Real Madrid: One step forward and two steps back for Rodrygo Goes

Real Madrid, Rodrygo Goes (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Rodrygo Goes (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images) /

When Real Madrid announced the signing of Rodrygo Goes, fans were rightfully excited at the prospect of nabbing another top Brazilian talent after Vinicius. Indeed, some thought that he had a higher ceiling than the former Flamengo starlet–and they might not have been wrong.

Back at Santos, Rodrygo was among the most difficult players for defenders to deal with. His incredible burst of pace combined with his slick dribbling made him an indispensable asset for his then-team Santos.

On top of that, he also had innate decision-making skills in the final third.

The way he cut inside from the left with the use of his nimble feet was reminiscent of another great former Santos talent who started wowing the world even before hitting puberty. Back then, Florentino Perez couldn’t capitalize and lost that said talent to Barcelona.

Never again, is what the president of the Galacticos thought to himself at that very moment. Since then, Madrid have been able to sign every top talent that sprung up in the Brazilian circuit–with Rodrygo being one among them.

The youngster was dubbed as the next Neymar and one can see why. For Madridistas, they now had two players who could rule the left-inside role for years to come but there was one big problem: there is only one left-inside position.

And so, the conversion began. The Galacticos made a pact with Santos to play Rodrygo on the right as long as he turned 18 and moved to the Spanish capital. The Brazilian club obliged and the next Neymar was suddenly no more.


Real Madrid, Rodrygo Goes, Marco Asensio (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Rodrygo Goes, Marco Asensio (Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images) /

Rodrygo goes from confident to timid

Rodrygo went past one, then another, and then another… Elche defenders were all over the place when the Brazilian youngster made his inward run from the right. Right then, at that moment, you could see the Rodrygo that we all expected–the one who was compared to Neymar–but then it blacked out, snapped, in just the next moment as he made a wayward side pass to Toni Kroos, ensuring that nothing came off after the great run.

You see, Rodrygo makes a step forward but then after that, he goes two steps back. You can take this sentence literally with the way he plays and also figuratively with his career. Against Athletic Club, he had one of his best outings as a Madrid player, constantly troubling from the right.

But then against Elche, he was timid, almost scared, to do anything out of the ordinary. At one point, you would have been forgiven for thinking that Marco Asensio would have had a greater impact than him in the said match.

This is not something uncommon with Rodrygo. The fact that a player as talented as him has not been able to make himself an undisputed starter on the right–despite facing competition from someone who, when not on the treatment table, spends more time on the golf course than on a football pitch and someone who scored some amazing Clasico goals about 5 years back and is still somehow relevant because of it–is a testament to Rodrygo’s halted career at Real Madrid.

You see, the problem with Rodrygo is that he seems too afraid to try something innovative. Mistakes are a part of the game but that doesn’t stop either Vinicius or even Eduardo Camavinga from trying new, imaginative, things despite making a mess of them every now and then.

Real Madrid, Eduardo Camavinga
Real Madrid, Eduardo Camavinga (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

Remember, RW is not Rodrygo’s true position

That is actually the whole point: to make mistakes, to learn from them, and, most importantly, never be afraid about what could go wrong when you have the talent to make so many things right.

This confidence is something that sets the truly elite talent from normally elite talents, this is what separates the likes of Vinicius, Mbappe, Haaland, Camavinga, Nico, Jude Bellingham, and some more from the other talented youngsters out there.

With Rodrygo, it is quite easy to notice that he is just out there to play it safe, help the defense out and not make mistakes while he is on the pitch.

But the question we have to ask ourselves is: is it really Rodrygo’s fault?

In the beginning, I mentioned how Rodrygo no longer plays in his natural left-wing role. The consensus was always to make him play on the right because the left always belonged to Vinicius or Mbappe (sorry Hazard).

And with that, football may have lost one of its best left-inside potentials. It is hard to say with 100% confidence that he would have been a big deal by now had he been deployed on the left and nurtured as an inside forward.

However, what can be assured is that he would have been much more comfortable on the left and, as a result, not be so hesitant to try new things. When you are playing in a position you are not sure about, it is always difficult to imagine movements, let alone execute them, as you find yourself second-guessing all the time.

Real Madrid, Vinicius Jr., Rodrygo Goes (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
Real Madrid, Vinicius Jr., Rodrygo Goes (Photo by Diego Souto/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

Rodrygo is more hesitant on the right side

One can find these exact vibes when watching Rodrygo play on the right. There is a sense of reluctance from him when it comes to running at defenders as he seems more comfortable playing it safe and passing it to the midfield instead of taking matters into his own hand.

And that–exactly–can be seen in that phase of play against Elche where he received the ball on the right, deep in his own half, went past three men and then, when the time was perhaps to continue his run with his blistering pace and put the defenders on their toes, he decided to pass it to Kroos and slow down the tempo, giving Elche defenders the time to recover.

One can only wonder what Vinicius would have done in the exact same scenario. Knowledge from prior data points towards the Real Madrid No. 20 continuing his run at least until the edge of the box.

But prior data will also tell you that Vinicius is almost always doing those things from the left–his natural position–a privilege that is not afforded to Rodrygo.

So the question is: should Rodrygo leave Real Madrid and try to restart his career on the left wing, his best position? Or should he try more to make an impact from the right and make that flank his own at Madrid?

The Bayesian inside me indicates that the latter might not work and the skeptic in me worries whether he can even have the same impact from the left as he used if/when he starts playing there again as it has been years since he has played there regularly.

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One thing is certain, though, in both cases, the onus is on Rodrygo to work really hard because that is the only way he can ensure he reaches his incredible potential.

But whether or not he will still be at Real Madrid at that point remains to be seen.