James Rodriguez has been named in Colombia's squad for the first time in 12 months.

The former Real Madrid playmaker, who left Everton to join Qatari side Al-Rayyan in September, won the Golden Boot at the 2014 World Cup and had been a mainstay in Colombia's side since.

However, with injuries plaguing his time at Goodison Park, restricting him to 26 appearances in all competitions, James was not selected for this year's Copa America squad.

James did not take the news well, disputing the claim made by Colombia's coaching staff that he was not fit enough to be relied upon.

However, coach Reinaldo Rueda still took a hard-line approach and, with James not featuring at all for Everton under Rafael Benitez this season prior to his switch to Qatar, the 30-year-old was left out for World Cup qualifiers in September and October.

Colombia went unbeaten across those six matches, though they won just once. After scoring his first goal for Al-Rayyan in a 4-2 win over Al Sailiya towards the end of October, James has earned a recall for this month's games against Brazil and Paraguay. His last appearance for his country was in a 6-1 defeat to Ecuador in November 2020.

Though injuries did limit his game time, James was a creative fulcrum for Everton last term, creating 54 chances, placing him second in the squad behind Gylfi Sigurdsson (60).

James led the way for Everton with chances created from open play (38) and when it came to crafting big chances (14).

Per 90 minutes played, James forged 0.56 big chances in the Premier League, putting him just below Jack Grealish and Bruno Fernandes (0.58), ranking sixth in the competition among those who played 20 or more matches.

He finished the season with six goals and eight assists and when he was fit and available, James proved his quality for Carlo Ancelotti's team.

However, he has had a stuttering start to life in Qatar. After taking time to get up to full speed, he made his debut in disappointing fashion, with Laurent Blanc's side going down 3-0 to Al Duhail.

Following his goal against Al Sailiya, James was then sent off for dissent in his third appearance for Al-Rayyan, having reacted angrily to a decision going against him.

James subsequently posted a photo to his official Instagram account, showing evidence of facial injuries sustained during the match.

"After the blow I suffered in the game I am already a little better," James wrote. "As you can see, my nose and jaw suffered a bit in the blow.

"The rib took the worst part but nothing to worry about. All of this is part of our job. A few more days and I'll be training again."

James Rodriguez has left Everton to join Qatari side Al-Rayyan for an undisclosed fee.

The Colombia playmaker, who did not make his nation's squad for the Copa America due to concerns over his fitness after missing the end of Everton's 2020-21 campaign, had not featured in a competitive game for the Toffees so far this season.

Rafael Benitez reportedly did not see the 30-year-old as a key player in his squad and confirmed earlier this month that Everton had been open to offers for the former Real Madrid man, who won the Golden Boot at the 2014 World Cup.

Signed on a free transfer from Madrid by previous manager Carlo Ancelotti, James made 26 appearances in all competitions for Everton last season, scoring six goals and creating a further eight.

However, with the Qatari transfer window still open, Al-Rayyan – coached by former Paris Saint-Germain and France boss Laurent Blanc – have now signed the Colombian star. 

Blanc took over Al-Rayyan in December 2020 and guided them to a third-placed finish in the Qatar Stars League, behind Al-Duhail and Al-Sadd, coached by Barcelona legend Xavi.

James' signing represents a coup for the league ahead of the Qatar 2022 World Cup, though he will still have to fight his way back into Reinaldo Rueda's Colombia squad.

Though injuries did limit his game time, James was a creative fulcrum for Everton under Ancelotti, forging 54 chances, placing him second in the squad behind Gylfi Sigurdsson (60), who made 18 appearances more.

James led the way for Everton with chances created from open play (38) and when it came to crafting big chances (14) – defined by Opta as situations where players should reasonably be expected to score. 

Per 90 minutes played, James created 0.56 big chances in the Premier League, putting him just below Jack Grealish and Bruno Fernandes (0.58), ranking sixth in the competition among those who played 20 or more matches.

Everton went unbeaten in their first five games under Benitez but lost 3-0 to Aston Villa last Saturday before heading out of the EFL Cup with an 8-7 penalty shoot-out defeat to Queens Park Rangers on Tuesday, following a 2-2 draw at Loftus Road.

