Salomon Rondón: How the Venezuelan Made History and Why There’s Plenty More to Come

As of July 26, 2019, Salomón Rondón is a Dalian Yifang player. The Chinese Super League club, formed in 2019, brought in the Venezuelan as the first step of a rebuild via Rafa Benitez, who joined the club as manager on July 2nd. The move, which reunited Rondón with his former-Newcastle boss, marked the end of the Venezuelan striker’s four year run in the Premier League. 

For this reason, amongst others, the move sparked a vast range of reactions from Venezuelan football media.

Some voiced disgust at the move, like Fernando Petrocelli, who stated, “If Salomón Rondón goes to China, it is the worst decision he can make in his career. I appreciate it and wish him the best, but I am convinced that he has one more contract left in the European elite. In China he will get bored and lose track of his competition.”

Solovenex, a major publisher of news on Venezuelan players in and outside of the Venezuelan leagues, posted several polls suggesting the player would lose his spot in the Venezuelan national team, otherwise known as la Vinotinto, because of the move. One post stated, “If we confirm the departure of Salomón Rondón to Dalian Yifang of China… Would he lose his spot at the front of the Vinotinto?”

Others noted that the 29 year old striker, already the record goal scorer for Venezuela, has long passed the point of needing to develop his talents or base himself in an environment where he can develop, as might be needed for a younger player.

Manuel Alejandro Ramírez addressed this in post, also relating a comparison between Romulo Otero, who moved to Saudi Arabia in his mid 20’s, and Rondón. “It is not the same to go to an exotic league at 25 than at 30. The economic factors prevail over sports. I don’t justify Rondón’s decision with this, but I respect it.”

Alfredo Coronis Arizzabalaga added that, “I remember that any extinguished Salo for going to Russia. They said he screwed up his career… there were also people that hated Josef [Martinez] for going to MLS after being in Serie A.”

The move to China came in the midst of several attempts to buy the player, most notably by West Ham, who reportedly did not feel the player was worth his 16.5m price tag and instead launched several lower price failed bids. The accuracy and value of this debate is yet to be known, as it may be years before it’s clear if Rondón’s move was the right one to make. What is certain, however, is that his time in the Premier League was a historic one for Rondón and Venezuelan football itself.

Having spent a successful season and a half with Zenit Saint Petersburg, during which he won the Russian Premier League title and the Russian Super Cup, Salomón Rondón was destined to return to the top five leagues of Europe sooner or later, having left them since helping Málaga qualify for the Champions League in the 2011-2012 La Liga season.

That return to the center stage of football would come in the form of an unlikely club and league, both of which with little to no history surrounding Venezuelan players. The club was West Bromwich Albion, a Midlands mainstay who’d finished 13th the year before, another mid table finish for a club that rarely earned more than that. The club, which had never housed a Venezuela prior, would go as far as to break its transfer record  in order to receive the striker. 

With the club still in its first year of management under the ever-present Tony Pulis, it was clear Rondón was joining a project very different from the dominant Zenit side he had just left. Instead of being part of the dominant side in the nation, Rondón would become the spear head for an overtly traditional and defensive English club.

The striker was only the second Venezuela to reach the Premier League upon his arrival, beaten only by former Fulham defender Fernando Amorebieta, now at Cerro Porteño in Paraguay.

That distinction would prove a major part of Rondón’s legacy. Every time the Venezuelan front man did something in the Premier League, he was the first Venezuelan to ever do it.

Rondón would feature competitively for West Brom 40 times in his first season, appearing in both of the club’s cup runs, including a lengthy five game run of FA Cup fixtures  (including two replays, it should be noted) and a meeker two game spell in the League Cup.

His first goal would come against Stoke in just his second start of the season. The goal sealed a 1-0 away win for a West Brom side that would in total struggle that season, finishing 14th with 43 points to their name. The Baggies would be just six points away from the last relegated side that season, Newcastle United.

