MADRID (Reuters) - James Rodriguez has struggled to find a place in Real Madrid under Zinedine Zidane, but he has not given up hope of forcing his way in.
Rodriguez remains at the Santiago Bernabeu, even though he's had offers from other clubs and was considering leaving after he was overlooked for the Club World Cup final.
Although Zidane rarely gives him opportunities - he has started just six La Liga games this season and come on as a substitute in seven more - when he gets his chances he usually takes them.
Saturday’s 4-1 away win at Eibar saw the attacking midfielder sparkle, scoring himself and setting up a goal for Karim Benzema, as Madrid got their title chase headed in the right direction after some recent slip-ups.
"When I am given opportunities, I always try and do well. This is all I think about," Rodriguez said after the game. "I want to always be here [at Madrid]. It's clear that in life and football you never know what is going to happen but I want to remain here."
Despite his struggles, Rodriguez is convinced he can triumph in the Spanish capital. He signed for Real Madrid for 80 million euros in the summer of 2014, and the Madrid newspaper AS says he wants to extend his contract, which expires in 2020.
The club’s FIFA transfer ban ends in the summer, so Rodriguez will be out to prove his worth to Zidane as the campaign winds down.
When he's asked about Rodriguez's frequent absences from his line-ups, Zidane has always said he has a squad full of talented players so some will end up unhappy no matter what. It is lack of defensive diligence that seems to be costing Rodriguez.
Madrid’s three attacking superstars, Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema usually start when they are fit. That leaves little room for other players who appear not to pull their weight.
Despite his impressive showing against Eibar, the 25-year-old is not assured of a start on Tuesday night, either, when defending champions Madrid head to Naples for the second leg of that tie, bidding to reach the quarter-finals.
But Rodriguez has three goals and three assists in his last seven matches, three of which he has appeared in as a substitute. With Bale suspended for two La Liga matches, he is likely to get further opportunities in the coming weeks.
Even if his part is sometimes under-appreciated, Rodriguez’s efforts will play an important role in Madrid’s dual assault for the Champions League and the Spanish title.
(Editing by Lary King)