'I am not the coach nor do I know his criteria' - Rodrigo battling to join Leeds United Euro party
It is almost certain that this summer’s European Championships will have Leeds United involvement, only the scale of it remains up in the air.
Gjanni Alioski has missed just six of North Macedonia’s last 38 international games and if he’s fit, he’ll play, such is his importance to his national team.
Regular Premier League football will only have enhanced his key man status.
His pal, Mateusz Klich, called up this week for Poland’s March internationals, will have more of a fight on his hands to start when it comes to the major tournament, but he’s rarely failed to feature for his country since late 2018.
The illness that kept Liam Cooper out of Leeds’ weekend clash with Chelsea has done for his hopes of playing for Scotland this month, too.
But you can expect him to be in the conversation when Steve Clarke picks his side for their first European Championships since 1996, when the centre-half was four years old.
Kalvin Phillips has taken his first international steps this season and, although Declan Rice is standing in his way, inclusion in Gareth Southgate’s England travelling party would come as little surprise.
Tyler Roberts has a chance of getting minutes for Wales, and both Robin Koch and Diego Llorente harbour hopes of featuring prominently for Germany and Spain respectively.
Llorente last week told The Yorkshire Evening Post that, after an injury-disrupted first season at Leeds, his only thought was to enjoy as much football as possible before the end of the season, picking up as many points as possible along the way.
Rodrigo, his club and country team-mate, sings a slightly different tune.
A record buy for Leeds last summer from Valencia, Rodrigo has also endured a stop-start campaign at Elland Road.
He’s played more football than Llorente, but the adaptation to Marcelo Bielsa’s team and their way of playing football, Covid-19 and a groin injury have prevented him from producing his best consistently.
Even before Spain boss Luis Enrique named a squad that did not include the Whites attacker, Rodrigo knew he was up against it.
“The Selection is always a challenge,” he told Spanish outlet AS last week.
“We all have that desire. Being on the list is always very difficult. In the big teams, such as Spain, there is always competition and everything will depend on what you do in the remainder of the season.”
The Euros have been in his thoughts since the start of what he calls an ‘irregular’ year, one that thus far has yielded just 12 Premier League starts.
“Well, you think about it, yeah,” he said.
“But not only now, since the beginning of the season. It is a challenge that never leaves your mind when you see that you have options, because there is your history in the national team and you know that until now they have counted on you, but there is still much left.”
Like Llorente, Rodrigo knows his Euro 2020 hopes depend on two things that only Leeds United games can really provide - fitness and form. If form arrives, it will come for club before country.
“The key now is not to have any injuries again between now and the end of the season and to regain my level, then we will see what happens,” he said.
A few goals would be nice, from a Leeds point of view although, as Rodrigo says, he has got this far in his career without being a particularly prolific centre-forward.
“After 11 years in the elite, it is clear that I am not a ‘9’ scorer,” he said.
“That is not my characteristic. But I have not arrived where I have arrived because of that but because of other characteristics.
“It depends how you look at it. If what you look at is the ratio of goals per game, it can hurt me. But I am not the coach nor do I know his criteria when choosing. It can also be a plus to be able to play in various positions within the 4-3-3 of the national team. The important thing is to keep working, giving and doing the best I can at all times.”
For Leeds, Rodrigo has barely featured as the focal point of the attack and that is largely down to one man and one factor - Patrick Bamford's goalscoring exploits this season. With the Englishman, an outside bet himself for the Euros, in such good form in front of goal, Rodrigo has instead contributed from the number 10 role.
On Saturday when Bamford went off, Rodrigo came off the bench to play firstly up front and then behind Roberts. Bielsa was more than content with the physical effort from his record signing, although the 30-year-old was unable to find the necessary magic to create or score a goal against the Blues and so remains on three goals and one assist for the season. For a player with such pedigree, who arrived amid such fanfare, it's not the return he or Leeds would have anticipated or hoped for, even if his creativity has brought a number chances that team-mates haven't taken.
Walking the long way around the Elland Road pitch as a substituted substitute in the late stages on Saturday afternoon, Rodrigo might well have hoped Enrique wasn’t watching.
But there is a long way to go in his fight to add European Championship appearances to the World Cup games he played in 2018.
Enrique says he will pick his squad purely on performances and Rodrigo has 10 more opportunities to make a significant impact for Leeds and a serious impression on the national team manager.
The road to the Euros starts at Fulham on Friday night.