Leeds United’s record signing Rodrigo knows his first season at Elland Road was not exactly plain sailing.
By Lee Sobot
Setbacks through either injury or coronavirus meant game time was limited during his first year with the Whites.
Despite finishing the 2020-21 Premier League campaign with a bang, Rodrigo was overlooked for a place in the Spain squad at the European Championships.
Yet the £27m recruit is looking forward, not back, and says he has time on his side to achieve his next goals for both club and country.
From a club perspective, even a repeat of last season’s efforts would be a major achievement given United’s ninth-place finish as a newly-promoted side.
Rodrigo, though, hopes he will be in for a less disrupted passage throughout the forthcoming campaign having been hampered by either groin and muscle injuries or Covid-19 last term.
The Spaniard sat out 12 league games and 12 of his 26 league appearances came from the bench.
Despite finishing the campaign with four goals in four games, Spain boss Luis Enrique opted against including Rodrigo in his squad for the Euros.
But, at 30 years of age, Rodrigo has his sights on the next major international tournaments and first and foremost a smoother second year at Leeds.
“Every season is a new opportunity to grow,” Rodrigo told The YEP.
“Last season, unfortunately, I had some injuries and different moments that broke my progression a little bit during the season.
"In my opinion, I finished the season in a good way.
"Unfortunately, I couldn’t go to the Euros but, fortunately, I have the time to prepare myself better for the next one so that’s part of football.
"I am really focused and have the hunger to show again that I can help the team and help my team-mates to achieve or to do something similar to what we did last season.”
For Rodrigo, there is already one big difference as he and Leeds approach the new campaign.
The forward joined Leeds from Valencia at the end of August 2020 which meant missing United’s pre-season last summer.
Ask anyone at Leeds and they will tell you that this year’s pre-season is even harder as Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa looks to not just equal but better the efforts of last term.
“It’s really, really hard!” admitted Rodrigo, asked about the demands of pre-season 2021.
“Last season I didn’t do the pre-season because I arrived at the end of the summer. But we are working really hard during these weeks and I think we will be good and ready for the next season.”
In amongst the hard yards at Thorp Arch, Rodrigo has been fulfilling another role within United’s squad in helping new recruit €15m Junior Firpo settle in.
Dominican Republic-born left-back Firpo joined Leeds from Barcelona last month and Rodrigo says the presence of himself along with fellow Spanish speakers Raphinha and Helder Costa is helping Firpo bed in.
“Everyone is trying to help him to get used to the team, to get used to the way that we work,” said Rodrigo.
“It is not easy arriving to a new country - new teammates, a new language, everything.
"But it’s true that he has me, I speak a little of Spanish with him and Rapha and Helder also.
“I think each day he feels more comfortable and I am sure we will have a great season if we have everyone helping each other do their best.”
One year after his own move to Leeds, Rodrigo is well and truly settled - with all eyes on United’s remaining pre-season friendlies and the new Premier League campaign.
The £27m star took in his first action of the summer when playing 61 minutes of Wednesday’s friendly at Blackburn Rovers which ended in a 1-1 draw but Rodrigo says the side will naturally be better when the season gets going.
Asked what Bielsa was looking for in the friendlies, Rodrigo reasoned: “I think he wants to try and see the team and the intensity that is there and the different characteristics in our group.
"We know that, from a physical point of view, we are a really strong team and, of course, it is not easy to achieve this level in the first game of the pre-season.
“It’s quite a long process. We have to work on the coordination of movement, defensive movements, offensive movements because we are a team that needs it.
“Now we have other training to keep going to arrive in the best way for the next season.”