Voted the Futbol Draft Awards Best Spanish U-21 Striker in 2012, Rodrigo Moreno is one of the most talented youngsters around, and one of many fantastic young Spanish footballers.
Rodrigo Moreno Machado, or ‘Rodrigo’ as he is more commonly known as, is a 22-year old forward who plies his trade with Europa League runners up Benfica. Although born in Brazil, Rodrigo represents Spain at international level and was part of the Under 21 side that recently won the European Championships. The former Real Madrid youngster has a host of connections in football, with his cousins Rafinha and Thiago Alcantara both playing for Barcelona, and their father Mazinho, who is a former Brazilian international.
After being born in Rio de Janiero, as a teenager Rodrigo moved to Spain and it was there his football talents were duly discovered. He featured in the youth team for Spanish outfit Celta Vigo, before European heavyweights Real Madrid came in and made a move for the player. At Madrid, Rodrigo had a magnificent opportunity to increase his development and that seemed apparent when he was already playing for the Real Madrid C Team shortly after his arrival in the Spanish Capital. It was not long until Rodrigo made the step up to the Castilla side in the third tier of Spanish football, but unfortunately he couldn’t top that and force his way into the Madrid first-team picture.
In July 2010, Portugese outfit Benfica signed the youngster on a five-year contract for a fee around the 6 million euros mark. At first, the two clubs agreed a buyback clause in which Rodrigo could return to the Bernabeu for double that fee in the next two seasons, although after Fabio Coentrao’s move to Madrid, the clause was cancelled.
Even at Benfica, it was tough for Rodrigo to break into the first team immediately and he was subsequently sent out on loan to Bolton, who at the time were playing in the Premier League. He made 17 appearances for the Trotters in that season, scoring 1 goal against Wigan. He then returned for Benfica for the 2011-12 season, playing in 38 matches and scoring 16 goals. Since then he has never looked back, and has really improved as a player. He has now established himself as a regular in the Spain Under 21 side, as well as becoming a key player for Benfica, whether that be as a starter or from the bench.
Style, strengths and weaknesses:
Rodrigo stands at 5 ft 11 inches tall, so would appear to be the perfect height for a striker. He is very comfortable player on the ball, as well as having intelligence off the ball; which is always a fantastic trait for a striker to have. His primary foot is his left, but he is also able to use his right, albeit it is not as reliable and useful as his favoured left. The 22-year old predominately operates as a striker, but he can be deployed as a winger and even just behind the striker; this is evidence of the versatility he possesses; one of his most impressive characteristics. His dribbling is also a key part of his game, with him able to control the ball confidently and beat players using speed and skill.
For a forward, he has relatively good vision and awareness and can pick out some wonderful passes. Onto the weaknesses now and Rodrigo is prone to be isolated on some occasions when playing as the lone striker, he struggles to make an impact and be effective without a player closely supporting. This was a frequent occurrence in the Euro’s and was a reason why at times Alvaro Morata was the better option in the system that Spain play. Another thing I have noticed on the player is that he rarely completes a full ninety minutes, in fact in his last ten games he has not completed a full game.
There could many reasons for this, but with Rodrigo still only 22, it seems quite strange that he hasn’t completed the full ninety minutes. Perhaps it is down to his fitness or fatigue; it may be something that prevents him from having the career he could be destined to have, so he will need to improve it. Finally, another weakness is that he doesn’t make the best of contributions defensively. Of course, it isn’t vital for him to be constantly sprinting back and helping out, but he needs to make more of an effort at chasing down the ball, as well as working back if he plays on the flank.
His most recent season with Benfica wasn’t as impressive as the 2011-12, but it is still to be commended. Despite only making 18 starts, Rodrigo managed to score 9 goals, which obviously works out as an average of a goal every 2 starts, which is rather good when you take into account he is still only in the early stages of the game. Admittedly, there weren’t too many impressive statistics that I found, for instance his match rating on WhoScored was only 6.43. Nevertheless, Rodrigo had a pass success of 87% in the Under 21 European Championships, which I deem to be superb for a striker and just shows his passing qualities. By far the most excellent statistic I found on the prodigy was that he has made 16 appearances for the Spain Under-21 side and has scored 15 goals. That is quite incredible.
Rodrigo still has two years on his current Benfica contract, so you wouldn’t expect him to leave this summer, but in the near future that could be a possibility. It has been difficult for Rodrigo to be a complete regular in the Benfica side, especially with an excellent Oscar Cardozo above him in the pecking order. So because of that, it wouldn’t be a major surprise to see Rodrigo move away from Benfica in the near future, with a return to Spain the most likely destination.
It’s evident to see that Rodrigo has talent in abundance, but I still don’t think we’ve seen the best of him. There’s no doubt that he has potential, but he needs to work on certain parts on his game before we see a Rodrigo Moreno at his very best. Not only is he a potential Spain regular in the future, but he is also part of the most talented trio of relatives in world football, alongside Thiago and Rafa Alcantara. Rodrigo Moreno could be destined for greatness.