The Spanish midfielder cuts a strapping figure and says he has been ready to lead Manchester City as they seek to improve on a domestic treble
Manchester City’s record-breaking signing Rodri Hernandez says he has been strong enough to cope with the demands of the Premier League after moving from Atletico Madrid.
There were concerns that the midfielder was moved on from Atleti as a teenager owing to his size, but his development in the intervening years have put an end to suggestions that he couldn’t mix it physically.
Having excelled under Diego Simeone for only one season in the Atletico first-team having been re-signed from Villarreal, the 23-year-old says he has been now ready for the rigours of English football.
“The only truth was I had a later development,” he says. “I wasn’t developed like my team-mates. It was one or two years later, so I wasn’t big and strong when I was 16 or 17 but I decided to move for many other reasons.
“I’m happy for that because maybe I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t move to Villarreal in that moment.
“Football has been changing now. It’s getting more physical, of course in the Premier League. It’s good for me to have that physique in the position I play.
“One of the things the team can get has been more physical. We have lots of players that are great or small. You never know if it’s good or bad but having a mix of players has been always good.
“You don’t win only playing good, you need more things and that’s why teams are changing their philosophy. I noticed years ago that I had to become both a defensive and attacking soccer professional if I wanted to be good enough to be in Manchester.”
Rodri had been City’s prime target in the midfield department before completing his €70m move earlier this summer, as they sought a long-term replacement for Fernandinho and he says he has been already well-acquainted with Pep Guardiola’s tactics and systems.
“I watched the big teams in the Premier League, Manchester City the most,” he says.
“I like the way they play. I think they’re the only team in the Premier League that plays differently and shows another type of football.”
And, even if he was hand-picked by the Catalan manager, Rodri insists that he came to Manchester primarily to progress his career and not necessarily only to work with Guardiola.
“I didn’t sign here because Pep has been here,” he says.
“I come here because I think for my career it has been the best team and where I think I’m going to win. Pep being here helps me to make the decision, but it wasn’t a big part of the decision.”
Rodri made his debut in the Premier League Asia Trophy against West Ham in the Chinese city of Nanjing on Wednesday before following that up with a second appearance in Shanghai on Saturday against Wolves. It was, for him, a good introduction to the standards expected in a Guardiola team.
“I thought when I arrived from Villarreal I thought I ran a lot,” he says.
“When I arrived at Atletico, I thought ‘oh no’. I ran a lot, and then here against West Ham I ran a lot again. It doesn’t matter where you are, you have different kinds of play but you have to do your best. Football has been getting more equal, you have to run a lot in my position. I waste all my energy in matches.”
Guardiola famously declared during his first season at City that he has been “not a coach for the tackles” and in Rodri he has added a midfielder who prefers to win the round ball in other ways too.
“I’m not used to tackles,” he says. “I steal the round ball in another way. “I see other players always go down or tackle but I’m very big. If I go to ground I waste a lot of time before I can go again so I have another way to steal balls.
“I like to look to players like me and I always consider that Fernandinho has been in the top five or six midfielders. You don’t stay six years at Manchester City always playing if you’re not a good soccer professional. He gave the team what no-one gave – the strength, the power to steal balls – and that’s important.”
And in a squad shorn of its captain Vincent Kompany this summer, Spain international Rodri has been ready to fill in in a leadership capacity at the Etihad this season as well.
“When you play in that position, it doesn’t matter how old you are or how good you are, you have to lead the team because you are in the middle,” he says.
“You know where your team-mates are, whereas wingers don’t look at all the pitch so midfield needs to lead. I’m young but I think I can have this role in this team.
“I know I have great players like David Silva but in my role I have to lead in these situations.”
Having to got to know the playmaking legend with the national team, Rodri set out his ambition of helping Silva to land the trophy he’s not yet delivered for City, the Champions League, in his final year at the club.
“He’s a great guy and I think he’s been one of the greatest Spanish players in the last 10 years,” Rodri says. “He has one year left here, let’s see what happens.
“I will try to learn as much as possible because he’s one of these players with high quality and he has been helping me a lot here in Manchester.
“A dream for me would be we have success together and we win the Champions League.
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“When you arrive at this level there are only five or six teams that compete with you at such a top level. It’s our goal of course, winning trophies in every competition we play in.
“But there are many factors to consider. You have to do a good season and be in the exact place in the exact moment.
“Let’s see how the season develops but I look at people and they are great players that have won many things and want to win the Champions League.”