No hard feelings: James' ingenuity can sway Real Madrid reunion

James Rodriguez could not be drawn into speaking of revenge. Not for himself, and not on behalf of his Bayern Munich teammates either.

Real Madrid knocked the German club out of the Champions League in deeply contentious circumstances last season, scoring twice from offside positions after Arturo Vidal had been wrongly sent off in the second leg. James was still playing for the La Liga side back then. Or, perhaps, it would be more accurate to say "still employed by," as on that night, he was an unused substitute.

Three months later, he transferred to Munich on a two-year loan deal, having fallen so far down the pecking order in Madrid that he did not even make its matchday squad for the final, where Los Blancos beat Juventus, lifting the trophy for a second consecutive year. James had not played in the 2016 final, either.

Yet, if he feels any resentment toward his former team, he does a very good job of hiding it. "We shouldn't see the two games against Madrid as revenge or rematches from last year," James insisted recently. "What we must do is look at them as simply being two more games on the way to the final."

Many people have criticised Madrid for their handling of James, a player for whom they paid €80m following his dazzling World Cup performances for Colombia in 2014, but whose talent they never fully exploited. Following a poor start to the season, even Cristiano Ronaldo suggested his club had weakened itself by allowing the midfielder to depart along with Pepe and Alvaro Morata.

James deflected such talk back then and continues to speak of Madrid with fondness. Perhaps that is simply a smart thing to do for a player who could theoretically return once his loan expires. The impression, though, is that he simply still holds too much affection for a club he had always aspired to represent.

Even now, he keeps a close eye on Madrid's results. When he talks about his departure, his tone is not angry but melancholy.

"It was sad," he told the Spanish show El Chiringuito in January. "It was hard. It was always my dream (to play there). But I think that is how football is. One year, you are in a place that you want to be, and in another year, you're not. Things turn."

(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)

James defended his record in Madrid, agreeing with his interviewer's suggestion that "the numbers were there." But he also voiced support for manager Zinedine Zidane, noting how much the Frenchman has achieved and insisting every coach has the right to their own opinions. The only hint of indignation he allowed himself was directed instead towards the Spanish press.

"I think there were things said that weren't very transparent," he continued. "That I was training badly - that's a thing I cannot accept. I train a lot. I train twice as much as everyone. (That hurt) a little bit … Those were things that shouldn't have been said. The people who said those things wanted to do damage."

Perhaps we can even say they succeeded, given how this story played out. Madrid's loss, though, has been Bayern's gain. Despite being hampered throughout this season by niggling injuries, James has played a leading role, contributing six goals and 10 assists from midfield as his new team won the Bundesliga with more than a month to spare.

Sought originally by Carlo Ancelotti, who worked with James in Madrid, the player has only raised his game since the Italian was fired as Bayern manager and replaced by Jupp Heynckes. Although deployed at times in a variety of positions across the forward line, James has mostly pulled the strings from a deep-lying role.

His position in the starting XI is not guaranteed, but only because neither is anybody's in a Bayern side boasting tremendous depth. Heynckes can also call on Vidal, Thiago Alcantara, Javi Martinez, and even sometimes Thomas Muller to complete his midfield trio. Up front, alongside Robert Lewandowski, he has Muller, Arjen Robben, Franck Ribery, Kingsley Coman, and Sandro Wagner as options.

It would be a surprise, though, not to see James feature against Madrid on Wednesday. He is a player of rare technical quality, one who can pick out a teammate from 50 yards in one moment, or lift a free-kick over a wall and into the top corner when space seems too tight to do so.

James was described eloquently by Heynckes this week as a "player with imagination." A splash of that might be more valuable than any thirst for revenge for a team that aspires to end Madrid's domination of this competition.

No hard feelings: James' ingenuity can sway Real Madrid reunion
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