Dani Carvajal’s impudent panenka clinched the UEFA Nations League. It was Spain’s first international title in 11 years and yet another landmark for Rodri. The midfielder completed a gruelling 120 minutes in his last encounter of a record-breaking season before he coolly dispatched his spot-kick to afford La Furia Roja the fateful victory.
Alongside this, he is also the unwavering metronome of Pep Guardiola’s blue-blooded juggernaut. The former Atletico Madrid man played a starring role within the irrepressible machine that sealed the treble. In 2019, Manchester City won all the available domestic honours, but this time they traded the Carabao Cup for the previously unreachable Champions League. The club won 20 of their last 24 games in all competitions – flawless execution of their inexorable superiority. How does the world’s most elite team exert such supremacy, that seeks to ruthlessly demoralise and envelope their surrendering opponents?
At the base of their all-conquering midfield is Rodri. The Spaniard is Guardiola’s most trusted asset, an incredible ever-present who has accumulated a mammoth 56 appearances in all competitions – the most in the squad.
Nevertheless, City’s customary domestic dominance would be discarded if accompanied by another European failure. In the first half, City struggled for rhythm and momentum against an awkward and uncompromising Inter Milan. Erling Haaland had cut a peripheral figure up top, Kevin De Bruyne had unexpectedly been forced off through injury and the whole team exuded a nervousness that had previously plagued their continental exploits.
City has a fractured past with Champions League finals that boiled to Rodri. Generally, Guardiola never gets anything wrong. But, in Porto two years ago he made his most fateful error. When his side faced Chelsea in the blistering humidity of the Iberian peninsula, the sports’ most transformative tactician opted to bench Rodri. This decision backfired as it permitted N’Golo Kante to peruse proceedings with an effervescent command that shunned the creative influence of the City midfield.
But this time in Istanbul, there was a palpable air of inevitability, owed to the perfection and faultlessness of this team, channelled through Rodri. The immovable object etched his name in the club’s folklore when Bernardo Silva’s deflected cut-back fell invitingly into his path, as he graciously guided the ball into the bottom corner. The imperious connector wheeled away in ecstatic celebration.
Unsurprisingly, Haaland’s ridiculous goal-scoring, the typical brilliance of De Bruyne, and the renaissance of the loveable Jack Grealish have gripped the headlines, but the frightening consistency of Rodri was finally awarded its flowers. Throughout his time in England, the joyous technician has operated as a single, possession-addicted pivot, that protects the backline and orchestrates attacks from his deep-lying berth. It is very similar to Sergio Busquets, who has taken notice of his compatriot and tipped his career path to end up in Catalonia.
The 34-year-old feels Rodri matches the “DNA and the style” that is wanted at the Blaugrana. The pair share an abundance of similar traits – close control, effortless intricacy, opposition-splitting passes, and an ability to receive the ball in highly pressurised and uncomfortable areas, managing to still emerge with an uncoachable elegance.
One difference is their differing levels of physicality. Whilst Busquets’ nimble frame and Barcelona’s tendency to never lose the ball meant he was rarely required to break a sweat, Rodri has forged a formidable reputation for his athleticism and strength. He has emerged as an indispensable component of the history-makers. Never rotated. Never rested. Flabbergasting durability and technical excellence. He is the unsung hero of City’s unassailable dominance.
By: Alex Connor / @alexjconnor
Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Simon Stacpoole / Offside