Marcelo Bielsa's belief and Leeds United's big hope for Rodrigo one year on from Valencia's statement

Just after 10.30pm on August 25, Valencia broke the news on their website that they and Leeds United had reached an agreement in principle for Rodrigo.

Wednesday, 25th August 2021, 5:09 pm
Updated Wednesday, 25th August 2021, 5:10 pm
BIG BUSINESS - Rodrigo joined Leeds United for a £27m fee from Valencia but endured a frustrating first season at Elland Road. Pic: Getty

It was a break from transfer convention as far as the Whites were concerned - English clubs traditionally hold back on public declarations until all the i's are dotted and as Valencia stated, the paperwork and a medical were not yet complete.

Leeds, well aware that the La Liga club were releasing a statement, tipped off the YEP that the news was imminent because although the official unveiling did not take place for four days, there was never any doubt it was going to happen.

The club, at least through official channels, kept their counsel until the deal was done but director of football Victor Orta was comfortable enough to go on the record on August 26.

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All parties - including Rodrigo and his father-agent Adalberto Machado - were happy.

Leeds head coach Marcelo Bielsa was, Orta said, 'very happy.'

"He wanted this leap of quality and when I put this name in the table he took one minute or 30 seconds to ask if that was possible and here we are," said Orta.

Putting pen to paper on a £27m deal smashed the club's previous transfer record and made the Spanish international a Leeds player for four years.

As any big transfer deal does, it generated huge excitement in West Yorkshire and made a splash internationally - Leeds were back in the Premier League and doing big business.

A year on from Valencia's announcement, it still cannot yet be said that it was great business.

The initial suspicion of many was that he would bed in over the first few months and then usurp Patrick Bamford as Bielsa's lone striker. It was not an unfathomable hypothesis, given the raft of big chances Bamford had missed en route to the Championship title. There was no doubt the Englishman had been fulfilling all other requirements of the role, pressing with intelligence and intensity, losing defenders with top class movement and displaying improved hold-up play before linking up with his fellow attackers, yet the Leeds United public were not unanimous in expecting him to excel in the Premier League. Nor apparently were top flight defences.

Bamford hit the ground sprinting, showing a clinical nature that would surely have landed him a 35-goal season in the Championship. All the familiar elements of his game were there but when six goals in his fist six games became 10 in 15, it was clear he would be giving up his starting place for no one.

Rodrigo, meanwhile, got off to a slower start, taking time to find his fitness having arrived just a fortnight before the season began and not enjoyed the benefit of a full pre-season.

It quickly became clear that the number 10 role was where Bielsa saw his new signing making an impact and by the time Leeds beat Aston Villa 3-0 away from home, Rodrigo was showing signs he could do that. At Villa Park, where Bamford rattled in a superb hat-trick, Spain's then number nine was sharp, incisive and dangerous. His movement was good and his energy levels vastly improved.

Then Covid struck and by the time he returned to play 20 minutes against Arsenal a month had passed.

Although Bielsa was confident the virus had no lasting impact on the forward, the mid-winter held bleak moments and he managed 90 minutes just three times between his comeback and January 31.

There were bright moments, flashes of his pedigree, silky touch and vision, but nothing in the way of consistency, which could also be said of Leeds during that spell.

Then a groin injury struck, a stretch for the ball at Leicester costing Rodrigo six games and the conditioning he had been building up.

It was not until the final four games that the qualities Bielsa has continually expounded shone through, four goals and an assist allowing him to head into the summer break on a high, at least until Spain's Euro 2020 squad was announced without him in it.

What we know now is that Rodrigo, unlike say Kalvin Phillips, is not a player who can just step back into the side after injury, he needs time to recover his fitness and in turn his best form.

We also know his chances of unseating Bamford from the striker role are slim.

And while we know he's a very high calibre player, one who can create - as he did so brilliantly to set up Bamford at Southampton - and finish chances - as he did so clinically at Burnley - we don't yet know if he is defensive minded enough to help keep things tight in the middle of the park as a 10.

In another team he would be unlikely to carry the same responsibility out of possession as he does in Bielsa's system, because if someone high up the pitch loses their man or fails to press quickly enough, a domino effect can and has caused big problems.

The box-to-box midfielder can get pulled out of position or find himself forced into firefighting, if the men ahead of him fall down on their duties.

No one can say for sure that Rodrigo is going to nail down the number 10 place and make a more significant impact in his second season but that's the big hope, it's what he set out to do with a serious summer fitness regime, even outside the Spain 'shadow' group he was part of during their Euro 2020 Covid-19 issues.

He 'shone the most' in pre-season according to Bielsa and although he was sacrificed at the break due to Leeds' serious midfield organisational problems against Manchester United, he would have started against Everton were it not for a niggle. Another one.

The visit of Crewe on Tuesday was a chance to kick start his season against League One opposition, yet it didn't quite work out that way, his appearance reduced to 69 useful minutes in the legs.

A link with Tyler Roberts, who played as the 10, never really materialised and the contrast to Bamford's sublime late cameo was stark. Where Rodrigo was a bit of a nuisance, Bamford was a menace, all three of Leeds' goals arriving after his introduction.

Turf Moor, the scene of Rodrigo's most emphatic contribution last season and Leeds' next outing, would be a perfect place to get his 2021/22 campaign properly off and running, but Bielsa will be patient. He believes he has a great player on his hands and will feel a heavy responsibility to get the best out of him, as he has Bamford and so many others at Elland Road.

If the 30-year-old £27m man does fully justify his price tag and make a home in this Leeds side, it will be no small measure of relief for all concerned. A principle everyone can agree on is that he cannot become Leeds United's most expensive ever substitute.