Everton manager Carlo Ancelotti has addressed rumours surrounding James Rodriguez by insisting the playmaker is being held back to recover properly from a calf problem.
Reports in his homeland have suggested the Colombia international, who has played just three of the last eight matches, is not happy just six months into his Goodison Park career.
However, Ancelotti insists injury and not dissatisfaction is at the root of his absence with the 29-year-old unlikely to return until early next month after the international break, meaning he will miss at least Saturday’s visit of Burnley and next weekend’s FA Cup quarter-final at home to Manchester City.
“Because there are a lot of rumours around James… James played really well against Man United, he scored a goal, he played really well against Liverpool but he was not 100 per cent fit,” said the Italian, who will also be without midfielder Abdoulaye Doucoure for up to 10 weeks with a fractured bone in his foot.
“For the fact we are going to have really important games to the end of the season we decided to give him a proper recovery and don’t let him play at 70 per cent or 80 per cent.
“When he is 100 per cent he will play again. We have taken this decision together: we have no problem with the player, the player has agreed.
“Of course the player wants to play but it is better for him to solve his problem and to be ready for the end of the season.
“That can be after the (international) break so it is not a big problem.
“I think our goal and his goal is to have more consistency in performances. The start of the season was really good but then he didn’t play with consistency.
“We are thinking when he will be optimal he can be the difference.”
Rodriguez’s absence, coupled with the loss of Doucoure for some considerable time, is a blow to Everton’s challenge for European football.
Ancelotti had just got Allan back from more than two months out with a hamstring problem but Doucoure’s injury means he will be denied the opportunity to select his first-choice midfield until the final month of the season.
“Doucoure has a small fracture in his foot and so he has to stay out, I don’t know how long – maybe eight weeks, maybe 10 weeks,” added the Toffees boss.
“I hope he can recover before the end of the season. We are not happy for this.
“It is an important player for us but we are not the only club which has to manage injuries.
“We were able to manage the absences of Allan, and (Lucas) Digne for a long time. We have Tom Davies back, we have (Seamus) Coleman back, we have (Yerry) Mina back.”
While Ancelotti has a hole to fill in central midfield he is still trying to work out where to play Alex Iwobi and sent a pointed message to the 24-year-old.
After being called up for his country’s Africa Cup of Nations qualifiers later this month the Nigeria international this week posted an Instagram story which said: “Always an honour to get a call up to my national team. Hopefully I get to play in my preferred position.”
Whether intended or not it caught the attention of Ancelotti, who is also an Instagram user.
“I read the post he did. I want to speak, of course. I want to know his preferred position,” he said.
“If he has an idea of where he prefers to play I have to know, I want to know.
“Usually I want to put a player on the pitch where they are comfortable to play, not where they are uncomfortable.
“I have to tell him, ‘I am your manager, tell me where you want to play’.
“When I thought to put (Andrea) Pirlo as a holding midfielder I asked him, ‘Do you like to play there or not?’. ‘Yes’, he said to me, ‘I’d love to play there’ so I put him there.
“If he wants to play number 10 or number nine I’ll put him there no problem, I can adapt the system.”