James will 'become more and more important to Bayern' - Heynckes
Bayern Munich boss Jupp Heynckes has hailed James Rodriguez's contribution to the club's recent turnaround, predicting that the Colombia playmaker "will become more and more important" in the coming months.
James, 26, has scored two goals and provided three assists in 10 Bundesliga appearances, featuring in every Champions League game since joining on a two-year loan from Real Madrid in August.
"James is a great team player, but not too precious to carry out defensive work," Heynckes said at a news conference ahead of the league leaders' home game against bottom-of-the-table Cologne on Wednesday.
"That's extremely positive for us and for my credo as a coach and how I want to lead the team. He's happy, he turns up to training with a smile every day and trains well."
Heynckes, a fluent Spanish speaker, said he understands why James had struggled to settle in his first few months at the club.
"I have said repeatedly that new players need a certain time to integrate and that was the case with James," he said. "Coming from abroad, as a South American, the weather plays a role, plus the food and a different style of football in a new country on a new team."
The 2014 World Cup top scorer has become an integral part of Bayern's recent success, racking up 11 wins in 12 games since Heynckes took over as interim coach for a fourth term in October.
Heynckes added: "You have to consider that he is playing in a position he is unfamiliar with from his time at Real Madrid, where he often played wide left or right -- slightly withdrawn as he isn't a [Franck] Ribery or a [Arjen] Robben nor a sprinter. Here we play 4-3-3 and he is one of two attacking midfielders. Surprisingly for some, he is also a strong runner with outstanding running data.
"I think he can, and most probably will, become more and more important to us in the future, because he is also dangerous in front of goal, which perhaps he hasn't shown so much of so far as he was playing more for the benefit of the team."
Heynckes confirmed that 36-year-old academy coach Tom Starke will continue in goal for the German champions. Starke celebrated a 100th Bundesliga appearance on Saturday in Frankfurt after Sven Ulreich, the backup to first-choice keeper Manuel Neuer, injured his adductor in the warm-up.
Starke retired in the summer but came out of retirement to ease Bayern's goalkeeping crisis after Neuer fractured his foot in September.
Heynckes said: "It is looking a lot better with Sven after intensive treatment -- he could have trained today as he's in no pain -- but Tom Starke will start. He is always focused when called upon, putting in good performances. He kept four clean sheets in four games in 2012-13. I said to him in Frankfurt he needs to keep that going and he did."
However, Heynckes was confident Ulreich would return to face his former club Stuttgart in the Southern Derby at the weekend.
"Ulreich will increase his training intensity from tomorrow and he will be ready to play on Saturday. Also we have the DFB Pokal game against Borussia Dortmund next week -- we don't want to take any risks," he said.
Responding to reports that Bayern are interested in signing Bernd Leno from Bayer Leverkusen, Heynckes said: "We haven't considered signing another keeper for a second. We have complete faith in Ulreich. He is a very good goalkeeper, has developed a great deal and is getting better game by game, keeping goal brilliantly. He has worked on his weaknesses and gives the team great confidence."
He added: "I recommend extending his contract. We hope Manuel Neuer continues his recovery but we will not be signing a goalkeeper in the winter -- it is not necessary."
Heynckes confirmed Arjen Robben continues to have trouble with a sciatic nerve and will miss Bayern's final home league game of the year against winless Cologne, but expected both Kingsley Coman (adductor) and Mats Hummels (heavy cold) to make the squad.
Cologne are in the midst of the worst ever start in Bundesliga history -- picking up only three draws in 15 games -- but did manage to beat Arsenal 1-0 in the Europa League last month.
Mark Lovell covers Bayern Munich for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter: @LovellLowdown.