"To be fair, I don't have too much information," Benitez said when asked about James after the EFL Cup exit. "I know he is already there [in Qatar].

"Don't forget, we are talking about a special situation from this club, the financial fair play rules have to manage everything in the best way we can."

Everton have been operating under tight financial constraints this season, with four of the five arrivals under Benitez coming on free transfers, while Demarai Gray cost a reported £1.7million from Bayer Leverkusen.

Bukayo Saka only turned 20 earlier this month but he is a player on the rise.

The Arsenal forward was part of England's side that reached the Euro 2020 final in July.

Saka has put in plenty of eye-catching displays for the Gunners too.

 

TOP STORY – JUVENTUS AND ATLETICO KEEN ON SAKA

Calciomercato claims that Juventus and Atletico Madrid  are both monitoring Arsenal's England international forward Bukayo Saka .

The Gunners are believed to want £43million (€50m) to sell the 20-year-old, who signed a four-year deal in July last year.

Saka has become a key player at Arsenal, making 32 Premier League appearances last term.

 

ROUND-UP

- Everton's Colombia international James Rodriguez has reached a verbal agreement to join Qatari club Al Rayyan according to Argentine journalist Cesar Luis Merlo. Rodriguez has not played yet this season and almost joined Porto in the off-season.

- Inter are homing in on a move to sign Manchester United midfielder Donny van de Beek reports Calciomercato. The 24-year-old Dutchman has had a tough time at Old Trafford since joining United for £35m from Ajax in 2020.

- Calciomercato also claims that Jose Mourinho wants to lure Manchester United right-back Diogo Dalot to Roma . The Argentine spent last season on loan with Milan.

- Andreas Christensen is set to sign a new deal with Chelsea worth £120,000-per-week claims The Sun.

Antoine Griezmann and Saul Niguez were the big names to move late on deadline day, with Atletico Madrid having a busy night.

Griezmann's move to his former club completed a day of outgoings for Barcelona, who sold Emerson Royal and Ilaix Moriba, as well as loaning out Ray Minaj.

Ronald Koeman's Barca did get one player in, however, who will seemingly replace Griezmann in attack.

Barca's LaLiga rivals Real Madrid did not manage to get a mega deal for Kylian Mbappe over the line, despite a reported bid of €200m having been lodged on Tuesday, though Los Blancos did sign Rennes sensation Eduardo Camavinga.

Cristiano Ronaldo's move back to Manchester United was confirmed early on, but there was plenty of late action in England, too.

 

Another returning king as Chelsea call on Saul

Romelu Lukaku back to Chelsea. Ronaldo back to United. Now, Griezmann has made a return to one of his former clubs, with the 30-year-old re-joining LaLiga champions Atleti on a season-long loan.

There is an option to make the deal permanent for €40million – just the €80million less than Barca paid for the France forward in 2019.

Replacing Griezmann at Barca is Luuk de Jong, with Koeman turning to his compatriot from Sevilla. Messi to De Jong... not quite the end to the window Barca fans would have had in mind.

Saul, meanwhile, is leaving LaLiga. He has joined Chelsea on a loan deal from Atleti, with an option to buy for a reported £30m.

 

No Madrid move for Mbappe... yet

A third Madrid bid for Mbappe was reportedly lodged, and ignored, on Tuesday, as Florentino Perez's obsessive hunt of the Paris Saint-Germain star proved fruitless.

However, Mbappe is out of contract next year, so he may well be a Galactico soon enough.

One player who will be playing in the famous all-white strip this season is teenage midfielder Camavinga, who has joined from Rennes.

As well as keeping Mbappe, PSG added to their squad, completing a stellar transfer window by signing Sporting CP left-back Nuno Mendes to fill what has proved a problem position. Pablo Sarabia went the other way.

In Italy, Milan marked a quiet end to the window overall by confirming the signings of Yacine Adli and Messias Junior.

Inter already had their business done, while Juventus confirmed Moise Kean's return on Tuesday morning. The Bianconeri also signed Mohamed Ihattaren, who was then loaned to Sampdoria.

Ronaldo headlines Premier League moves

The early confirmation of Ronaldo's move back to United being complete was the biggest story of the day in England's top flight. It also paved the way for the Red Devils to sell Daniel James, who moved to Leeds United.

