x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Rodrigo: the Benfica boy making his mark with Bolton

Owen Coyle, the Wanderers manager, was delighted to get the Spanish teenager, if only for a season.

Owen Coyle’s persistence in trying to bring Rodrigo Moreno in on loan finally paid off on transfer deadline day in August when Benfica agreed to a season-long deal.
Owen Coyle’s persistence in trying to bring Rodrigo Moreno in on loan finally paid off on transfer deadline day in August when Benfica agreed to a season-long deal.

Bolton Wanderers were already 4-1 up against Newcastle United last Saturday when they introduced 19-year-old Rodrigo Moreno as an 86th-minute substitute.

His seven minutes on the pitch were insufficient to earn him a rating in the following day's newspapers, but the pacey left-sided attacker made a tangible difference, winning an injury-time penalty which Kevin Davies converted to conclude one of the more surprising results this season.

Though he is yet to start a Premier League game, it was not the first time that Moreno has come from the bench to make an impact.

Introduced against Bolton's neighbours Wigan Athletic recently, he troubled the Latics by driving in from the right and was regularly picked out by fellow substitute Matt Taylor.

Moreno was unlucky not to score with his first touch, a volley on the diagonal which Chris Kirkland, the Wigan keeper, was grateful to gobble up.

Then, from exactly the same type of ball, he was incorrectly given offside when clean through.

Moreno added a cutting edge to an attack which appeared blunt before Owen Coyle took over as Bolton manager earlier this year.

"He is 19 years old, can play anywhere across the forward line, as a main striker or behind, and he can play in the wide areas", Coyle said.

"He's quick and exciting" Sandy Stewart, the assistant manager, added.

Johan Elmander, the Premier League's joint second top scorer with eight goals, Gary Cahill, Davies and coach Coyle may be the star names who propelled Bolton into the Premier League's top five, but much is expected of Moreno, the Brazilian-born Spanish Under 19 international. Given his pedigree, you begin to understand why.

Moreno was a Real Madrid player until he moved to Benfica on a five-year deal in July, as part of the Angel Di Maria transfer. The Lisbon giants sent him on loan to gain Premier League experience, but Bolton were chasing him long before he moved to Portugal.

Bolton Wanderers and Real Madrid may seem like an unlikely pairing, but they enjoy solid relations following past deals involving Fernando Hierro and Ivan Campo.

Both were coming to the end of their careers, while Moreno is an emerging star whom Real were reluctant to let go for less than €5 million (Dh25m).

That was too much for the Lancashire club, who have to cut costs, but long-time admirer Coyle, doggedly pursued Moreno.

The Scot finally got his man on a one-year loan deal, on August's transfer deadline day, by persuading him to join up with his former Real teammate Marcos Alonso, 19, the left-back who signed for £2m (Dh11.7m) a month earlier.

He too, was highly rated by the Spanish giants, who have retained a €5m buy-back clause.

Other factors helped Coyle. With a surfeit of attackers from one of the best youth systems in world football, Benfica were happy to let Moreno move and, with Coyle and his former teammate from Real's reserves enticing him to England, he eventually relented.

"Without a doubt, the conversations I had with Marcos had some influence on me coming here," Moreno said. "He spoke a lot about the club, the management, and the way people are and that was important for me. I want to repay the trust Bolton have shown in me and do my best to show my qualities."

It was a busy summer for Moreno. In July he played for Spain's Under 19s in the European Championships and scored the only goal for La Rojita - the "Little Reds" as opposed to world champions La Roja - in their 2-1 final defeat by France.

Coyle was delighted to get his man, if only for a season.

"We've been pleased with him, and we have to continue with that progress," Coyle said. "That involves hard work and when more chances come about hopefully he'll have that cutting edge to take them."

Bolton are aiming high for a top-six finish this season.

With their strikers performing so well and Moreno adding another dynamic option, they have an excellent chance.

sports@thenational.ae