The only time Zinedine Zidane would probably regret letting James Rodriguez go is if Everton and Real Madrid face in the Champions League, and it would result in a Los Blancos exit facilitated by a former Galáctico.
Other than that, Rodriguez is in the rearview mirror. Real Madrid players should accept that. Pining over an ex-teammate who is now with the English Premier League team Everton FC is detrimental to the team. Subconsciously, you are already planting the seed of resentment that will damage your relationship with your coach if you hold this decision against him. You are already arming yourself with an excuse if ever you lose a match or a title - we could’ve won if Zidane kept Rodriguez.
If anything, those who remain in Real Madrid should see this as a sign of the complete trust of the coach in them, and they should reciprocate by showing hard work, not bitterness. As defending champions and as an esteemed football club, this is not how you would want to appear or present yourself.
I understand how they feel. Rodriguez is a talented midfielder. Zidane should have maximized Rodriguez’s skill for the benefit of the club. But here’s the thing: a coach or manager has preferences, and believe it or not, a crucial part of a successful coach-player relationship is not talent but rapport. A good coach-player relationship can make an average player outstanding, while a bad one can make an excellent player look mediocre.
A coach wants someone he can connect with, someone who shares the same frame of mind and outlook on how to play the game. A competitive coach does not allow himself to be swayed by how much a player has cost the team just so he signs, especially not those the coach didn’t pick, endorse, or recruited.
He does not allow himself to be swayed by maudlin sentiments; that Rodriguez openly admitted to idolizing Zidane does not mean the Frenchman has the moral obligation to take the Colombian under his wing as a long-term mentee; that they are both Galáctico from two different eras who found each other in Real Madrid demands the passing of the torch from the old guard to the new vanguard, but no—they are not fated to walk this path even if it would have made for a truly heartwarming and unforgettable story worthy of a Hollywood movie.
The job for some managers is to make the best of the roster available. And then there are those whose job contract came with a free hand to assemble a squad they see fit for their needs. It is safe to assume that Zidane is the latter, considering his background. He has a vision on what will make Real Madrid perennial champions during his stay in Santiago Bernabéu as its manager, and it was clear to him that he does not have much use for what Rodriguez can do.
For whatever reason, Zidane is not confident in Rodriguez. But Carlo Ancelotti is. That is why he wanted Rodriguez in Real Madrid, and then in Bayern Munich, and in Everton, where their partnership has been successful so far, with Everton—12th in the Premier League table last year—on top of the table undefeated after five matches (4-1-0).
Rodriguez leaving Real Madrid does not mean Zidane thinks of him as lacking in talent. It means he prefers someone else. What Zidane discarded as scraps from his table has fed the hungry Everton. Now, there is feasting in Goodison Park.
It is the nature of professional sports: the exercise of prerogative and having to live with the consequences. Zidane has a say on who he puts on the field and who he keeps in the roster, and if Real Madrid is unsuccessful, he will pay for it with his job. Rodriguez has the option of leaving Real Madrid if he is unhappy here. He knows that there are very few who can compare to Real Madrid in terms of popularity and esteem, and transferring to a lesser-known team will affect his market value if both he and his new team flounders. Both Zidane and Rodriguez committed to a decision. We will see by the end of the European club football calendar where their decision has brought them.
This season is the crucible, the year of forging. We will get to see how sharp a sword each man will become.