James Rodriguez's Real Madrid tenure has been hit by controversy and a struggle for form this season, but the midfield maestro has fired back at his critics and opened up on his experiences under new manager Zinedine Zidane.
"The talk really pisses me off," James said. "My people know how I act and that I always seek to take good care of myself. I'm a professional. What's been said about me going out a lot at night is a lie. It really pisses me off that people doubt me and say I'm looking fat."
Sunday's draw saw Rodriguez start a La Liga fixture for the first time since Zidane took over for Rafa Benitez at the club's helm, and he played 80 minutes in place of the injured Gareth Bale.
Does Rodriguez deserve a starting spot under Zidane?
The result may not have buoyed the manager's mood, but Rodriguez set up striker Karim Benzema for Los Blancos' only goal of the game to salvage a share of the spoils.
It's been alleged Rodriguez's slope in form has been partly due to distractions off the field, and Marca reported earlier in January he had been involved in a police chase at 125 miles per hour (h/t Daily Mail's Adam Shergold).
The attacker didn't go into detail regarding how fast he was actually going, but Rodriguez suggested those claims were exaggerated and insisted there was a reasonable explanation for the traffic incident.
"I wasn't going as fast as everyone says. I had music playing at a high volume [that's why he couldn't hear the sirens]. I'm not stupid; if I'd seen them I would have pulled over. I apologise—people make mistakes."
Readers of Spanish newspaper AS voted to see James return to the lineup in place of Bale last week, showing the fans are still rallying behind the team's €80 million investment:
Morning all! It's James Rodriguez on our front page today: "Fans demand James" with 63% preferring him over Jese. pic.twitter.com/n2bpGdAzOS— AS English (@English_AS) January 22, 2016
It was alleged a conflicting relationship with former manager Benitez prevented Rodriguez from reaching his best earlier this season, but he hopes to realise his potential under Zidane, adding: "The change has been good for the team."
The Colombia international is yet to play a major role in the Frenchman's plans thus far, and Rodriguez has even been linked with a move to Manchester United, per Sport, just 18 months after arriving in Madrid.
Rodriguez won the Golden Boot award at the 2014 World Cup, a triumph that helped prompt his big-money move from Monaco that summer, and Zidane will be hoping to coaxing the maestro's best out of him once again.
At present, one of Real Madrid's biggest assets isn't performing as hoped, but the player could breathe some new life into their campaign if he's able to put these obstacles to one side and recapture his best form.