Arsenal blocked Everton's attempts to sign Ainsley Maitland-Niles, though Hector Bellerin did leave the Gunners to head to Real Betis on loan. Mikel Arteta's Gunners completed their record-breaking transfer window (in terms of overall spend) with the acquisition of Japan defender Takehiro Tomiyasu from Bologna. Earlier in the day, Arsenal loaned out Reiss Nelson and Alex Runarsson.

Their north London rivals Tottenham completed the signing of Emerson from Barca, with Serge Aurier's time at Spurs subsequently being brought to an end by the mutual termination of his contract.

Everton's hunt for a right-back was to no avail. The Toffees did bring in Salomon Rondon on a free transfer, handing the forward a two-year deal with an option for a third. James Rodriguez was involved in a mooted part-exchange deal with Porto for Luis Diaz, but the Colombian star is staying put.

Manchester City rounded off their dealings by sending out seven players on loan. Among them was Patrick Roberts, who was one of three players to join Ligue 1 club Troyes.

Wolves were unable to complete deals for Kieffer Moore or Boubacar Kamara. A late offer from Spurs for Adama Traore was reportedly rejected.

Czech Republic midfielder Alex Kral joined West Ham on loan from Spartak Moscow. He was the Hammers' second signing of the day, with Croatia playmaker Nikola Vlasic having arrived early on.

There were two outgoings at Celtic. Scotland international Ryan Christie signed for Bournemouth, while Crystal Palace bought striker Odsonne Edouard for a reported £15m. The Hoops replaced him with Greece forward Giorgos Giakoumakis.

Juventus have brought Moise Kean back to the club from Everton on a two-year loan with an obligation to buy following the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Kean returns to Turin two years after the forward left for the Premier League in a £27million (€31.5m) move, having signed a five-year deal with the Toffees.

Juve will pay €7m (£6m) for the striker's loan spell, payable over two years. They will be obliged to re-sign him on a permanent basis for a fee that could reach €31m (£26.6m) if certain objectives are met.

The Italy international's arrival follows Ronaldo's switch back to Manchester United, with Massimiliano Allegri eager to bolster his attacking options.

Kean impressed on loan at Paris Saint-Germain last season, scoring 13 times in 26 Ligue 1 outings.

But he failed to make an impact at Goodison Park, with his 32 top-flight outings yielding only two goals.

The appointment of Rafael Benitez at Everton might have ushered in a fresh start for Kean, but that will not now materialise.

Kean was sent off in Tuesday's EFL Cup win at Huddersfield Town, while he featured only very briefly in the 2-2 draw at Leeds United in the Premier League.

Kean made his Juve debut aged just 16 years, eight months and 21 days in November 2016, becoming the club's youngest ever player. 

He made 16 Serie A appearances in in his first spell at Juve, scoring seven goals, while he won the Scudetto twice and the Coppa Italia once. 

 

Paris Saint-Germain have lined up several options to replace Kylian Mbappe.

A deal with Real Madrid could create a domino effect. 

Who might be on the move to PSG?

 

TOP STORY – PSG LINE UP MBAPPE REPLACEMENTS

Paris Saint-Germain do not plan to let Kylian Mbappe go to Real Madrid this transfer window without replacing him. 

The French giants have their eyes on multiple players should Los Blancos' reported €180million bid for the striker succeed. 

Two Brazilians currently in the Premier League top the list, as Globo Esporte says PSG want Gabriel Jesus – though Pep Guardiola said he does not expect any more departures from Manchester City. 

PSG also reportedly are weighing up a bid for Everton's Richarlison, says ESPN Brasil. 

And though all indications have been that Erling Haaland will stay put with Borussia Dortmund, the Star says PSG could make another bid if Mbappe departs. 

 

ROUND-UP

- Jules Kounde is ready to move from Sevilla to Chelsea, says Sky Sports News, but the Blues are balking at the Spanish club's €80m asking price and are prepared to offer only about €50m.

- Everton are closing in on a swap deal that would send James Rodriguez to Porto with Luis Diaz joining the Toffees, reports Fabrizio Romano. 

