Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane sent a warm birthday message to James Rodriguez by insisting the Colombian could play a part in the side’s future – but then left him out of his latest squad.
James, who signed amid Galactico fanfare six years ago, has become almost a forgotten man with the Spanish giants, playing only a minor role in this season’s LaLiga title chase.
His 78-minute run-out against Real Sociedad in June was a first LaLiga appearance for James since October, and he has not played since.
There are reports Madrid consider James superfluous to their needs and will look to sell him at the end of this campaign, with Manchester United among the clubs linked with him.
Zidane struck a different tone in his news conference ahead of Monday’s match against Granada, even wishing James well on the attacking midfielder’s birthday.
However, by later leaving James out of his 23-man squad for the Granada trip, the head coach’s actions perhaps proved more telling than his words.
“He is important, and he is ours,” Zidane told reporters.
“He is 29 years old today and I congratulate him. It is true some play more and others less, but I will not look down on any player.
“Everyone brings something to the team. I can count on all of those I have.”
James has just a year left on his Madrid contract and his influence has greatly diminished.
Before this season, he spent two years on loan at Bayern Munich, winning a pair of Bundesliga titles but not doing enough to secure a permanent transfer.
Signed from Monaco by Madrid in 2014 after a stellar World Cup, James was initially given the coveted number 10 shirt but now wears number 16, with his eight league appearances this season amounting to just 419 minutes on the pitch.
Back in May there were strong rumours that Atlético Madrid were keen to land James, but the deal eventually fell through, despite the player and Atleti both reportedly being keen.