Rondón would go on to score 10 goals in all competitions for, with nine taking place in the league. The goals would come sporadically for the Venezuelan, appearing throughout the season but not consistently from game to game. The striker’s best claim to fame that season was who he scored against. Rondón found the back of the net against the likes of Manchester United, Liverpool, and Everton that year, and scored in both matches against eventual champions Leicester, establishing a long term reputation of being able to snag a goal against the big sides.

The Venezuelan’s goal tally suffered greatly from a three match ban following a 90th minute red card while playing Bournemouth. The card would make the striker miss matches against Swansea, Newcastle, and Stoke, all of which were sides the player would’ve likely played well against. The red card is also, to this very day, the only red Rondón has ever been given at the club level, ever.

The debut season in one of the world’s top leagues had gone well for Rondón, scoring a sizable tally of goals to help keep his side safe. Rondón also became the first Venezuelan to score against each of the sides he struck against, immediately providing new chapters to the history books.

The period also proved positive at the national level, with Rondón appearing in eight matches for Venezuela over the 15-16 season. He scored twice in the combination of World Cup Qualifiers and friendlies whilst also preparing for the 2016 Copa America.

That Copa America run would go well for Venezuela, finishing second in their group before losing 4-1 to Argentina in the quarter finals. Rondón would score twice for his homeland, with another goal and assist awaiting him in the World Cup qualifiers throughout the 16/17 season. The qualifiers themselves would go poorly for Venezuela, who finished last in the South American table.

The next season would a similar run of positive results for Rondón, though the goals would not come nearly as fluidly for the Venezuelan. The striker would play 40 games again, though this time due to a full season of matches, 38, and two short cup runs, each lasting just one match. 

Rondón would only score in six matches, marking two assists along the way. The striker’s peak would arrive in a 3-1 win over Swansea. Rondón would score a hat trick of headers, becoming the first Venezuelan to earn a hat trick in the Premier League and the second player to do so with their head in the league’s history.

The Venezuelan wouldn’t score for 18 games following that hat trick, marking one of the darker periods of his time in the Premier League. The spell would die eventually when a goal came against Burnley in a 2-2 draw, but the facts show that Rondón simply didn’t deliver in the 2016-17 season in a consistent way. This didn’t, however, stop West Brom from an impressive 10th place finish. A more productive season from the front man, however, may have lead the side to a higher finish. 

With his second season finished, Rondón’s output had slowed but his place within West Brom was secure. He’d appeared in every match for the club since missing his very first match upon joining the club due to a lack of time to practice with the squad. He’d also helped them to a strong finish. Going into 2017-18, it seemed that things were improving. Instead, Rondón’s third season would get better, but West Brom would get worse.

The striker would score seven goals in league play, assisting a further three. The FA Cup and League Cup would help Rondón to a further three goals and an additional assist. While his output continued to float around 10 to 15 direct goal involvements per season, West Brom as a whole did not fair well in the 17-18 season. 

The club would finish last in the Premier League table with 31 points, five away from safety. With just 31 goals to their name, Rondón would score or assist 1/3 of the club’s goals that season. 

Rondón did manage to score several big goals that season, including in two top six draws. The first, in a 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotspur, would give Rondón a unique record for Venezuela. With their new stadium under construction, the London-club played in Wembley that year. When Rondón scored in the away match to Spurs, he became the first Venezuelan to ever score at Wembley. Goals against Leicester, Liverpool, and Watford would also stand out, but the club’s poor season would overshadow the success.

The Midland’s club would end the season relegated to the Championship. Rondón would not appear for them again, his last match coming in a 2-0 loss to Crystal Palace in the final week of the season.

With Championship football largely ruled out for the Venezuelan, who was immediately a target for several Premier League clubs. Early rumors throughout May and June put the striker as a target for a range of clubs, including West Ham, Cardiff City, and Newcastle United. It would be Newcastle who took in Rondón, largely fueled by a strong influence from renowned manager Rafael Benitez, but only on a one season loan.