- Arsenal's Ainsley Maitland-Niles could also be on the move to Everton, reports Sky Sports News, who say the Premier League side have also asked Celtic about Odsonne Edouard

- Meanwhile, Juventus are in talks with Everton about a deal for Moise Kean, who has become their top priority with Cristiano Ronaldo's departure, says Romano.

- Roma could make a move for Atletico Madrid's Hector Herrera, according to Calciomercato. 

- Aston Villa are weighing a move for Borussia Dortmund midfielder Axel Witsel, reports Tuttosport. 

- Atalanta have their eyes on AZ Alkmaar's Teun Koopmeiners, says Calciomercato. 

Rafael Benitez has insisted Everton have no intention to sell Richarlison, as speculation over a move to Paris Saint-Germain mounts.

The Brazilian is reportedly being targeted by PSG as a replacement for Kylian Mbappe should the France star seal a sensational transfer to Real Madrid.

Richarlison has played in both of Everton's Premier League matches this season, scoring and providing an assist in the 3-1 win over Southampton.

In last week's 2-2 draw with Leeds United, no Everton player had more shots (five) or created more chances (three) than the former Watford forward, who has scored 43 goals in all competitions since his arrival in 2018.

Benitez, however, was adamant Everton will not be selling the 24-year-old, who helped Brazil claim Olympic gold in Tokyo, in the remaining days of the transfer window.

"We are not considering selling him," the Everton boss said. "He is our player, we are really pleased with him, really happy.

"Hopefully, he can score a lot of goals this year for us."

Richarlison is not the only player to be linked with a move away from Everton, who are looking to trim their squad, reportedly to stay in line with the Premier League's profit and sustainability rules.

Moise Kean, who spent last season on loan at PSG, is a reported target for Juventus, though a deal may well hinge on Cristiano Ronaldo's potential departure from Turin.

"We have some players that people know that they are good players. But this speculation is something that [journalists] have to do, you need to give information to the fans," added Benitez.

"But the coaches, we have to concentrate on the players we have."

Kean left Juve for Everton in 2019, but has struggled to settle in English football. He started and was sent off in the Toffees' EFL Cup win over Huddersfield Town on Tuesday.

On Kean, Benitez said: "The reality is that he's our player. He did well last year [at PSG]. He's with us and we have to deal with the transfer window."

Reports on Friday began circulating that the club are working on a deal to sign Luis Diaz from Porto, with James Rodriguez – who arrived last year under Carlo Ancelotti, going on to score six goals – going the other way on a season-long loan.

"I cannot give you too many answers [on James]," Benitez said. "We will see.

"If you ask me the question in three days, you might have the solution. Today, it's just speculation."

Lionel Messi was the topic of plenty of speculation in recent weeks before inking a two-year deal with Paris Saint-Germain.

The 34-year-old left Barcelona as a free agent after two decades with the Catalan club, unable to stay despite wanting to continue his career there.

But rumours are swirling already about Messi's next move after PSG, even though he has yet to even make his debut for the Ligue 1 side.

 

TOP STORY - BECKHAM HOLDS MESSI TALKS

Inter Miami owner David Beckham has held talks with Messi about joining the MLS club after his PSG contract expires, reports The Mirror.

The former Manchester United and Real Madrid midfielder has promised to bring a superstar player to the club, with links to Cristiano Ronaldo in the past.

According to the report, Messi purchased six luxury penthouse apartments in Miami a few weeks ago, adding fuel to the fire.


ROUND-UP

- Manchester City will need to up their bid for Harry Kane to Tottenham by £50million to convince Spurs to sell, reports The Mirror. City have reportedly tabled an improved bid since their £100m offer and are said to be willing to go as high as £120m.

- Newcastle are ready to make a move to sign Everton's Colombian midfielder James Rodriguez, according to fichajes.net.

- Milan are interested in a move for Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva for £45m (€52m) according to Star on Sunday.

- The Sun claims that Southampton are looking to complete a bargain deal for Celtic midfielder Ryan Christie, who is out of contract at the end of the season.

James Rodriguez is among five Everton players who will miss their first Premier League game of the season against Southampton after being forced into self-isolation.

Toffees boss Rafael Benitez confirmed that attacking midfielder James is one of the players he will be without in Saturday's clash with the Saints at Goodison Park due to coronavirus protocols.

