How Rodri rose from obscurity to stardom with Man City in Spain

Aug 22, 2023

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BARCELONA, Spain – You took home the triple crown. In the Champions League championship game, you scored the game-winning goal. The world’s top all-around midfielder has been acclaimed as being you. You also cemented your position as the most crucial player for your nation by winning the UEFA Nations League over the summer. What happens after that?

With any other player, you could be concerned about their success getting to their head or contributing to a certain amount of complacency. That hasn’t been the case with Rodri Hernandez, though. Yes, the 27-year-old’s 2022–23 season was extraordinary, but throughout his career, he has handled every major victory and disappointment with the same composure.

This athlete has no social media presence, including Twitter and Instagram, kept a low profile during Manchester City’s wild celebrations, and even after becoming a successful professional footballer, he completed his studies in business administration and management. Rodri had a lot of the traits that have helped him succeed Sergio Busquets as Spain’s starting midfielder and act as Pep Guardiola’s on-field persona at City from the start. Later, others arrived.

Villanueva de la Canada was Rodri’s first club, a little commuter town west of Madrid with a population of slightly under 23,000 people. Before joining Atletico Madrid, he continued to play for Rayo Majadahonda’s under-11 and under-12 teams, where he became acquainted with Lucas and Theo Hernandez, who are currently players for Paris Saint-Germain and AC Milan, respectively.

Some people, however, weren’t persuaded. Rodri wasn’t thought to be tall or powerful enough to play central midfield. Atletico released him after he tried out several modifications to his position, and Villarreal—a team renowned for having among Spain’s top academies and young scouting networks—took advantage of the situation. Rodri made his LaLiga debut in 2016 when he was 19 years old. A year later, he started 36 league games for Villarreal in 2017–18 as a first-team regular.

Rodri, however, stayed dedicated to his other goals, and at the time of his national team debut—a 1 to 1 tie between Spain and Germany in March 2018—he was still balancing his football career with his studies.

Let’s fast forward to last year, when City had four years of trophy-filled success. Even if Rodri has improved consistently and his visibility and reputation have grown year after year, those statistics are nonetheless unsettling. No outfield player for City appeared in more Premier League games last year, and no player had more touches, passes completed, or duels won.

Watch his highlight clip from 2022–2023, and you’ll witness a guy who can play at all three levels: passing at short and long ranges, timing tackles well, winning headers in the six-yard box, and long-range scoring. For the Qatar 2022 World Cup, then-Spain coach Luis Enrique parachuted Rodri into the center-back position as a temporary solution. Rodri even got to try out in that position. He handled it like a homework project, as expected.

And of course, the campaign came to a conclusion at Istanbul’s Ataturk Stadium, when Manchester City defeated Inter Milan 1-0 in the Champions League final in June, thanks to the largest goal in the club’s annals. It won’t be simple to recover from the giddy high of a victory, but City have made winning a yearly ritual. Rodri will be expected to step up and take the captain’s place now that Ilkay Gundogan has left for Barcelona. The City requires someone with his mentality, which hasn’t changed in all these years.

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