have seen James Rodriguez stay at the club instead of joining Bayern Munich on loan last summer, as the two European heavyweights prepare to clash in the UEFA Champions League semi-finals.
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James moved to Real following his star turn at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, where he scored six goals and won the Golden Boot with quarter-finalists Colombia. But after an excellent first season under Carlo Ancelotti – the man who later brought him to Bayern – the 26-year-old found his game time limited under Rafael Benitez and then Zidane.
“I didn’t want James to leave,” the Frenchman insisted on Tuesday, the day before his side’s first-leg meeting with Bayern at the Allianz Arena. “He decided to go. He wanted to play more regularly, and I can understand that.”
James has thrived in his first season in Bavaria, despite the fact that Ancelotti was replaced by Jupp Heynckes in early October. With six goals and 10 assists, he has been one of Bayern’s chief creative outlets on their road to a record sixth consecutive Bundesliga title.
“I’ve never had any problem with James, despite what the media might say,” Zidane added. “There are some very important players in this team, but it’s always the same, some of them miss out.”
James signed a two-year loan deal with the record Bundesliga champions last July, which club CEO Karl-Heinz Rummenigge recently described as a “very, very good transfer”. Bayern are expected to activate the Colombian’s buyout clause of €42 million in summer 2019 – and the player will no doubt be keen to show Real what they are missing on Wednesday.
Watch: All of James' Bundesliga goals and assists in 2017/18...
“He will certainly be motivated, but that’s because he’s a football player,” Zidane said. “He doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone – and anyone who thinks I’m against James is wrong. He will want to go out and prove himself simply because he loves football.”
Only time will tell just how much Real and Zidane may regret letting the Colombian wizard slip through their fingers…