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Rodri interview: Manchester City midfielder talks Messi, Guardiola, Champions League and Ballon d’Or…

The Manchester City midfielder spoke to AS, opening up on his phenomenal 2023 as the lynchpin of the treble winners.

The Manchester City midfielder spoke to AS, opening up on his phenomenal 2023 as the lynchpin of the treble winners.

On June 11, 2023 Rodrigo (Madrid, 1996) made history with his goal in the final against Inter that gave City their first Champions League title. It was the culmination of an unforgettable year. He also triumphed in the national team and was fifth in the Ballon d’Or.

Has the Champions League final goal changed your life?

Yes, without a doubt. Something like that catapults you to somewhere unique where there are only a few chosen players. Suddenly you have made a part of history with a single moment. That’s not my job, I know: my job is to make the team win from my position as a midfielder. But turning up in those moments puts you into the history books of a team like City, and in their first Champions League win - it’s what you dream of. I remember well the Zidane goal in Glasgow. Or the Iniesta goal in Johannesburg. There are goals that mark the careers of certain players. It happened to me too and I feel fortunate.

Watching back the goal…

I remember it with a lot of happiness. It made me shake. I exploded. It was a very even final, we got there with just about enough energy. The first thing that came to me when I saw the ball was to hit it hard. I said: “Look, just hit it and that’s it”.

But it wasn’t like that…

No. I thought as well that it might have been the only chance I had to do this in my life. Why not place it? I had two or three seconds to think about what to do, which is almost worse, but it was a good thing for me. I changed my idea twice and in the end, since there were a lot of players in the box, I hit it to one side.

“I remember well the Zidane goal in Glasgow. Or the Iniesta goal in Johannesburg”


Iniesta said that before scoring in the World Cup final he heard silence.

And it’s true. It seemed like I had 5 or 6 seconds to see what to do, and Iniesta said the same thing. The truth is that the move is two seconds long and it goes quickly. And when I see that I’ve scored…

You can’t prepare for those celebrations.

No way! It was the quickest sprint I’ve done in my life, if they’d have measured my speed (laughs)... it’s a moment of explosion, of ecstasy. I also remember thinking to myself: “Rodri, you’ve got 20 minutes to go just yet, it’s not over”.

Rodri bites the trophy as City celebrate winning their first ever Champions League.
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Rodri bites the trophy as City celebrate winning their first ever Champions League.PAUL ELLISAFP

Do you think that goal has changed how you’re seen in Spain?

I understand how things work in football. Sometimes what you do on the pitch isn’t valued and scoring goals is. I’ve noticed that my estimation in Spain has gone up as a player, but that goal has definitely catapulted it. As well as winning the Nations League with Spain.

Does winning the Champions League give you a sense of relief?

We had had the dream for many years, and with a lot of, although I don’t like saying this, in inverted commas, ‘failures’. We always ended up coming short.

“At the start you could see Haaland was anxious; now he is much more positive”


What did Guardiola say to you?

When you achieve something like that your heart opens, you say what you feel. Pep grabbed me, full of emotions, and said “We finally did it”. I remember that we lifted the trophy and he was still explaining concepts of the game to me, why we did some things well and others not so well, why we didn’t find the third man in the build-up. I told him “boss, let’s enjoy it, let’s enjoy it! We’re going to celebrate it! There will be time for that next year!” He’s a coach that cares right up to that point. We deserved the Champions League.

It’s curious: Rodrigo needs Guardiola just as Guardiola needs Rodrigo.

It’s a reciprocal thing. I’ve always praised what he has given me, and he has said that he has fed off the great players that he has had in his teams. He has been at the best clubs with players who have defined eras. That’s the key to success: the symbiosis between the players and managers. That’s what we both do.

This season he criticised you after getting sent off against Nottingham Forest, saying that “he should learn to not do these things”. Is he a perfectionist with you?

In football, praise weakens you. When you talk about Manchester City, that we are a great team… he sees what people don’t: possible relaxation, how difficult it is to win when you’ve won a lot, that the differences in the Premier League are small. At this level you always have to be on it. That’s what he takes care of with those small corrections, they are the nuances of a coach.

