With legal disputes over Jean-Kevin Augustin’s January 2020 non-transfer still rumbling on, Rodrigo may or may not technically have been Leeds’s most expensive signing since Rio Ferdinand but either way, spending £27m on a Spain centre-forward was a big deal.
Two goals in a 32-minute substitute appearance when Leeds were last at Turf Moor in May were a tantalising glimpse of what Rodrigo is capable of. He might have missed out on Spain’s European Championship squad but he is a player of great technical ability.
Unfortunately, in a first year disrupted by injury and Covid-19, the highlights have been frustratingly rare.
The improvement in Patrick Bamford, recognised with a maiden England call-up this week, the player Rodrigo probably thought he had been signed to displace, has only added to the frustrations for a player coach Marcelo Bielsa says needs to get into the rhythm of regular games more than most.
Seven goals in a career of 15 Premier League starts is a good ratio, but 15 Premier League starts is not such a great number.
Last week it was a minor muscle strain that saw Mateusz Klich and substitute Tyler Roberts used in the No 10 role the 30-year-old has been repurposed into under Bielsa. In midweek he was on League Cup duty, starting against Crewe Alexandra. Nowadays that is more often a sign of a player who needs minutes under his belt than a frontline figure. Adam Forshaw was playing his first competitive football for 697 days and Diego Llorente was getting 45 minutes which Bielsa say have put the centre-back in his thoughts for tomorrow’s televised game.
When asked if Rodrigo’s performance in May would count for anything on tomorrow’s teamsheet, Bielsa quite rightly and quite politely said no. With Bamford, Klich, Stuart Dallas, Kalvin Phillips and Junior Firpo all fit, the Spaniard may well be back on the bench, hoping he comes on before Roberts this time.
Leeds’s coach is very clear on whose fault it is that Rodrigo’s impact thus far has been less than expected: it is Bielsa’s.
“Rodrigo is a player with all the faculties to triumph at Leeds and in English football, his football and technical resources can’t be better, his physical responses are one of the best in the team, he is a very serious professional, very dedicated and very conscious,” says the Argentinian, who tends to save his fulsome praise for special occasions.
“He has had an important influence on the team, (but) less than we expected.
“When it is about a player like Rodrigo that doesn’t have aspects (of his game) to correct – that is to say he trains a lot, he has high physical resources, he has technical resources above the average and he is having continuity – it’s about me putting him into the team and him having a bigger impact than he is currently having.
“I sincerely exempt him from any responsibility because in every game and every training session and in his private life he is impeccable. He is a player that leaves it all out there and he fights especially to triumph.
“He is not a player that is just happy with not having an impact on the team. Any manager would want him to try and be in their team.”
It was classic Bielsa, a man rightly given so much praise, but always looking to offload it.
In talking about Bamford’s selection for England’s September internationals, manager Gareth Southgate mentioned the centre-forward was “supremely well coached”. Asked if he was actually prepared for once to take the credit due to him, Bielsa declined yesterday.
“If I thought I had merit in that I would tell you,” he replied. “But sincerely I don’t see everything from the inside.
“It is what he has done that has made him evolve and resulted in him being called up.
“The main characteristics he has have always been the same ones and the fact he has increased his effectiveness has had a good effect on his game. There are centre-forwards who have few chances at goal and there are forwards who have plenty.
“Bamford usually has chances during the games and for him to improve his (goalscoring) efficiency has been an important step.
“I am happy because he has made a lot of effort to be called up and finally he has managed to achieve it. He deserves it and I hope this is the start of his evolution as an international player.”
Meanwhile, Leeds have signed Norwegian youth international Leo Hjelde as they continue to improve the squad beneath the first team.
The 18-year-old defender, who joins from Celtic for an undisclosed fee, will start his Elland Road career training with the Under-23s, like fellow summer recruits Lewis Bate, Amari Miller and Sean McGurk.
Leeds’s work on developing young players has been reflected in the latest youth international squads. Academy product Charlie Cresswell, son of former player Richard, has been named in England’s Under-21 squad for the first time and the Under-20s have called on Bate, Cody Drameh, Sam Greenwood and Joe Gelhardt.
Midfielder Charlie Allen is in the Northern Ireland Under-19s squad to face Faroe Islands.