Eyebrows were raised in 2019 when Manchester City forked out $80 million, paying the release clause for Spanish midfielder Rodri, who, at that time, was no regular in Spain’s setup and played only one season at the highest of levels, has been the subject of a transfer from Villarreal to Atletico Madrid only one season before.
Since that moment, Rodri – also known as Rodrigo, the name he spots on his shirt – not only became a focal point of Manchester City’s trailblazing team, but he also morphed into the starter that Spain craved in the middle of the pitch, with his calm demeanour being an excellent influence in that department.
At Qatar 2022, Luis Enrique trusted Rodri’s qualities so much that he made him a central defender, using Manchester City’s player for his excellent understanding of the game, physical qualities and capacity for building up the game in a quick progression.
But not only his qualities on the pitch made him a fan darling in both England and Spain, it is also his story that became viral and inflated his profile, as Rodri is probably the antithesis of the modern footballer, the flashy prototype who likes to get in the way of everything.
Born in Spain’s capital, Madrid, Rodri started playing football at Rayo Majadahonda, in one of Madrid’s suburbs, before featuring in Atletico’s academy. He quickly left to move to Villarreal, a small city in the Valencian Community, which suited his personality best.
Yet Rodri always took his academic studies seriously and tried to combine both football and school, as per a report from Spanish outlet “Marca”. Ahead of an interview with Marca prior to European Under-21 Championship in 2017, Rodri was spotted with a ball under one arm and a pile of books on the other, stating that he was also passionate about studying.
“I know that studies are important. More than anything because I want to educate myself. I don’t want to dedicate my whole life to just one thing,” said Rodri in the interview for “Marca”.
During the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, Rodri also had the chance to complete his degree in business administration and management, which was on pause, due to his football career.
“I am finished. I just have to do a last essay, a small essay, but all the subjects, the big essay at the end is done. It was tough work, but at the end it was nice. You have time for everything. Of course, it is a very demanding profession as a footballer because it demands you not only playing, training and the games, it is also the rest and the care you have to take about yourself. Imagine you come back to your home at three o’clock so you have all the afternoon free. You can do many other things. Of course, you cannot follow the rhythm of the other students but with patience, with dedication you can do it,” said the Spanish midfielder.
His frugal way of living also drew plaudits in Spain, as he spent his days in a dorm at the university he was studying at and drove a second-hand Opel Corsa, which was bought from an old lady when he got his driving license.
“People were shocked when they saw Rodri, who was playing in the top flight but still living at the university residence. After the first few days of getting to know him, there was normality. He shared a space with everyone, he liked being with his friends and sitting on the sofa with everyone. But, of course, at the start it was strange seeing him playing table tennis or doing his washing,” said one of Rodri’s friends, Valentin Henarejo, to “Marca”.
The Spanish player is immune to critics on social media, as his presence there is limited, and has always tried to improve. Choosing football was a given, because his role model, his father, also played football and was also a midfielder. It just turned out that Rodri is really good at what he was doing.
“My idol was always Zidane, despite I do not play much like him. There were also Busquets, or Marcos Senna or Xabi Alonso… There are many players I liked,” adds Rodri.
Unfortunately, he was not able to follow in Zidane’s or Alonso’s footsteps at Qatar 2022, as Spain was eliminated prematurely in the Round of 16, after a disappointing exit on penalties against Morocco.
But Rodri is only 26 years old and can theoretically feature in two more editions of the FIFA World Cup. He will have plenty of experience and he can be the lynchpin Spain needs in the middle of the field to thrive.