The former Liverpool manager said: "We have some players who are in isolation and we have to manage that.

"We have to be very careful, and some players have to be at home. James is one of them.

"I will not name too many players because I think it is better not to do it."

Strike duo Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin will be available to take on Ralph Hasenhuttl's side.

Richarlison returned to training on Wednesday after winning a gold medal for Brazil at the Tokyo Olympics, while Calvert-Lewin has recovered from a toe injury.

Rafael Benitez's appointment at Everton was a divisive one, though one of his former players believes the ex-Liverpool manager is the right choice.

Benitez was appointed as Carlo Ancelotti's replacement at Goodison Park, with the Italian having left to rejoin Real Madrid.

The 61-year-old Spaniard led Liverpool to the Champions League title in 2005, managing the Reds from 2004 until 2010.

Sections of Everton's fanbase were far from pleased with Benitez's appointment. Indeed, banners were left outside Goodison Park and, in an incident which is being investigated by Merseyside Police, a threatening message was left close to the manager's family home in Wirral.

However, Benitez has shrugged off the negativity, insisting he is confident he can lead Everton, who finished 12th and 10th under Ancelotti, to challenge.

It is a sentiment echoed by Amedeo Carboni, who played under Benitez at Valencia, winning two LaLiga titles in 2001-02 and 2003-04.

"When you join [a club] in a bad atmosphere, it is not joining through the main door," Carboni told Stats Perform.

"It makes you a bit upset and you don't feel calm. However, Rafa is a master in terms of managing groups of people. He knows how to build a squad. He might do well at Everton.

"Obviously, if the atmosphere doesn't let you work properly, it won't be easy either. It is true that he has coached Liverpool and we know how the rivalry is between Liverpool and Everton.

"If you have that weight in your shoulders every day, within training sessions and the games, because sometimes there will be bad performances and defeats, so I don't know. But he is a very good, high-profile manager and I believe he will be able to deal with all of this."

Benitez is the first manager to cross the Merseyside divide since the 1800s, with a former Liverpool boss having never taken over at Everton.

He was unveiled to the media on Wednesday, and reiterated his commitment to pushing Everton on.

"I have a great connection with the city, we support a lot of charities, have a lot of friends," he said.

"I am really pleased, really proud to be here. The connection with the city keeps me happy, to come back to the Premier League is great motivation and to do it with a team that can compete for something, I think it will be great.

"I know about the club, the tradition, the history and ambition of the owners, the fans behind the team.

"For anyone who knows the history of the club, it is quite easy. I am at home, I want to compete, to challenge for whatever you can challenge for. Enough motivation, a great opportunity for me and I'm really happy with that."

A cloud of uncertainty hangs over the future of James Rodriguez, who has been linked to Serie A giants Milan following Ancelotti's departure.

Benitez coached James at Madrid, though reports claim he did not always see eye to eye with the Colombia star.

"I am sure you [journalists] will be asking me about players, but it's more important to talk about teams rather than individuals," Benitez said when asked about James' future.

"Everyone has to keep training, do their jobs and we will continue looking for the best options for improving the team. We don't talk about individuals, it's not fair on the other players."

Are Manchester United set for a busy transfer window?

After finishing runners-up to Manchester City in the Premier League and losing in the Europa League final, United are keen to strengthen.

A trio of stars are reportedly on the club's shortlist.

 

TOP STORY – UNITED WANT THREE MORE PLAYERS

Manchester United are targeting three more signings this off-season, according to The Guardian.

United have agreed a deal to bring Jadon Sancho to Old Trafford from Borussia Dortmund but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants more.

The Red Devils are reportedly closing in on Real Madrid defender Raphael Varane, though Villarreal's Pau Torres has also been linked, with Tottenham star Harry Kane and West Ham midfielder Declan Rice also on the list.

 

ROUND-UP

- Italy and Roma full-back Leonardo Spinazzola is attracting interest from Madrid following his exploits at Euro 2020, reports Calciomercato. LaLiga rivals Barcelona have also been linked.

- After agreeing to sell Sancho, Dortmund are eyeing PSV's Donyell Malen and RB Leipzig defender Marcel Halstenberg, reports Sport Bild.

