James Rodriguez has said his "future lies at Real Madrid," a statement that could scupper the reported transfer hopes of Manchester United.
The Colombian forward was speaking after Real Madrid's 4-2 win over Athletic Bilbao in La Liga, a game in which the ex-Porto man found the net. He admitted Zinedine Zidane's promotion to manager has helped improve his game, per Spanish publication Marca:
I'm doing much better, and that helps a lot. It's not just me. I think the change has been good for everyone. For me it's because Zidane has contributed to our game. We're all playing better. He speaks to everyone and shows real character when match day comes. I'm not reproaching anyone. Everything takes its own time and you have to wait. When you get a chance, you always have to be on top of your game.
Zidane's influence has certainly been obvious on a Madrid team that's scored 20 goals in the last four league games at home, according to Sky Sports.
However, the Frenchman receiving an endorsement from James is somewhat surprising. The attacking midfielder's temperament had been called into question after an apparent bust-up between manager and player involving James' warm-up routine as a substitute, per images from Spanish television station La Sexta (h/t AS).
Those reports prompted speculation the 24-year-old might move to Old Trafford in the summer. Back in January, Spanish website Fichajes.net (h/t Metro's Mark Brus) linked the Red Devils with a potential £64.7 million bid.
John Richardson of the Sunday Express also suggested James' agent, Jorge Mendes, had spoken to United about a possible deal during the same month.
Bleacher Report's Sam Tighe had questioned James' overall role on Zidane's watch, citing improvement from Isco as a problem for the South American star:
But lost in all the speculation regarding his attitude and relationship with Zidane have been some credible performances from the Colombian playmaker in recent games. After his strike against Bilbao, WhoScored.com detailed how effective he's been:
James Rodríguez: Has played a direct hand in 4 goals in his last 4 apps for Madrid (2 goals + 2 assists) #RMAvATH— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) February 13, 2016
It's in the context of this form that James has reaffirmed his desire to succeed in the Spanish capital, per the Marca report: "I think my future lies at Real Madrid. I want to be here for many years to come and that's my dream."
The way Zidane has Los Blancos currently playing, a style emphasising flair and creative verve, is perfect for the mercurial talents of a player like James. His goal threat and eye for a pass are attributes that work best in a more fluid formula.
That might have been one problem had he made his way to United, according to B/R's Dean Jones, who questioned how a wandering playmaker like James would fit in Reds boss Louis van Gaal's strict structure:
As it is, staying in Madrid is best for the player. James must build on the recent promise he's shown and adapt fully to what Zidane wants from his forwards.