For James Rodriguez it looks to be something of a double whammy.
When Carlo Ancelotti brought the Colombian to Merseyside last summer his signing was seen as the statement move of the new Everton era.
With the ultra-successful Italian in place and the club seemingly, finally spending their money wisely on players that had been specifically targeted by the manager, this was the season to crack that top four glass ceiling.
Wins in their first four games of the campaign got some thinking even loftier thoughts than that, but not long after an Everton club song containing the words “we don’t know the meaning of losing” hit No.1 in the UK charts, things started to unravel.
Things ended in the way that many Everton seasons tend to, with the club left looking up at the teams above them and wondering why, with the talent at their disposal, they weren’t up there with them.
Again they were just there , keeping company with the clubs they want to rub shoulders with but never quite doing enough to convince you that something big is coming, be it a catchy tune or a sure-fire hit. The Franz Ferdinand of the Premier League.
And now Ancelotti has gone, leaving James and in the lurch and dreading the sight of who is coming through the door.
Because while the appointment of Rafael Benitez isn’t just a notable one because of his Liverpool past, it is also one that will make James sit up and take notice.
And then maybe run for the hills.
A dream turns sour
Real was of course the club of Benitez’s dreams.
He had never hidden his admiration for the Santiago Bernabeu even through his successes at Liverpool, and so in the summer of 2015 – five years after being shown the door at Anfield – he jumped at the chance to replace Ancelotti in the Spanish capital.
The previous campaign had been James’ first at the club after being snapped up off the back of his success and his Golden Boot at the 2014 World Cup.
With a whole legion of supporters in Colombia watching on, James scored a career-high 17 goals in the 2014-15 campaign as he thrived in Ancelotti’s side as attacking support for Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema and Gareth Bale.
But, a season after Ancelotti won the club’s 10th European Cup, Real ‘only’ finished second in La Liga and they ‘only’ reached the semi-finals of the European Cup. The board felt he had to go.
Benitez was summoned, but despite a solid enough league start things began to quickly get away from him.
And it was clear where he saw the problem to be.
“I ran 45 metres very hard!”
James had started the season with a couple of goals but he was being plagued by injury issues, and even though he felt he was fit enough to feature in Benitez’s team the manager did not.
The tipping point seemed to come after a 3-2 defeat to Sevilla in the November when, searching for a scapegoat and a reason to pile pressure on the manager, the Madrid press focused on his relationship with the Colombian, who had just made his first appearance for two-and-a-half months.
“You saw what James is: very good quality but he lacks the rhythm and form right now,” Benitez said after the match.
As if wanting to prove a point, James jumped in front of the microphones after playing 90 minutes and scoring for Colombia four days later.
“There was one play in which I ran 45 metres very hard, and they say I am not in good form.”
‘They’ undoubtedly meant Benitez, and it was enough for a running battle to begin to be staged in the Spanish press.
James bides his time
On Benitez’s side there were suggestions that James had come back for pre-season overweight, while in the James camp they were suggesting that the manager was showing favouritism to Bale and therefore shutting James out as he wanted to get more defensive players in his side.
The Colombian was clearly unhappy, but there was soon a sense that Benitez would run out of time at the club before he did.
A 4-0 hammering at home to Barcelona is not the sort of thing Real managers come back from, and after that loss there was added pressure on a Copa Del Rey tie against lower league Cadiz. Real dare not lose.
Benitez opted to start James in the game, again insisting that everything was fine between them.
“The more he trains and plays the closer he will be to the James that we all know and love,” he said at the time.
“The issue is clear. What I want is to see the best James in each match, scoring lots of goals.”
The issue after the Cadiz match was that Denis Cheryshev, Real’s first goalscorer, should have been ineligible for the game, and so the club were embarrassingly kicked out of the competition.
Benitez was now living on borrowed time, and sure enough he exited in the early days of 2016, replaced by club legend Zinedine Zidane.
James wins the battle, but loses the war?
James had managed to gain more game-time by the end of Benitez’s reign, and he was a regular in the early days of Zidane too.
However he was unable to replicate that 2014-15 form he showed under Ancelotti, and by the end of Zidane’s first full season he was cast back into the arms of the Italian at Bayern on a two-year loan.
After being scarcely seen back at Real in 2019-10, he joined Everton and Ancelotti last summer with the very real sense that this was the perfect chance for him to regain his form.
But rather like Everton as a whole, he was able to show flashes yet never quite deliver consistently.
And now he finds himself with Benitez walking back through the door again, and Ancelotti having left.
He’s at another crossroads, and a move may be best for all parties.