And you have an endless number of tactical nuances…

Not long ago Pep spoke to me about how happy it makes him when the team feels comfortable and superior, beyond the results. We had found the way for the team to be best distributed. The players felt comfortable on the pitch. It was like the culmination of having tried different systems: with the full-back inside, with a line of three, playing with wing-backs…

“I’ve put on ten kilos since I arrived in England. It’s necessary.”


What does Haaland bring apart from just goals?

His nose and voraciousness haven’t changed, but those who know him from before and look at him now will know that he is completely different in terms of occupying spaces and knowing what to do. At the start you could see he was anxious. He understood we were a different team, who spent a lot of time on the ball, he knew he wasn’t going to participate as much, that he had to wait for the moment to strike. They’re things that one has to adapt to and learn. Now I see him as much more positive. He says to me, “Rodri, control of the game, control of the game, forget about me.” That’s understanding the team. Apart from that, he’s grown a lot in terms of dropping back to pick up the ball, moving away, going into space…

His personality scares the opposition…

When I’ve played against Norway, and since I know him, his personality doesn’t frighten me, but his qualities do. We can’t forget that he’s a 22/23-year-old with the inquisitiveness that comes with someone at his age. It’s like everyone when they start out: you spend the day laughing, joking, but there’s nothing of that serious character that it looks like he has. He’s really kind, really cheerful, he speaks about everything, he’s just a fantastic guy. And above all he has a hunger and a voraciousness to care for his body, to improve, to always be ready. In that sense he reminds me of Cristiano and Messi.

Rodri has become an integral part of Pep Guardiola's team.
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Rodri has become an integral part of Pep Guardiola's team.JAVIER GANDULDIARIO AS

Is the good atmosphere in the dressing room another reason behind the success?

We’ve matured a lot as a club, as a team. We have brought in people who have done good things, not just in a football sense, but also in terms of the hierarchy and the good atmosphere. You can see that on the pitch. A player clears off the line and three or four teammates rush over to applaud him… it’s the details. It’s like when you lose and have doubts, in those moments you see we are a team. We’ve managed to build a great family.

There are particular people in the group like the quiet Bernardo Silva and Jack Grealish, who is energetic…

And people know just 5% of what we all experience together. All day long there are jokes and laughter. As well as arguments when the time comes, of course…

You give [the arguments] out, you don’t get them…

It’s strange, I don’t consider myself neither young nor old. I’m a captain in the group and I’m here to advise, not just the young players but the new ones. In the Premier League there are a lot of ups and downs, you have to be united.

Have you been taught how to arrive in the box or is it something that you’ve picked up little by little? Yesterday Rodri scored against Sheffield United.

You always try to grow. When I first arrived, in my first year, my objective wasn’t to get to the box, just adapt and know what I needed to do. When you have that sorted and you understand the team, you add new things. I was in the Villarreal first team for two years, then a short while at Atlético Madrid. In the end, playing three or four years at the same team allows you to advance in different areas. I saw that I could be better there. Nobody demands you get to the opponent’s box, but if you do then you go up a level.

“I’ve always looked towards players like Bruno Soriano, Busquets, Marcos Senna or Xabi Alonso”


You’ve also transformed physically…

I’ve put on ten kilos since I arrived in England. It’s necessary. Your body adapts. The nutritionists we have are prepared for a more physical league that requires more strength. Muscle structure is formed after playing games, with strength. Now I see the same thing with Pau Torres at Aston Villa. At Villarreal he was skinny, like myself, but he’s filling out. You can tell he’s come to the Premier League.

How is your knee after taking a knock in the Club World Cup final?

Good, it was a big scare. I’ve never been tackled so hard before. Fortunately it didn’t come to anything.

Five trophies, plus one with the national team, and three MVP awards - how do you rate 2023?

The word is unbeatable. Everything was won that you can dream of at both club and national team level: winning 5 trophies with City and one with the national team, it was a perfect year. Not just on a collective level, but an individual one too.

Rodri arrived at City after stints with Villarreal and Atlético Madrid in LaLiga.
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Rodri arrived at City after stints with Villarreal and Atlético Madrid in LaLiga.JAVIER GANDULDIARIO AS

And you came 5th in the Ballon d’Or rankings...

Yeah, I’m proud. The individual awards don’t depend on what you do. They depend on what you can achieve on the pitch as a team. To be in the top 5 surrounded by those players… it’s already praiseworthy. What made me most proud was representing my country in the 30 finalists. Hopefully there can be more Spaniards in the future, that would mean we’re doing things right.

