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Flair vs pragmatism: Everton’s James Rodriguez debate

The Colombian is capable of moments of brilliance, but fitness issues, inconsistency and high wages has put his future in doubt

Everton FC v UNAM Pumas: Pre-Season Friendly Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

There is a very retro, Moyesian feel about Everton’s summer so far.

Bringing in players on free transfers and cut-price deals, pricier targets going elsewhere and expensive assets up for sale, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was 2011 instead of 2021.

The difference between now and then of course is that Everton DO have money, they are just constrained by the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules and paying the price for years of reckless spending (though there is also something to be said about rules supposedly designed to avoid clubs from falling into debt but instead cements the position of the status quo).

It means Marcel Brands and Rafa Benitez have their hands tied in the transfer market, with any significant purchases reliant on sales.

Which brings us to James Rodriguez.

Everton v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Marc Atkins/Getty Images

The Colombian has reportedly (unconfirmed) been told by Benitez that he does not figure in his plans this season and can go if a suitable offer comes in, thereby freeing up his significant wages to be used elsewhere.

This is hardly surprising news. James’ future was in doubt as soon as Carlo Ancelotti upped and left for Madrid. Ancelotti was prepared to indulge James because of his considerable talents. Benitez, a much more pragmatic manager, is unlikely to do so.

Throw in his patchy fitness record and you can understand why the Spaniard would rather the club’s finite resources be used elsewhere. However, that stance is likely to put him on collision course with the club’s supporters, many of whom are desperate for the 30-year-old to stay.

Evertonians knew exactly what they were getting with James. They knew he would not sprint around the pitch or track back, they knew he had fitness issues and they knew Ancelotti was the main reason he chose to come to Goodison Park in the first place.

But when he is fit and firing James is a class above anyone in the squad, capable of moments of pure magic.

Everton v West Bromwich Albion - Premier League Photo by Emma Simpson - Everton FC/Everton FC via Getty Images

And let’s not kid ourselves. If James was capable of playing 50 games a season he would not be playing for Everton. He’d still be at the Bernabeu or the Allianz. So, the question facing Everton this summer is whether James is worth the hassle and expense for those fleeting moments of genius?

For the supporters, it appears to be yes.

James is box office. He is a player who makes fans rise from their seats when he picks up the ball. After 26 years without a trophy, you cannot blame the supporters for wanting a bit of excitement when they go to the match instead of seeing a team that just exists.

Though in the pantheon of ‘Everton, that’ moments, James leaving before any UK-based fan can see him in the flesh would be right up there.

Frustratingly, Everton’s financial woes suggests we are presented with a stark choice: sell a player like James or fail to bring in any more players. A choice made all the more galling when you consider the amount of deadwood that is still found in the squad, sucking up valuable resources while contributing nothing on the field.

Now, Evertonians are not privy to all the details. We don’t know exactly how much James earns, or how close Everton are to breaching P&S regulations. A few Twitch comments aside, how committed is James to Everton? What is his relationship like with Benitez? And if he does go, what players will come in to replace him? All these factors are likely to play a role in the club’s decision-making.

But based on we DO know, you can understand why Evertonians are reluctant to see a player of such talent slip through their fingers.