As revealed by Goal on Friday, Pep Guardiola has identified the 22-year-old Atletico Madrid midfielder as the long-term replacement for Fernandinho
Having watched Rodrigo Hernandez fill the hole left by Atletico Madrid’s veteran lynchpin Gabi without breaking a sweat, Pep Guardiola now wants the midfielder to do a similar job next season at Manchester City.
With Fernandinho turning 34 in May, the Catalan coach has identified the man more commonly known as ‘Rodri’ as the Brazilian’s ideal replacement.
It’s certainly easy to understand why Pep wants City to meet the €70 million (£60m/$80m) buy-out clause in Rodri’s Atleti contract. The 22-year-old is widely regarded in Spain as Sergio Busquets’ successor.
At just 22 years of age, he has played a pivotal role in keeping Diego Simeone’s side in the Spanish title race in what is his first season back in Madrid.
It caps a remarkable comeback for a player released by the Rojiblancos back in 2013.
An Atleti supporter, Rodri had come through the club’s youth system but those in charge of the academy felt he wasn’t physically strong or tall enough for the very highest level, so he was allowed to leave, eventually ending up at Villarreal, where he excelled – and developed.
At nearly 6ft 3 inches (191cm), the midfielder is now an imposing figure.
“He’s a very high-level player, with huge quality,” said Albert Celades, the former Spain Under-21s coach.
“Beyond his physicality, he’s really good in the defensive phase and in individual battles, tactically too, he is very good.”
That is music to Guardiola’s ears, who will find in Rodri a faithful foot soldier willing and – crucially – able to adapt to his oft varied demands.
“Above all, what stands out is that he has the ability to play quickly with both feet, perfect for bringing the ball out when under pressure,” continued Celades.
“Things which are difficult, he makes look simple. In the same way as Busquets, he has the intuition to position himself well, to know where to go, where the game is going to go for him to steal the ball back.”
Rodri is not shy of a tackle, but he is not a midfield destroyer. Like Busquets, he prevails with brain more often than brawn.
As well as playing, Rodri has been studying a business management degree. He was also described by MARCA as being “a lover of economics”. His personal economy would certainly be bolstered by a move to Man City.
He is not your typical footballer, though, instead similar personality-wise to Bernardo Silva at City, a player Guardiola adores.
Rodri is interested in languages and will likely quickly master English if he puts his mind to it. He has the type of brain that can quickly process information, on and off the field.
When you consider City wanted to sign Jorginho from Napoli last summer before Chelsea nabbed him, the English champions’ interest in Rodri is wholly unsurprising.
He is an arranger. He picks up loose balls and carefully sends them to where they need to go; to where they belong.
It is rare for him to misplace a pass. This season, in La Liga, he has a 90.2 percent pass success rate, higher than Busquets’s 89.9%. And the plan is for him to eventually replace the Barca man in Spain’s engine room.
That day may come sooner than expected, with Busquets struggling this season and national team coach Luis Enrique a big fan of the Atleti ace.
“Rodri comes across as very professional and prepared mentally,” said the former Barcelona boss. “He can reach Busquets’ level and maybe surpass it. Who knows what his limits are?”
Lucho called Rodri up to the squad in October and there the midfielder was asked about the Busquets comparisons.
“I have to set high goals, Busquets has always been a reference point for me,” he said.
If there are flaws in his game, they related to his offensive output. He has scored just twice in 26 league matches this season and has not provided any assists. Making and scoring goals are not really in his job description, though.
His remit is to get the ball and use it intelligently and, in Atleti’s biggest games, he has done exactly that, performing well in draws with Real Madrid and Barcelona this season, although like the rest of the team, he suffered away at Juventus in the Champions League.
Given Rodri’s impressive campaign, City face competition for the midfielder’s signature. Bayern Munich are continuing their rebuild for next season and, having already signed his team-mate Lucas Hernandez, are looking to add another Rojiblanco to their ranks.
A few months ago, AS columnist Javier Matallanas said Atletico should raise Rodri’s release clause.
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“In this market, that price is cushy for state-owned clubs PSG and Man City, and for Madrid, Barca and United, who all need a player like Rodri,” he wrote.
That ship has sailed – and only Rodri’s love for Atletico and belief in Diego Simeone’s project can stop him from leaving a second time.
If Guardiola has his way, Manchester will be Rodri’s next port of call.