Midfielder | Atletico Madrid | Spain
Let’s get the cliché out of the way from the off then park it. Rodrigo Hernández Cascante, otherwise known as ‘Rodri’, plays in a very similar style to Sergio Busquets and, more times than not gets damn close to the great man’s levels. They are both six-foot plus and patrol the heart of their midfields with the same innate elegance. Earlier this year Marca came flat out and said that the legendary three-time Champions League winner and the pretender to his throne are ‘identical beings’.
So there’s that. That’s a given. Rodri – a shy and measured man off the pitch and confident and measured player on it - is the next accomplished pass-master who will dictate Spain’s fortunes in tournaments to come.
Beyond that heady comparison however there is even more to see and admire. The likeable Madrileño – who defiantly remained in student residency even after breaking through into Villarreal’s first team – has quickly established himself on his return to Spain’s capital as the stylish hub around which Atletico’s ferocious football orbits. Offering composure, an eye for a pass that cannot be tutored, and the same goes for his positional awareness too Rodri is the latest elite metronomic midfielder that the Iberian Peninsula – whether by design or luck but most probably the former – knocks out with regularity. It’s just not fair they have so many and England produces so few.
2018 has been…
….an announcement of sorts.
Though hardly flying under the radar to this point, Rodri’s performance against Wales in an autumn friendly saw him complete 128 of his 131 passes and was later described in the Spanish media as an ‘exhibition’. He was immaculate that evening, pulling the proverbial strings and leaving his opponents misshapen through some deceptively astute possession. A bit like…no, let’s not go there. We’ve already covered that.
The game marked the 22-year-old’s third outing in a Spain jersey but the first given by new boss Luis Enrique which was symbolic for all manner of reasons not least that the former Barcelona coach is looking to the future and an incremental departure from the nation’s stagnating tiki-taka philosophy. Might Rodri prove to be a bridge between the more direct approach and the gradual working through the channels that previously garnered so much acclaim? With his attributes synched to the recent past but with a youthful openness to taking on a coach’s wishes it’s a possibility that cannot be discounted.
While the stage is set for several seasons’ worth of instrumental displays at the Metropolitano there remains nagging doubts as to whether the player can elevate himself to genuine greatness. Rodri has been highly proficient in La Liga and consistently so but his performances have dipped slightly in the Champions League and with his most impactful display to date for Spain coming against Wales (no disrespect intended to the Welsh there) it suggests his next stage of development is to dictate proceedings against the very best.
Should he do so then Atletico Madrid and Spain will have an absolute jewel on their hands. A pretender no more and the cry will duly go up ‘the king is dead, long live the king’.