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The history of the Rafa Benitez and James Rodriguez feud

The duo have had their issues with each other in the past, and it doesn’t bode well for Everton

Real Madrid Training Session
Benitez talking to James in 2015 at Real Madrid’s training ground
Photo by Angel Martinez/Real Madrid via Getty Images

UPDATE: September 20th - It looks like the feud will end with James' departure, with the player in Qatar in talks with Al-Rayyan.

UPDATE: August 13th - Almost six weeks after Benitez joined the Blues, the debate about the spat between him and James Rodriguez dating back to their time together at Real Madrid continues on.

Were it not for Carlo Ancelotti being in charge at Everton, there was no way that James Rodriguez would ever have landed up on Merseyside in the royal blue jersey. Of that there is no doubt.

Now that Ancelotti is gone, it’s looking quite unlikely that James will stay on with the Toffees, especially with no European football on the schedule this season as well. And if the Colombian superstar was waiting around to see who the Blues replaced the Italian with, then the appointment of Rafael Benitez would most certainly have sealed his decision to leave.

It’s not that James cares too much that Rafa had previously been in charge of Liverpool or that he had dubbed Everton a ‘small club’ at that time. The forward has his own issues with Benitez stemming back to the short spell the Spanish manager had at Real Madrid during the 2015-16 season.

Reports from the time indicate that Benitez had asked James to cut short his summer vacation after the Copa America to join up with Real’s preseason tour to Australia. James declined, and instead met up with the team in China, even scoring a late freekick against Inter Milan.

However, Benitez dropped him for the La Liga opener saying that he was still not at full fitness.

“At the moment, if he did not play it is because of a difference with respect to his teammates that can be compensated with his quality. There is no debate, it is a technical decision and not a personal one.”

With the bad blood now sown between the pair, James picked up an injury a couple of months into the season but still chose to play (and score) for Colombia during the international break in November,

In a thinly-veiled dig at his manager, James said to the media after the game -

“For those who are saying I’m not in good shape.”

James started in the Clasico after that, but was taken off during the 4-0 hiding at the hands of bitter rivals Barcelona, and then was out of the starting lineup in the following weeks, with Benitez doubting his effort levels and telling him that there were better players performing than him and that he still needed some work.

“I have spoken with him and it is a clear issue. I want to see the best of James every Sunday and Wednesday, scoring many goals. I would be delighted if that is the case.”

The forward’s disillusionment continued to grow sitting behind Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, and even Isco started getting more playing minutes than him. However, at the midway point of the season with Real five points behind Barca Benitez was handed his marching orders by Club President Florentino Perez, despite a pretty exemplary record of 17 wins, 5 draws and 3 losses in all competitions. Rodriguez himself continued to struggle at Real and eventually went out on loan to Bayern in 2017.

With that history between them, it looks pretty unlikely that James will stay on at Everton and AC Milan’s interest in the player offers the Blues an opportunity to offload a talented but disgruntled footballer while making a tidy profit considering they had signed him as a free agent last summer.