How was the Ballon d’Or gala for you?

I remember a lot of things, it was very glamorous. We know what the French are like with these things. There were a lot of famous people. It was an unforgettable experience with influential people from all over. As well, what was more important for me, the 30 best players.

Is that your place?

In terms of my personality, of course not. I’m a calmer person and I don’t usually go to things like that. But in terms of football it makes you praise what you’ve done. You are there with players from Madrid, PSG… it was really good. I have a lot of memories from then.

“Messi deserved the Ballon d’Or”


Only the magicians (Messi, Haaland & Mbappé) were ahead of you, as well as Dr Bruyne, your teammate.

I was the first on the list of mortal people, as they say. The current level of football is so high. We came from a World Cup that Argentina had won and that’s why Messi deserved it. But we’re talking about Mbappé or Haaland, who score 40 or 50 goals.

Did you get any special messages that you can tell us about?

Lots of people called me. When you go to a gala like that your impact is multiplied by 100. People go crazy, me too. Fortunately I have people around me who make me see things my own way. Obviously you have to enjoy the moment, but above everything I listen to those who are with me every day. Maybe there are people who text me once, but I prefer people who are with me daily.

Rodri scored City's first goal against Sheffield United.
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Rodri scored City's first goal against Sheffield United.JASON CAIRNDUFFAction Images via Reuters

Whose steps did you follow in football?

I’ve always looked towards players like Bruno Soriano, Busquets, Marcos Senna or Xabi Alonso. But football evolves. Those players played the football of before, now it’s played in a different way. I’m the evolution of the player I try to emulate, but more physical and relentless, which is what the Premier League asks of you.

And who will follow in your footsteps?

Spain has always created great midfielders, but I would say Zubimendi. He’s a great guy who wants to improve. And also La Real are doing things really well. In Spain we’ve been working well in that position. In fact, it’s the part of the pitch that best works for us.

“I have a lot of room for improvement”


There’s the Euros in 2024…

It’s in my sights. It really excites me. The Nations League was important to convince the group that it can be won. We are aware we’re not favourites and that we’ve failed at big tournaments recently. That’s why we go into it with the humility that we have the chance and squad to do it, but you have to do a lot more than the others. That’s what I want to get into my teammates: you have to play like a small team, working harder than the others and being more united than the rest. That’s the way to attack the throne. It’s not just saying that you’re good, it’s saying you’re good but you work like you’re not.

You hardly have a break [until the Euros], how do you think you’ll be in June?

It’s tough for there to be a moment in the season where you can catch your breath. The Premier League demands daily and you have no room to relax. It can all be decided on just a few points. There has to be effort, you have to take risks and trust your team. Football is moving towards there being no breaks.

How do you see the amount of games and the injuries with national teams? Both Ancelotti and Guardiola have complained about it.

I think they should act, and quickly. The human body gets used to competing, but there has to be a limit. You can see it with the amount of injuries that there have been. It’s not good for the spectacle. The more a player has rested, the better the spectacle.

Rodrigo with the Nations League trophy during celebrations in Madrid on June 19, 2023.
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Rodrigo with the Nations League trophy during celebrations in Madrid on June 19, 2023.OSCAR DEL POZOAFP

Gavi was a victim of that…

Yes, that was a very tough day. Gavi is someone who is loved greatly, he has a very strong personality. Sometimes he gets criticised for it, but personally I love it. He shows the purity of someone who enjoys playing football by going to the maximum, doing anything for what he loves. He has to improve in some areas, but I like his way of being. Football has been cruel to him. In the half-time break [against Georgia] we repeated to him that he’s young and this will make him stronger. We were all trying to convince him that he’ll get back to being how he was. Today, you can overcome those injuries. We have the measures to do it. I told him not to rush. It was all very difficult.

What objectives have you got for 2024?

I’m halfway through my career. I want to keep on winning and improving. I am not happy to stay where I am. I have a lot of room for improvement. Hopefully I can do again what we did with City. Haaland said the same: if we’ve done it once, we can do it again. And then there’s Euro 2024. I will get there in my most mature moment, we can do great things.

Happy New year!

The same to all of you!