2018 22under22 Countdown – #21: Rodrygo


“I’m very happy to be Rodrygo’s idol. It’s an honor to see him try to follow my footsteps.” – Neymar

Date of Birth: January 9th, 2001 (17 years old)
Nationality: Brazilian
Position: Winger
Club Appearances: 30 (9 goals, 3 assists)
International Appearances: None
EiF Ability Rating: 54

*EiF Ability Rating is a representation of a combination of the player’s current ability and potential ability. It is determined by multiple rounds of voting, and then an addition of the scores given by each judge. The maximum score a player can have is 80.

Santos are historically one of the most successful clubs in world football. Dating back to the days Pelé featured for the Alvinegro side, