Rodri will be the new Fernandinho - and perfect for Manchester City
Midfielder who joined Premier League champions from Atletico Madrid will act as protector and destroyer - like ageing Brazilian has done for them before
The landmark will fall in the final fortnight of the league season.
Fernandinho turns 35 in May. He becomes a footballing pensioner and if the Brazilian’s energetic displays belie his age, Manchester City have been aware of the ticking time bomb.
Because he has been irreplaceable, Fernandinho has been the most important player in statistically the Premier League’s greatest team. Until now, perhaps.
For four consecutive transfer windows, City have looked for a replacement. Rodri represents the fourth player they have seriously considered. He arrives with the appetite whetted by comparisons.
“Busquets has always been a reference point for me,” the Atletico Madrid midfielder said last season. “Rodri clearly resembles Busquets,” City assistant manager Mikel Arteta said.
Sergio Busquets was perhaps the most emblematic Pep Guardiola player, fast-tracked by his mentor to occupy the holding role for Barcelona that the City manager once played.
Guardiola has certain demands of his successors. He requires pace, purpose and decision-making in passing. The ability to move the ball quickly is essential. Even a defensive midfielder of the calibre of Javier Mascherano was reinvented as a centre-back because he could not recycle possession with the slickness of Busquets.
The holding midfielder is Guardiola’s on-field controller.
But he has dual roles, on and off the ball. Tellingly, City’s director of football Txiki Begiristain highlighted both in calling Rodri “a perfect fit for Pep Guardiola’s team”. He explained: “He has all the attributes we are looking for. He works hard defensively and uses the ball well in possession.”
It could have been a description of Fernandinho. City’s great all-rounder is both constructive and destructive. Ilkay Gundogan has the playmaking gifts to deputise for the Brazilian, but not the ball-winning ones; had Fernandinho been fit to start and cut off Tottenham’s counter-attacks, perhaps City would have reached the Uefa Champions League semi-finals.
Rodri recovers possession rather better than Gundogan. Only Real Valladolid’s Nacho averaged more tackles per game in La Liga last season. He serves another purpose. Guardiola accepts his diminutive charges often find themselves overshadowed when marking taller teams at set-pieces. At 6ft 3in, Rodri will tower over many of his teammates.
That defensive contribution renders him more suitable than others who were on City’s radar. Fred was wanted in January 2018; City’s interest then faded and the Brazilian instead went to Manchester United, where his debut year was undistinguished.
The summer 2018 target Jorginho has the ability on the ball, but not off it. Fernandinho has some of the qualities of his Chelsea sidekick N’Golo Kante, but Jorginho does not. Frenkie de Jong may represent the one that got away. Guardiola sounded out his former Barcelona roommate, and Netherlands manager, Ronald Koeman about the Ajax prodigy.
Instead, he will become Busquets’ long-term successor at Camp Nou.
Rodri may have generated less fanfare and there was not an auction for his services, but he conforms to a pattern. City have tended to eschew superstars to sign players who suit their particular demands and who, in some cases, were attracted few other bidders.
Rodri will be the new record buy, but rivals have spent more on individuals.
Sometimes City’s additions have served an education under like-minded managers. Part of the intrigue with Rodri lies in the reality that he spent the last year playing for Diego Simeone at Atletico. The Argentine and Guardiola are not soulmates, but a shared fondness for pressing should help Rodri win the ball back.
He must adjust from 4-4-2 to 4-3-3, from a side that had less than half of the possession in Spain to the team that had the most in England. Yet go back to 2017/18, when Rodri was at Villarreal, and only eight players averaged more passes per game in La Liga.
He is equipped to be City’s metronome and constant, their destroyer and terrier: their new Fernandinho.
Updated: July 5, 2019 02:59 PM