Is he...good?

Rodrigo is confusing me in two different universes

Written by: Rob Conlon
Artwork by: Eamonn Dalton
Rodrigo celebrating like a madman against Bournemouth against a purple backdrop

When Jesse Marsch talks about Rodrigo, Leeds United’s record signing is made to sound less like a fine young man, and more like a wise old sage — a sensible head, a leader, but still a manly man in a man’s world.

Rodrigo has spent most of his time at Leeds looking like an old bloke, a bit sad, a tad morose, and overall quite tired. I don’t like that Rodrigo. I like the Rodrigo who scores goals and celebrates not like a wise old man, but like a giddy toddler who has just spotted a ball pool filled with toy dinosaurs and free sweets and is racing to be the first to dive in.

Saturday’s defeat to Tottenham taught me to give up trying to understand Jesse Marsch’s Leeds United, and Rodrigo in particular. I don’t think he’s playing particularly well — prior to Spurs, I thought he was playing terribly — but he’s scoring lots of goals. Luciano Becchio was never a master of football’s fine arts, but he scored lots of goals and did lots of daft celebrations, so we adored him (albeit he cost less than Dimitar Berbatov, who cost about the same as Rodrigo). On the opposite end of the spectrum, I spent the promotion season trying my best to appreciate Pat Bamford’s selfless hard work for the team, but couldn’t shake the sensation of wanting to strangle him for missing lots of good chances. I’d have accepted a bit less running for a few more goals, but that was missing the point of why that season ended in promotion.

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Rodrigo is basically doing what I wanted Bamford to do, yet I’m still spending most games wondering whether it might be a good idea to sub him off. I usually say that thought out loud right before he scores another goal, then it’s back to feeling confused and like I don’t understand anything. Even Rodrigo’s most gifable — and therefore most memorable — moment at Leeds is him pulling a face that says, ‘I dunno, lol.’

Maybe understanding is overrated. Stroking my chin, nodding my head, and thinking, ‘I’m right — he’s rubbish!’ is a lot less enjoyable than celebrating Leeds United’s centre-forward scoring in front of the away end and running around like a silly goose. But then after trying to defend Rodrigo for the first eighteen months of his Leeds career, why am I finding it difficult to warm to him now he’s finally coming good and doing what we originally signed him to do?

My anti-Rodrigo angst reached peak pettiness in the build-up to Spurs. In bed all week with flu, I eventually cracked and downloaded the new Football Manager game. Having spent what feels like the last, I dunno, forever, engaged in an is-Rodrigo-actually-any-good-or-not debate, I couldn’t face the same virtual headache when I had an actual headache. After loading the game and starting my first save by taking over at Leeds, I went straight to the squad list, clicked on Rodrigo, and offered him to other clubs for transfer against the advice of his agent, who warned that doing so might upset him. Good!

My backstabbing did indeed upset Rodrigo, and some of his teammates, who (correctly) felt I was trying to force him out. Whatever. I’m not sure why Joe Gelhardt was so aggrieved; I was selling Rodrigo so Joffy could be my guy. Brighton were mad enough to bid £17m, so he could be their problem while I enjoyed a healthy boost to my transfer and wage budgets, allowing me to sign half a dozen left-backs.

But then Saturday happened. And Rodrigo scored twice IRL. Two brilliant, unexpected finishes that would have had Luciano Becchio dancing like a deranged deer and yelling, ‘Fucking unbelievable!’ in Geoff Shreeves’ face. There was something about Rodrigo’s second celebration in particular that convinced me to stop trying to see the worst in his general play and just enjoy the rush of a Leeds striker sticking the ball into the back of the net every time he puts on the shirt. Why would I want to let Brighton have that thrill?

The good news in my virtual world is that Rodrigo rejected the move to Brighton. The bad news is I’ve got some explaining to do. ⬢

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