Rodrigo's 5,000-mile childhood move, his new chapter at Leeds United and how he believes he'll meet Marcelo Bielsa's demands

It was football that uprooted Rodrigo Moreno Machado from his home in Rio de Janeiro as a young boy and transported him 5,000 miles to a new life in Europe.

Saturday, 12th September 2020, 5:45 am
RECORD BUY - Leeds United new boy Rodrigo is comfortable with the 'record purchase' tag and believes he can fit in with Marcelo Bielsa's style of football

The beautiful game runs in his blood, dominated his formative years in Brazil and Spain and has sustained his life and career ever since, taking him to Real Madrid, Benfica, Bolton - on loan - and Valencia.

Now he has been enticed back to England on a permanent basis by an Argentine’s version of the game, a version he feels is a perfect fit for with skills he has honed since his days at the junior school of his father’s club Flamengo.

Adalberto Machado, a left-back who represented Brazil at Under-23s level and won the 1983 FIFA World Youth Championships, moved the family to Spain in 2003 in order to work alongside best friend Iomar do Nascimento, better known as Brazilian 1994 World Cup winner and former Valencia man Mazinho.

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The pair set up Paterna football school in Vigo and Rodrigo enrolled alongside his best friends, Mazinho’s sons Thiago and Rafinha, who now play for Bayern Munich and Barcelona respectively.

Machado’s successful application for dual citizenship opened up a pathway to international football for his son, who received his Spanish passport in 2009.

The player Leeds have made their record signing, forking out a sum of around £27m, arrives in Yorkshire with 23 caps for Spain, the latest of which came in a 1-1 draw with Germany.

Spain were a goal down until the 95th minute when Rodrigo leapt highest in the area to nod the ball down for Jose Gaya to level.

The next day, via Zoom, a smiling Rodrigo apologised for his grasp of English, before delivering an almost word-perfect press conference for The Yorkshire Evening Post and local media outlets.

By that time he had already begun his integration process, calling Liam Cooper to pay his respects to the club captain and speaking to Leeds’ Spanish midfielder Pablo Hernandez. The pair, along with Kiko Casilla, impressed on Rodrigo how positive the atmosphere has become at Elland Road, thanks to a tight-knit dressing room.

He was yet to communicate directly with Marcelo Bielsa, but already boasts a keen knowledge of his new head coach’s methods and his footballing philosophy.

“I know that he always likes to have the ball,” said the attacker.

“When you don’t have the ball he wants the team to always press the opponent. That’s why training is very hard, you have to be very prepared for that style of football, with and without the ball.

“He likes players that can attack the space, can read the space you have behind the opponents’ defensive line and attack that space to try and score goals.

“In Spain with Athletic Bilbao he had great seasons and with Leeds also those past two years were great, especially last season coming back to the Premier League.

“I’m very excited to work with him.”

Rodrigo, who says he’s comfortable in the skin of a record signing having experienced the same scenario at Valencia, might come with a big price tag, Champions League experience and an international profile but he must now bow the knee to the same adaptation process that all Bielsa’s signings go through.

If the Eddie Nketia and Jean-Kevin Augustin sagas taught Leeds fans anything, it is that the process takes precedence or the player doesn’t play, no matter how prolific he might be.

There may be match minutes in the opening stages of the Premier League season yet until Rodrigo proves to Bielsa that he not only understands what his role entails but does everything expected of him on instinct, he is not likely to start.

The good news for Leeds fans desperate to catch sight of their new star man is that he believes his profile lends itself to a place in a Bielsa side.

At Valencia he developed a work ethic that means the Leeds pressing game won’t come as a shock to his system and he is versatile enough to play almost anywhere in an attacking sense, so two of Bielsa’s most important boxes can be ticked off.

“I think I’m a very speedy player, I have a very physical game also,” he said, when asked how he would fit into the picture at Elland Road.

“I can adapt myself to different positions; I know that he adapts some players to different positions. I think I can fit his style of football.”

Maybe most important of all, Rodrigo understands why Bielsa works his players so relentlessly.

Leeds’ status as the fittest team in the Championship and a deserved reputation as the most well-drilled of outfits played a huge part in their promotion to the top flight. It all stemmed from the long, long hours on the training pitches at Thorp Arch and countless murderball sessions that test the will as much as the lungs.

Rodrigo says he’s ready to put in the necessary work to play the game he loves and play it well.

“I spoke with the Spanish players, Pablo and Kiko and with our captain Liam,” he said.

“Of course they said the training is very hard, Bielsa pushes you to the limit but I think that’s the correct way to achieve important things. In life and in football you need to be always hungry, ambitious and you need to want something more every day.

“That’s my way of achieving my personal and professional aims in life. I’m very excited to achieve big things with Leeds. That’s me.”