The striker would yet again be the first Venezuelan to sign for the club, a trait he’d held at every club since leaving Spain. Rondón would only appear in four of the first nine games for Newcastle, due to an injury and a lack of a cemented lineup. However, upon cementing his place, the Venezuelan would become immovable, only missing one game for the remainder of the season. His first goals would come in a brace against Bournemouth in the 12th week, with an additional nine coming throughout the remainder of the year with no more than five games coming between goals. An additional goal would come in the League Cup.

The biggest difference in Rondón’s game, however, would come via a genius move from Benitez to develop a strong partnership between Rondón and Perez. It would lead the Venezuelan to produce seven assists in the Premier League, a spike after three years of no more than two or three a season.

By the final months of the 18-19 season, Rondón had become a symbol of the side, frequently receiving dedicated chants and songs from the Newcastle faithful, spurred on perhaps by his goals against the biggest clubs when they visited St. James’ Park. 

Rondón would score and assist in Newcastle’s unbelievable 3-2 comeback against Everton, adding more memorable goals against Manchester City in a 2-1 win and Liverpool in a 2-3 loss.

By the end of the season, Rondón’s 19 direct involvements in goals was an all time high since entering the Premier League. Paired with Rondón’s breaking of the all-time scoring record for La Vinotinto in the following summer, scoring two against the US to break Juan Arango’s record of 23, it seemed certain that Newcastle had been given more than enough reason to sign the striker as they looked to further develop Benitez’ positive project.

Rondón returned to West Brom, awaiting action from Newcastle to make his loan permanent. The deal never came. Instead, a period of twists and turns would come to the northern club, with manager Rafa Benitez and fellow striker Ayoze Perez both leaving the club. No convincing bid would come from the club for Rondón, with some suggesting his age may have ended the deal, while others suspected that Benitez’ departure simply ended interest in a player that had been brought in specifically by him.

There was reported interest from West Ham, who supposedly made at least one direct bid for the player, but the London-club never came close to match the player’s 16.5 million pound release clause. Instead, Rondón would follow Benitez to his new position in the Chinese Super League with Dalian Yifang. The deal, made official on July 19th, marked the end of Rondón’s four years in the Premier League and eleven in Europe. 

Rondón will join experienced internationals like Yannick Carrasco and Marek Hamšík in a squad currently setting in the middle of the Super League table as of the writing of this article. Dalian Yifang, founded in 2009, will be Rondón’s eighth club.

Many in Venezuelan football media have already labeled the move disastrous, though some’s mood changed miraculously when the announcement became official. The fact is this; Salomón Rondón is not a youth player. Salomón Rondón is not new to the big stages of football. Salomón Rondón is not in need of a way to prove himself, because he already has. For these reasons and many more, the Venezuelan’s move to a league away from the top tiers of Europe is frankly not a huge factor for his legacy or future in the game. 

At 29, 30 in September, Rondón has scored and succeeded in two of the top five leagues of the world, he’s thrived in Russia, and he’s become the most productive scorer for la Vinotinto of all time. 

China will offer new challenges, new opponents, and, as Solovenex CEO Carlos Tarache stated, a chance to be the center of a new movement. “For the first time in many years, Salomón Rondón will be a part of a project that revolves around him.”

Expected to make more than he ever has before, Salomón Rondón begins a new step of his life, one where the lessons of four years in Spain, three in Russia, and four in England can help make him one of the league’s top attackers.

With no actual sign of danger for his national team spot in sight and an ambitious club move at hand, the future seems bright for the man of many firsts. His impact on Venezuelan football, the Premier League, and European perception of la Vinotinto will be the things of history books. 

The first Venezuelan to score a hat trick in the PL, a brace in the PL, to score against the likes Manchester City, United, Liverpool, and Spurs. The first Venezuelan to score 10, 20, and 30 goals in the Premier League. Rondón has done it all and revealed the true ability of Venezuelan football to the world.

Salomón Rondón’s career, skill, and prominence, however, are not history. For that, you may need to wait a few more years.


By: Dominic Jose Bisogno

Photo: Reuters