Paris Saint-Germain are planning to announce the arrivals of Sergio Ramos, Inter star Achraf Hakimi and former Milan goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma within 15 days, according to Fabrizio Romano. Ramos has agreed to sign a two-year deal in Paris.

- Antena 2 claims James Rodriguez is in talks with Serie A runners-up Milan over a move from Everton.

United are prioritising a contract extension for star Bruno Fernandes, says Romano. Fernandes has flourished since arriving from Sporting CP.

Madrid have joined Milan in the race to sign United and Portugal full-back Diogo Dalot, claims Calciomercato.

PSG have emerged as the only likely suitor for Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo after United signed Sancho, reports Calciomercato. However, a move depends on whether Kylian Mbappe leaves PSG for Madrid or Liverpool.

Real Madrid are among the most active clubs in the transfer market. 

Carlo Ancelotti could look to his former side for help as he starts his second spell in charge.

So, are an Everton double act on the move to LaLiga? 
 

TOP STORY – ANCELOTTI EYES EVERTON PAIR

Ancelotti has his eye on a pair of players from the club he left as he assembles his team in his return to Real Madrid.

The veteran manager would like to bring Everton striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin to the Bernabeu, according to the Sun. 

The report says he believes £50million would be enough to convince the Toffees to part with the England international. 

Ancelotti is also contemplating a reunion with a man he brought to Goodison Park, with Sport reporting James Rodriguez is a possibility to return to Real Madrid.   

Sevilla's Jules Kounde is also on Ancelotti's list, Marca reports, though the quoted €80m (£69m) asking price will be a concern. 

 

ROUND-UP

- Manchester United are set to bid more than £75m to bring Jadon Sancho back to England after Borussia Dortmund rejected an initial £67m offer, the Mail reports.

- United also face competition from Paris Saint-Germain for Atletico Madrid's English full-back Kieran Trippier, says France Football. 

- Manchester City will offer about £100m to lure Harry Kane from Tottenham, the Star reports.

- Barcelona would like to add Andre Silva to their strike force with a €35m offer to Eintracht Frankfurt, ESPN reported. Manchester City and Atletico also are interested in the Portugal international. 

- in the meantime, Miralem Pjanic is set to leave Barca for a return to Serie A, with Juventus the expected landing spot, Corriere dello Sport claims. 

Speculation has swirled for months about the future of Lionel Messi following a season of change at Barcelona.

Barca have been busy already this off-season, signing Sergio Aguero and Eric Garcia.

Compatriot Aguero had implored Messi to extend his Barcelona stay, which dates back to 2000, and it seems the striker may get his wish.

 

TOP STORY - MESSI RE-COMMITS TO CATALANS

Six-time Ballon d'Or winner Lionel Messi is set to pen a new two-year contract with Barcelona, according to AS.

The Argentina forward has practically agreed to the deal, with only "structural details" to complete.

Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain have both shown interest in Messi but he looks set to commit until 2023.

 

ROUND-UP

- Everton are in the market for a new manager after Carlo Ancelotti's sudden departure and The Athletic reports they will consider Rangers boss and Liverpool legend Steven Gerrard. TalkSPORT claims ex-Wolves boss Nuno Espirito Santo is also on their radar.

- COPE claims that new Real Madrid boss Ancelotti will not push to recruit James Rodriguez from the Italian's former club Everton.

- The Sun reports that Arsenal are in pole position in the race to sign Raheem Sterling from Manchester City. 

- The Sun also claims any potential Sterling move to Arsenal may scupper Manchester City's plans to sign Tottenham's Harry Kane , as they want to use the winger in a swap deal given Spurs hefty asking price.

- Manchester United are keen on Sevilla defender Jules Kounde but Barcelona have joined the pursuit for his signature, claims Mundo Deportivo.

Colombia will be without star player James Rodriguez for their Copa America campaign, though the Everton playmaker claimed he has worked hard to be fit.

It was at an international tournament with Colombia that James rose to stardom. He won the Golden Boot at the 2014 World Cup, scoring six goals – including a sensational effort against Uruguay – as his country made it to the quarter-finals.

