'The right profile for a Marcelo Bielsa team' - How Leeds United target Rodrigo emerged from underwhelming Valencia start

A player who initially struggled to find his way at a club that appear to have lost their way, could become the record signing for a club that has found its way home.

By Graham Smyth
Tuesday, 25th August 2020, 5:43 pm
Updated Tuesday, 25th August 2020, 5:46 pm
GOAL TALLY - Rodrigo scored fewer goals last season and was shooting less in the area, but has shown an aggressive workrate for Valencia. Pic: Getty
GOAL TALLY - Rodrigo scored fewer goals last season and was shooting less in the area, but has shown an aggressive workrate for Valencia. Pic: Getty

Leeds United, now a Premier League outfit, would be acting accordingly if they managed to get a deal for Valencia forward Rodrigo over the line.

If Andrea Radrizzani wanted a marquee signing to accompany his club’s place in a shiny new division, this one might fit the bill.

Far more importantly, the 29-year-old might fit the bill for head coach Marcelo Bielsa and his relentless attacking football.

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Going up in the year when a global pandemic hit the finances of every club is reason enough not to spend money frivilously, but spending £30m-plus on any player not considered wholly acceptable by Bielsa would be madness and not the good kind that makes the Argentine a world-reknowned coach.

Everyone knows that Bielsa will only select players who he is convinced can fulfil the very specific duties of the roles in his team.

Rodrigo has the right profile, according to Opta editor Jamie Kemp who has watched the attacker grow into a player of real influence at the Mestalla Stadium, after a somewhat underwhelming start.

“He was one of the early signings in Valencia’s mini-revival around 2014-15, when they started to look competitive in Spain again,” he said.

BIG TIME - Leeds United transfer target Rodrigo in action for Valencia against Real Madrid and Sergio Ramos. Pic: Getty

“After joining on loan in that first season under Nuno Espírito Santo he was bought for €30m in the second season in what was a big summer for the club in terms of spending.

“At that point, Valencia looked to have a chance of pushing Real Madrid and Barcelona closer in the league, and Rodrigo was expected to be one of the main protagonists.”

Playing on the right side of a 4-3-3, he struggled to find consistency however and failed to shine quite as much as his price tag might have promised.

“It wasn’t until later on in his Valencia career that he really began to step up,” said Kemp.

“Under Marcelino Garcia Toral, a manager who almost exclusively plays 4-4-2 and relies on a heavy counter-attacking style, he really emerged as one of the leaders at Valencia.”

The abilities that Rodrigo began to showcase in that emergence chime quite nicely with the football Bielsa has ingrained into his Leeds team.

“He became a really aggressive worker out of possession and was one of the biggest attacking threats in the league in transition,” said Kemp of Rodrigo’s 2017 to 2019 form, which wasn’t as evident last season as Valencia struggled.

“For what it’s worth, I still think he has that within him – his numbers from last season won’t suggest that but it needs to be viewed within the context of a horrible season for Valencia on and off the pitch,” he said.

“I think Bielsa will like what he sees with Rodrigo. For a team who want to attack quickly and work aggressively off the ball, he has the right profile.

“As we know, adapting to Bielsa’s style is never straight forward but, if Rodrigo can get up to the speed of his teammates, he has a lot of attributes that will be valuable.

“Pace in behind the defensive line, dynamic in carrying the ball [4.7 progressive carries per game ranked him in La Liga’s top three of strikers with 1,000-plus minutes] and good quick movements.

“He’s never been a prolific goalscorer but he would be a good resource for Bielsa’s style of play, especially if Leeds are to find themselves playing on the counter more in the Premier League.

“I think he’ll play the same role as Bamford has – the main difference would be that Rodrigo is more dynamic in terms of his movement and ball carrying, while Bamford is more suited to running the channels and holding play up.”

Football data platform Smarterscout aren’t as convinced of his suitability.

His goal tally was down last season – Smarterscout say he’s been getting into the box and shooting less often – and they also point out that he’s never been the most ‘avid’ defender.

At £30m give or take, it would be a huge financial outlay for Leeds, especially for a player on the cusp of his 30s, yet every transfer carries risk, as the Whites most recently discovered in the yet-to-be-resolved Jean-Kevin Augustin saga.

Leeds will ultimately put their money where Bielsa’s mouth is and invest in what he believes he can get from a player. It’s been a safe bet so far.