VAR spots video nasty from Leeds United summer departure but 'cult hero' status already in motion

Leeds United's 2022/23 top scorer Rodrigo picked up the fifth straight red card of his career at the weekend, but not before scoring his fourth goal of the season for new club Al-Rayyan.
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The Spanish international made the move to the Qatari Stars League outfit in the summer and unsurprisingly has taken his Premier League goalscoring form with him.

Rodrigo fired in 13 goals in 31 English top flight appearances last season and at the age of 32 would have presented an attractive transfer proposition for clubs all over Europe following Leeds' relegation to the Championship.

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But it was to Qatar that he went and a division unable to boast a standard anywhere close to that of the Premier League. The club he joined are, at least, among those expecting to challenge for silverware and glory.

"Al-Rayyan have traditionally been seen as one of the bigger clubs in Qatar historically," said Qatar football journalist Mitch Freeley.

"Last season they didn't really do that well at all, they had Lauren Blanc as manager and they went to the bottom end of the QSL table and the summer brought a huge overhaul in terms of having a new chairman and a new hierarchy. It's been filled with younger, dynamic Qatari, shall we say, people who are looking to

get things done, not the same as the status quo that has been there for the last few years. That led to a complete overhaul in the playing staff and the coaching staff."

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Al-Rayyan turned to former Monaco boss Leonardo Jardim to spearhead their on field attempts to land a ninth QSL title and their first since 2015/16,

"He's obviously done very, very well in the region previously, he won the league in UAE with Shabab Al Ahli and he's coming here with the primary goal to win the league," Freeley told the YEP.

"That's started pretty well. We've had five games, they've lost only one quite recently to Al-Wakrah, and Rodrigo has been part of it, playing four out of the five league games.

"They're well on their way to winning the league, they are probably the most consistent team in Qatar right now. They've got another Brazilian-born guy by the name of Róger Guedes who was on the radar of a host of big Saudi clubs so he proved a real coup for Al-Rayyan."

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Setting up the winner on his debut, Rodrigo has claimed goal contributions in three of his four league appearances and, most recently, in his only Qatari Stars Cup group stage outing.

GOAL GETTER - Rodrigo scored 13 Premier League goals last season but made a step down in competition to join the Qatari Stars League outfit Al-Rayaan in the summer. Pic: GettyGOAL GETTER - Rodrigo scored 13 Premier League goals last season but made a step down in competition to join the Qatari Stars League outfit Al-Rayaan in the summer. Pic: Getty
GOAL GETTER - Rodrigo scored 13 Premier League goals last season but made a step down in competition to join the Qatari Stars League outfit Al-Rayaan in the summer. Pic: Getty

"The big thing is that he scored in the Qatar Classico, which was their derby game against Al Arabi their rivals," said Freeley.

"In the years I've been here the highest attended matches are usually between Al Arabi and Al-Rayyan and this season they broke the record, which is a very modest of about 40,000, but for Qatar that is huge. Rodrigo was pretty decisive in that game, scoring a stoppage time winner to win the game 1-0."

That goal and the others he has netted have helped Rodrigo find favour with his new fanbase and although he is not the highest profile player to arrive this summer - Philippe Coutinho, Marco Verratti and Julian Draxler all joined the league in the transfer window - he could go on to be one of the most popular.

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"He's already gained a bit of cult hero status here in Qatar," said Freeley.

"There are pictures doing the rounds on social media of young fans with Rodrigo, taking pictures of him, and they think he's a great player. He's been that physical presence that Al-Rayyan have probably needed up front for a couple of years, that number nine they needed. He's settled in on the pitch really well.

"It's very early days and time will tell if he will be a major success but he certainly has the attributes, the attitude and probably a very substantial pay packet as enough of an inspiration to do pretty well out here. He's gained the affection of the club and the fans in a huge way by scoring that derby goal - the equivalent of a last minute winner for Leeds against Manchester United. He has the opportunity to be a real goal machine if he wants to."

Saturday's cup defeat by Al-Markhiya came after Rodrigo won and scored a first half penalty, before VAR spotted a nasty rake down the back of Moroccan midfielder Driss Fettouhi's calf. An initial yellow card was cancelled and the red produced and Rodrigo had to watch his team lose 3-2, Fettouhi grabbing a late winner.

That has undoubtedly been the low point of Rodrigo's time in Qatar to date but the expectation is that he will provide many more high points as Al-Rayyan plot a return to the top of the pile.