Sam Carney profiles the Swiss defender who's attracting attention from several European clubs after a good World Cup...
The 60-second story
Born in Switzerland to a Spanish father and a Chilean mother, Ricardo Rodriguez has always been Swiss at heart. He is proud to feature in a national side that is finally getting the plaudits it deserves after years of being dismissed as dull and tedious.
“This is the best Switzerland of all time,” Rodriguez suggests, “we’ve got a good blend of young and old and our motivation is high.” Many of the current side play their club football in Germany, and Rodriguez is no exception. He is a regular at left-back for 2008/09 champions VfL Wolfsburg, who, despite experiencing mid-table mediocrity in the intervening years, came within a whisker of qualifying for the Champions League last term.
Rodriguez started his career at local club FC Zurich, showing a glimpse of what was to come with two goals and five assists over the course of the season and a half he featured for the first team. This was enough to convince Die Wölfe to snap up Rodriguez for £7.5 million – a large amount of money to pay for a relatively unproven 19-year-old. Rodriguez took time to bed in, but eventually found his forte as a defensively accomplished, yet buccaneering full-back; the type of player big clubs cry out for in the epoch of counter-attacking football.
After a strong World Cup, where he has stood out among many excellent performers in his position, it is only a matter of time before Rodriguez is given the chance to prove himself at the summit of continental football.
Why you need to know him
Rodriguez is a key part of a ‘multi-kulti’ Switzerland side doing their best to eradicate the typical perception of them being a dour outfit. While the country itself struggles with the cultural implications of immigration, the national team has thrived in recent years, regularly qualifying for major tournaments and being ranked in the top 10 in the world. The core of the current team is mostly composed of second-generation immigrants, and has played together since the ‘Wild Boys’ side that won the 2009 Under-17 World Cup.
- Name: Ricardo Rodriguez
- Age: 21
- Position: Left-back
- Height: 5ft 11ins
- Previous Clubs: FC Zurich
- Current Clubs: VfL Wolfsburg (75 apps, 5 goals)
- International Record: Switzerland (22 apps, 0 goals)
The Swiss emerged victorious in Nigeria thanks largely to the likes of Rodriguez, Granit Xhaka and Haris Seferovic, and have added further quality since in the form of bulky winger Xherdan Shaqiri, who is also qualified to play for Albania and Kosovo. The diverse Swiss qualified for Brazil largely due to a miserly defence; despite the presence of Arsenal misfits Philipp Senderos and Johan Djourou, the Nati conceded just six goals in 10 games.
The ever-present Rodriguez was a major reason behind this, providing defensive solidity on the left to complement Stephan Lichtsteiner’s meandering on the opposite flank. However, Rodriguez has also shown that he can operate higher up the pitch, scoring five times and providing nine assists for Wolfsburg during the 2013/14 season.
His most effective performance in the World Cup came in the Swiss’ opening game. Deployed almost as a wing-back in the second-half, Rodriguez was decisive, setting up both goals against Ecuador.
That display, coupled with the job he did on Angel di Maria in the knockout rounds, should have placed Rodriguez firmly in the judging panel’s thoughts when it came to deciding upon a team of the tournament.
Rodriguez is a genuine threat going forward, as his influence last season for both club and country testifies. His positioning, high up the pitch, poses questions to the opposition winger, pinning them back and providing a base to launch attacks in tandem with his colleague on the left hand side.
At club level, this colleague is the Croatian Ivan Perisic, and the two combined to devastating effect last season, giving Wolfsburg an extra edge that so nearly brought Champions League football to the club for only the second time. Like Leighton Baines, Rodriguez is particularly strong at delivering crosses, which the likes of Ivica Olic and Bas Dost have proved able to capitalise upon.
At almost 6ft tall, Rodriguez has the build of a centre-back, allowing him to boss his opponents both on the ground and in the air. He is strong in the tackle and reads the game well, as is shown by his World Cup average of 5 tackles and 2.5 interceptions per game. True to his Latin roots, Rodriguez can strike a mean dead-ball, scoring free-kicks against Borussia Dortmund and VfB Stuttgart last season.
Like any young defender lacking experience, Rodriguez sometimes needs guidance in regards to his positioning and defensive discipline, especially when playing against superior opposition.
In the World Cup group game against France, Rodriguez and Lichtsteiner pushed too high up the pitch, leaving Switzerland exposed to numerous French counter-attacks. The Swiss conceded five in that game, but it could have been far more, with Mathieu Valbuena in particular being allowed too much room down Rodriguez’s flank.
Whether his positioning was down to Ottmar Hitzfeld’s tactical instructions is open to debate, but Rodriguez kept pushing, and despite two late consolations, the French were allowed to look threatening throughout. The lack of a leadership figure in the Swiss side that night was all too obvious.
Perhaps, in future years, Rodriguez can provide this influence, but, for now, he needs to maintain his concentration and discover a happy medium between attacking and defending.
"Maybe after the World Cup in June [he can leave] but it will not be easy as many clubs are interested in him,” responded Rodriguez’s agent Gianluca Di Domenico to the persistent transfer rumours that hovered around the full-back during his annus mirabilis. Even more managers will be sniffing around now after the 21 year-old’s impressive performances in Brazil.
Did you know?
Rodriguez has two brothers currently playing professional football back home in Switzerland. Francisco Jose Rodriguez plys his trade for Ricardo’s old club, FC Zurich, while Robert Rodriguez turns out for St. Gallen.
What happens next?
- Shooting 6
- Heading 7
- Passing 6
- Tackling 7
- Pace 7
- Dribbling 7
- Creativity 8
- Work-rate 7
Top quality left-backs have proved hard to come by in recent years, with Barcelona’s Jordi Alba and Bayern Munich’s David Alaba perhaps the only true current ‘world-class’ occupants of the position.
Rodriguez certainly has the potential to perform at a similar level. He has a calmer temperament than Alba, and is blessed with greater physical attributes, while his prowess from dead-ball situations is arguably equal to that of the impressive Alaba.
At the moment, Rodriguez is an exciting talent buoyed by a remarkable season of football. He needs another few of those under his belt, at a top European club, if he is to place himself among the upper echelons of footballing full-backs.
Inter Milan and Manchester United have apparently registered their interest and with both clubs recovering from disappointing seasons, the San Siro or Old Trafford sound like ideal destinations for the worldly Rodriguez. Other clubs to be credited with an interest include Arsenal and Liverpool.