How James Rodriguez can earn Rafa Benitez's trust after public Everton challenge set
It was little surprise to see so much of Rafa Benitez's latest Everton press conference centred around one man.
Many believed that James Rodriguez would have moved onto pastures new by now. In fact, the Blues boss himself could well have been in that camp after informing the playmaker he would be allowed to leave.
Amid copious amounts of transfer rumours, periods of isolation, controversial Twitch streams and social media comments - there was no move for the Colombia international.
As very late reports of a possible switch to Turkey started to fade away into embers, Benitez sat down to face the media ahead of leading his side out for the second time this season at Goodison Park against Burnley.
But, the question of what might come next for Rodriguez was on the minds of reporters and supporters alike.
In what was often a somewhat cryptic and guarded press conference, the manager did make clear that he wasn't going to freeze out the player he was willing to let leave Merseyside.
Benitez remarked: "Each player has his characteristics, and some games where he can be the difference.
"If James is staying with us, we need to find the right games for him, and he has to show his commitment and his desire. It's something his teammates, fans and staff are expecting for him.
"If he can do that, he can make a contribution for the team."
Finding the "right games" for Rodriguez could well be the key factor over the course of the coming months.
Benitez has clearly looked at the situation very objectively and has come up with a solution that should be able to benefit all parties if it is executed in the right manner.
Throughout last season, the Colombia international split opinion among many. While his quality was dazzling at times, he wasn't on the pitch regularly enough to convince others.
Everton now have 18 games up until the January transfer window opens at the time of writing, hopefully with a few more added on if the club progresses further in the League Cup.
The real question now revolves around how many of those matches can the playmaker realistically expect to play in?
Across 2020/21, Rodriguez never played in more than six consecutive league matches for his side throughout the campaign - with that run coming right at the beginning of the term.
Small injury problems affected the 30-year-old throughout the season and eventually frustrated some sections of the fanbase, while others were still appreciative of the quality he can bring.
Benitez knows he has to fall on the latter end of that spectrum.
He might not have been expecting to have Rodriguez at his disposal this term, instead perhaps planning to reinvest his large wages into a new signing, but that's the situation he's been left in.
It's part of the manager's job to adapt, and there could well be matches over the coming months in which the Colombia international could find himself crucial.
Take this weekend against Burnley, for example. Sean Dyche's side will be undoubtedly organised, and will carry a threat at the other end of the pitch.
Everton found that out all-too-well just a few months ago at Goodison, of course.
But let's say it's around the 70th minute, it's still 0-0 and perhaps the hosts are struggling to break through what has proven to be a resolute visiting setup.
How useful could someone like Rodriguez coming off the bench prove to be?
He showed on multiple occasions last term that not only can he produce a goal from nothing for himself, but he has the ability to thread some incredible passes right through the centre of defences.
Now with willing runners potentially all around him with the additions of Demarai Gray and Andros Townsend - while also considering the likes of Richarlison, Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Alex Iwobi - it could be a much more promising environment to work in.
Benitez won't expect Rodriguez to play in every match, but he also doesn't need him to.
The new manager has instilled a message of hard-work, dedication, fitness and desire in his opening matches on the blue half of Merseyside.
Everton are playing fast, direct attacking football and are showing brilliant commitment all over the pitch to make sure they see through the right results.
Long may that continue, but if Rodriguez wants to get involved then he's going to have to buy into that method.
Benitez knows the quality of the 30-year-old, but he's not about to modify his whole system to accommodate the star, as his press conference comments prove.
If the former Real Madrid man wants to play football, and subsequently work his way back into the Colombia squad, before January at the very earliest - then he has to accept that.
Hard work and consistency will have to be the key for Rodriguez in coming weeks. That's the real challenge.