Zidane vs James: Who To Blame In Madrid

After a listless offensive performance in the 0-0 draw against Manchester City on Tuesday, a question that has been baffling Real Madrid supporters only seemed to grow louder:

“Why is James Rodríguez not playing?”

The awkward demotion of the Colombian international has come at a critical time in this year’s campaign for the club, on the verge of a Champions League Final berth and sitting just one point behind rivals Barcelona and Atlético Madrid in La Liga.

The leading scorer at the 2014 FIFA World Cup has been forced to watch his place be filled by a trio of young Spaniards in Jesé Rodríguez, Lucas Vázquez, and Isco Alarcón. All talented attacking players in their own right, none compare to the established, mercurial talent of the Colombian.

But Zinedine Zidane has decided to stand firm on his initial decision to withdraw James from the starting lineup. Now nearly three months into his tenure, the French manager has taken the additional step of not playing the youngster at all, despite injuries to perennial starters Karim Benzema and Cristiano Ronaldo. Such a bold personnel statement is now becoming the defining move his managerial career. And it’s likely not a good one.

The reasoning for the benching remains unclear. Tensions in their relationship originally surfaced during a league match in January, when James seemed to ruffle Zidane’s feathers over his warm-up. However, a substitution incident against Sporting Gijon hardly seems relevant to the personnel selections needed for a Champions League semi-final.

As it played out, Madrid’s starting lineup was impotent in attack at the Etihad, and the replacements for James all struggled.

While the Spanish youngsters earned plaudits for their effort, one couldn’t help but wonder if Zidane is letting his ego get in the way of what should be a relatively easy personnel decision. Regardless of formation, a player with the talent of James should play.

Of course, there could be more going on behind the scenes. But it wouldn’t be the first time the Frenchman lost sight of the goals of his team.

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