When Marcela Araya, his mother, was eight months pregnant with Ricardo, the doctors had a diaphragmatic hernia, a hole in the diaphragm that allows the abdominal contents to move into the chest cavity.
In normal circumstances, the baby has a 50%-50% chance of survival and in Ricardo’s case, it was determined that his stomach, spleen, liver and intestine had migrated into the chest. Immediately after being born, he was rushed into surgery and saved by the doctors.
From the start of his life, the odds were stacked against Ricardo Rodriguez, a mainstay in Switzerland’s national team, only the seventh player in history to have been capped over 100 times for the country. But his resilience, grit and spirit that describe his best were qualities that not only help him survive the toughest challenge he faced, but also modeled his football career.
Because Ricardo, who also has two brothers who are playing football, Roberto and Francisco, was always going to be a football player. The son of a Spanish father and a Chilean mother, his heritage was just right, despite Switzerland not being a football-crazed country.
“I do not know. It’s no secret that I didn’t do well in school. As a boy, all I had on my mind was football and I put everything on this card. It wasn’t always easy for my mother and father,” said Rodriguez once in an interview for Swiss tabloid “Blick”.
And he quickly picked up steam, proving that focusing on football was always going to be the right decision. He started his career at local club FC Schwamendingen at the age of six and later moved to FC Zürich despite his older brother Roberto training with their fierce rivals Grasshopper Club Zürich.
From that moment on, it was only plain sailing for Rodriguez. A move to VfL Wolfsburg followed, as he became one of the best left backs in the world. After six consistent seasons in the Bundesliga, he was signed by AC Milan and now plies his trade at AC Torino, where he is the team captain, after a loan stint at Dutch giants PSV Eindhoven.
Yet Rodriguez also was delivered a heavy blow in 2015, when his mother died of cancer. It duly changed Ricardo’s life, as he tattooed the number 68 on his back and also plays with that number at club level, the same that his brothers, Roberto and Francisco also don when they take up the pitch.
“I can still hear my mother. It’s in my head. She’s in my heart. I’m fine, thank God,” said Rodriguez in an interview.
It was in his memory that he and his brothers started a football academy – dubbed Rodriguez – that he hopes to bring out the best in the children playing there.
“Because football has given us so much and it’s time to give something back, this is why we started it. We want to pass on our knowledge and experience and help as many children as possible to live their dreams. Our guiding principle is: «Start small. Dream big,” added Rodriguez.
Now, aged 30, Rodriguez is in his peak form, his prime years. He has already written history for Switzerland, being an integrant part of the team that became the champions at the FIFA Under-17 World Cup in 2009, alongside Granit Xhaka or Haris Seferovic.
They are the only three players to have made their mark at senior level, with Rodriguez one of the most easily identifiable players, a true stalwart on the left back position, irrespective of the coach of the national team.
At Qatar 2022, Rodriguez was impressive and had good matches, in the third edition of the FIFA World Cup he took part in. Unfortunately for Switzerland, they were eliminated early, in the Round of 16, after a 1-6 drubbing against Portugal.
But Rodriguez’s career is not over. He could easily be a part of the team four years later, in 2026. What’s clear, though, is that he is encompassing the idea that no matter how difficult it is, one can always grind and overcome obstacles. Even if it’s a difficult one – a 50-50 chance to live when you are born.