Rodrigo on life at Leeds United: ‘I am probably in one of my best moments here’

Rodrigo says Leeds United’s first Premier League win of the season was a “necessity” but not a pressure, and now they have achieved it they need to continue in the same psychological vein.

Leeds United’s Rodrigo is challenged by Watford’s Juraj Kucka, as the Whites finally secured their first Premier League win. Picture: Simon Hulme

With his team up and running, the forward says he is getting close to his best after a 2020-21 disrupted by injury and Covid-19.

The Whites beat Watford 1-0 on Saturday to end their winless start to the campaign. Coach Marcelo Bielsa admitted afterwards it was a relief.

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“Now we have achieved the first win we cannot lose the ambition and the mentality that we had before because sometimes when you have the necessity to win you are always more worried about what is going to happen,” said Rodrigo, whose side do not play again until a week tomorrow at Southampton because of the international break.

Rodrigo. Picture: Bruce Rollinson

“I think now we just have to keep the same mentality and I think we are in a good way. We achieved what we wanted which was the first win and I hope we can keep this progression from the beginning of the season until the next international break (in November).

“Before the game the team felt the necessity to win – not the pressure – and confidence at the same time because we thought we deserved more in terms of points before the game.”

Rodrigo shares his coach’s view that he is a player who needs the rhythm of regular games to be at his best.

His only real run of consecutive starts last season was 10 in December/January but this season the only match he has not kicked off was August’s 2-2 draw with Everton, when he was an unused substitute.

Captain Liam Cooper with Raphinha and Rodrigo at the end of the Watford game. Picture: Simon Hulme

Despite being overlooked by his country for this week’s Nations League finals and despite being yet to score this season, Rodrigo feels his greater involvement is showing on the field.

“I feel really, really happy and comfortable to have some games in a row,” he said. “For me and every player it’s important to play as many games as possible.

“I think I am really close to it (top form).

“I had some small things to polish and to try to improve but I think I am on a good way now, I am really happy with my performances and the last games, especially when we win because that’s why we are here. That gives us energy for the next game and to overcome everything, the difficulties that we have during the week, the difficulties of the injuries and the difficulties of the opponent.

“I am probably in one of my best moments here and I just want to work to maintain it and of course to improve.

“I would like to score more goals, it’s true as an attacking player.

“I’m trying to do my best but I feel I can do better, maybe participate even more in the attacking of the team. We have a style where the attacking players need to defend a lot, we need to press a lot and at the same time we need to make a difference in attack.”

Despite everything that handicapped him last season, a player who made 17 Premier League appearances on loan at Bolton Wanderers from Real Madrid in 2010-11 insists adjusting back to English football was never difficult.

“I have felt comfortable since I arrived to be honest,” he said in fluent English.

“It’s true that these moments didn’t help but I am 30 and I understand that these kinds of situations happen sometimes.

“I knew before I came here that always when you get to a new club, a new country, a new style of football, a new league, everything, sometimes it takes a little bit of time.

“It’s true that the different situations didn’t help but really I always feel comfortable here with the team, with the club, with the fans since the first game when they started to go back to the stadium.

“I think this year I have the luck and the capacity to play a lot of games, a lot of segments of games, and I think this, for me, is really important for my style of play. I need to be sharp, I need to have the agility and power to try to unbalance (opponents) and to try to make the difference.”

As someone who contracted coronavirus a year ago, Rodrigo is fully vaccinated, as are his family but he is an exception in the Premier League, where only seven of the 20 clubs have more players fully vaccinated than not. Across the Football League, around 49 per cent are believed to have been double-jabbed.

The UK rate is recorded as 67 per cent of the population – slightly higher in England.

It has become a contentious issue, but one the 30-year-old says players must make their own choices on.

“It’s a difficult topic,” he admitted. “People have to be free to choose if they are vaccinated or not.

“I think the vaccination is very important. I took the two doses of the vaccine, (as did) my family, my friends.

“It’s really important to be vaccinated against Covid, it helps the world to keep moving, but that’s just my opinion.”