31st October 2016. By Edward Stratmann.
While there's no doubting the incredible talent Rodrigo Moreno possesses, it's been frustrating to see him continue to struggle for consistency since joining Valencia in 2014 for a reported €30 million.
The underlying turbulence at the club, which has seen managerial changes aplenty and a plethora of dubious transfer dealings, obviously hasn't helped him, but you get the feeling it's time the 25-year-old stood up and really began to stamp his mark. In addition, the fact his rights are owned by a consortium that's spearheaded by Valencia's owner, Peter Lim, and that his agent is the infamous Jorge Mendes has brought it with an unwanted stigma too.
For the man who was born in Brazil and moved to Spain as a teenager, it's been a fascinating journey for him so far. Upon arriving in his new homeland, he joined Celta Vigo's youth ranks, where his talent immediately began to turn heads. After four years with the Galicians, an offer from Real Madrid arose, which the then 18-year-old duly took up in 2009.
Rodrigo would only stay at Los Merengues for about a year, though, where he played exclusively in the club's youth and reserve teams. An enticing opportunity from Benfica in 2010 then pricked his attention, and Rodrigo was off once again, with Madrid receiving an initial €6 million and an additional €12m over the next two seasons.
The Eagles then brokered a deal to send him out on loan to Bolton Wanderers, a move that saw him reunite with former Madrid trainee Marcos Alonso, who's now doing great things at Chelsea. Although he wasn't a roaring success in England, largely because he found himself behind Lee Chung-Yong for his preferred right wing slot, he still displayed some fleeting glimpses of his extraordinary capabilities. Indeed, the opportunity to gain some vital Premier League experience at such a young age under the tough stewardship of Owen Coyle was undoubtedly a vital learning tool.
"I wasn't a regular starter for Bolton but I did get a lot of minutes. I enjoyed it," insisted Rodrigo.
Coyle was keen to point out what an exceptional prospect he believed the Spanish youth international was, noting: "I would never rule Rodrigo out of returning to Real Madrid.
"Rodrigo is outstandingly quick, energetic and brave. He is an unbelievable talent."
After his toils in England, he returned to Portugal, where he really made a name for himself at the professional level. Rodrigo developed beautifully at Benfica, as he began to consistently show off his qualities to great effect. Whether by using his blistering pace, his unpredictability on the dribble or his strength in possession, Rodrigo's time with Benfica was littered with upside.
Playing alongside the likes of Nemanja Matic, Nicolas Gaitan, Oscar Cardozo, Axel Witsel, Nolito and current teammate Enzo Perez, in combination with learning from the managerial expertise of Jorge Jesus, clearly worked wonders for his development.
By the time he moved to Valencia in 2014, aside from being an integral component of Julen Lopetegui's Spanish U21 outfit that won the U21 Euros in 2013, he'd also one league title, one Portuguese Cup, two league cups and been runner up in the Europa League twice with Benfica. Moreover, the fact he'd scored an impressive 45 goals and supplied 17 assists in his 118 outings for the Portuguese giants illustrated aptly why Valencia were so keen to acquire the gifted attacker.
Rodrigo made a promising impression during his first season too, in a campaign where he bagged three goals and laid on a further three in his 31 La Liga appearances as Nuno Espirito Santo's men achieved qualification for the Champions League.
His strong showings even earned him a call up to Vicente Del Bosque's Spain squad, with him making his one and only appearance for his country in La Roja's 4-0 trouncing of Luxembourg. When speaking after what was a dream debut, where he came on in the 82nd minute and assisted Juan Bernat's goal, Rodrigo was clearly over the moon, gleaming: "Making my debut with the senior side is one of the most important days of my career.
"I've been playing for Spain from the youth levels and my goal was to make it to the senior side. Now I have to keep doing well because in order to be here you have to do very well."
Unfortunately, however, his second term was far less successful, as his performances slipped (he only mustered two league goals) and the club plunged into crisis. Nuno was sacked after an underwhelming start to the 2015/2016 crusade and then Gary Neville suffered the same fate following a disastrous stint at the helm.
Pako Ayestaran was charged with guiding the club to the end of the season and subsequently given the job for the 2016/2017 season. An optimistic Rodrigo felt like Ayestaran, who he felt a great connection and understanding with, was the perfect manager for him to get back to his best.
"I think it was a wise decision to keep him at the club," he insisted during preseason.
"He's added a lot of intensity, mobility of the positions of the players on the field. Now the team take the initiative, not only when defending but also attacking, and that will be key for next season."
On a more personal level, Rodrigo then spoke of how Ayestaran's faith and belief in him has been crucial to him regaining his spark. "I now have more confidence to play again and take that joy into my game," he said.
"It is true that my best stage since I arrived at Valencia was the final stretch since Pako took over as coach. When you're playing well and the coach makes you feel good, plus when the gameplan favours you, that will also help you individually so you can grow.
"I hope to have more consistency in my game. That is what makes the difference between great players and normal. This will be my third season, I've totally adapted to the club, and also the way Pako plays favours me and I hope this is a good year for me."
Things certainly didn't go to plan for Ayestaran, though, as he too suffered the indignity of getting sacked. Rodrigo would've felt a palpable sense of dejection about the decision to fire the 53-year-old, but, to his credit, he's knuckled down and produced some encouraging outings under new manager Cesare Prandelli.
Against Barcelona last weekend, the 25-year-old was excellent, as he provided the Barca backline with plenty of headaches from his centre forward position. His pace saw him pose a real threat on the counter, while his instinctive movement inside the box was always dangerous and his slick dribbling had an unsettling effect on his opponents.
In a game full of controversy that Valencia eventually lost 3-2, there was undoubtedly a lot to like about the performance of the enigmatic Brazilian. Indeed, he'll be hoping his efforts against one of the world's finest teams will be just the catalyst he needs to kickstart his campaign.
Only time will tell if it, in fact, will. But considering how inordinately talented he is, it's gotten to the stage of his career where he needs to really start delivering on a regular basis.
He's got the skillset to be a star, it's now up to him to live up to his colossal price tag and fulfill his extraordinary potential.
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Can Rodrigo Moreno Deliver at Valencia?
31st October 2016. By Edward Stratmann.