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James Rodriguez’s current lack of minutes is not a problem ... because Jupp Heynckes did it too

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It seems that a little bit too much has been made of Niko Kovac’s treatment of James, especially when our previous coach took the same path.

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It seems that whenever Bayern Munich posts a new lineup on its social media these days, the entire internet collectively presses the panic button. Why? Because James Rodriguez isn’t starting. This came to a head on Bundesliga match day 3, when James was revealed to be riding the bench once again even after it was strongly hinted that he would start. Needless to say, people lost their collective minds.

Now, I like James as much as anyone, but some of these reactions were a little bit premature. Post match “reports” from third party sources only added fuel to the fire of outrage sweeping through the fanbase. However we have zero indication from James himself that he was unhappy at being benched (it’s possible, but we just can’t know for sure). Therefore, I ask everyone to put away their pitchforks and #JusticeforJR11 hashtags and settle in for a brief history lesson.

How Jupp Heynckes did it

When Jupp Heynckes came back to Bayern, there was a media circus around the fate of James Rodriguez. As you know, James was perceived (not incorrectly) as Carlo Ancelotti’s man, and many people speculated (rather foolishly) that James would find himself sidelined as a result. And, in the beginning, that concern didn’t seem unfounded.

Jupp Heynckes’ first game in charge after the international break (during which he took over) was a 5-0 romp against SC Freiburg. James Rodriguez spent the entire game on the bench, despite having no discernible injury. The next game was a Champions League fixture against Celtic at the Allianz Arena, and James started on the bench again. He was only subbed on for Kingsley Coman at the 78th minute.

The following game was an away fixture against Hamburger SV (remember them?). James started but he was subbed off at half time for Thomas Muller. Anyone who saw that game could tell you — it wasn’t one of James’ best. He got a yellow card and didn’t create anything of note, and Bayern looked impotent until Thomas Muller’s assist for the only goal of the game. At that point, things seemed grim. People genuinely wondered whether James’ time at Munich was going to end in disaster.

However, Jupp Heynckes was playing the long game. He knew he had in James, and reaffirmed it in press conferences. James Rodriguez would get his chances. And, on the next matchday against RB Leipzig, it came. Finally playing as a starter, James came into his own in the left wing role, and finally got a goal. He then started agains against Celtic a few days later, and once again vs Dortmund in the Klassiker, getting 2 assists in the process.

The rest, as we know, is history, James Rodriguez went on to become a linchpin of Jupp Hyenckes’ team, scoring and assisting against his former club Real Madrid in the semi finals of the Champions League.

The moral of this story? Patience.

To all the people worrying that another Zidane situation is brewing, look at Jupp’s example. Here are the facts of the matter:

  • Even on a team like Bayern, James will get his chances.
  • Niko Kovac, as a responsible coach, is expected to ease him into the lineup and take all possible precautions to prevent injuries. God knows we don’t need any more of those.
  • Kovac has already said that he is glad to have him on the squad and that he hasn’t been fully fit since the world cup. Former Colombian NT coach Jose Perkerman implicitly confirmed this by saying that James hadn’t been called up during the international break in order to “recover”.
  • These early games don’t mean much in the grand scheme of things. If a player isn’t at 100%, then there’s no need to risk him.

Now, Bayern Munich has Benfica coming up in the Champions League. With Corentin Tolisso and Leon Goretzka both injured, James is almost guaranteed to start. If he doesn’t we can ring alarm bells. But not before then.