His performances in Brazil earned him a move to Real Madrid, though injuries have since plagued his spells with Los Blancos, Bayern Munich and Everton, and now his hopes of starring for Colombia once more have taken a blow.

The 29-year-old missed the end of Everton's campaign due to a persistent calf injury which has limited him to 26 appearances in all competitions this season, though James has still played more minutes (2,045) in 2020-21 than in four of the previous seven campaigns since his move to Monaco in 2013-14.

Carlo Ancelotti confirmed before Everton's defeat to Manchester City that James had returned to Colombia to link up with their squad for the World Cup 2022 qualifiers against Peru and Argentina, and the Copa America.

However, Colombia confirmed on Friday that James would be unable to take part.

"The coaching staff of the Colombia men's senior team reports that the player James Rodriguez has been called off for the games against Peru and Argentina for the qualifiers for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, and the CONMEBOL Copa America 2021," a statement on the Colombia team's official website read.

The statement went on to reveal that James, who netted six goals and provided eight assists in 2020-21, was "not at the optimal level of competition" following medical checks.

Yet it is a decision which has surprised and disappointed James, who says he has been focusing specifically on being fit for the tournament.

In a statement released on his official social media accounts, James said: "To the media, soccer fans and the general public I want to express my thoughts and feelings regarding the decision made by the coaching staff of the Colombian National Team regarding the next qualification dates and Copa America.

"I [am in] a recovery that is in its final part, in which I have taken enough time to fully integrate myself to the practice of football and in this way not affect my participation in the next commitments of our national team.

"With surprise I receive the statement from the coaching staff, stating that they do not count on me and wishing me a full recovery. A recovery that I have already made and in which I have sacrificed a lot.

"The above fills me with deep disappointment, for what it means to me playing for my country. Not receiving the trust of the coaching staff breaks with everything and causes me enormous pain.

"For my colleagues the best energy and best wishes. I will support with passion as always."

Despite managing 26 matches – and 24 of those coming as starts – James still finished as Everton's second-highest chance creator in all competitions, crafting 54 opportunities, trailing only Gylfi Sigurdsson (60), who made 18 more appearances. On average, he created two chances per 90 minutes.

James teed up 11 big chances, which Opta classify as opportunities from which a player would be expected to score, in the Premier League, with only 10 players managing a higher total.

Colombia face Peru and Argentina on June 3 and June 8, before starting their Copa America campaign against Ecuador on June 14.

James Rodriguez has revealed he held talks with Atletico Madrid boss Diego Simeone last year, but Real Madrid blocked a transfer from going through.

The Colombia international joined Premier League side Everton from Real Madrid in September after struggling for playing time under Zinedine Zidane last season.

He was linked with a number of high-profile suitors before completing his eye-catching switch to Goodison Park for what later transpired to be a free deal.

Atletico were among the sides tipped to sign James at the time and the 29-year-old has revealed he was close to joining Real's city rivals.

"It was nearly a done deal to got to Atletico," he told ESPN. "I spoke with Simeone, he said I could be important, but Real didn't let me go. 

"[President] Florentino Perez knew that with Zidane there I wouldn't play much. It was a bad year and I wanted to come to Everton to play and show what I can do.

James has scored five goals and registered four assists in 18 Premier League appearances this season.

That puts him level with Richarlison for the second-most goal involvements of any Everton player in the league this term, behind only ​striker Dominic Calvert-Lewin (14 goals).

No Everton player has created more chances than his total of 31, meanwhile, with 23 of those from open play - another team high.

James has enjoyed a positive first campaign in English football, but he would not have considered joining Everton without the presence of three-time Champions League-winning coach Carlo Ancelotti.

"I'll say it with all sincerity that if Carlo wasn't here, I wouldn't have come," said James, who has not featured since February because of a thigh injury. "I'll say it with all my heart, he was one of the reasons for which I came.

"I have started to get to know the club, how they work, how they want to work, win things, play in Europe. The fact that Carlo is here was fundamental to come here, where I am learning every day.

"In these remaining [league] matches, I want to perform well. I had some physical problems for a month, but I have overcome them and it's my goal to get a European spot, hopefully in the Champions League."

Everton are eighth in the Premier League, five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea with a game in hand.

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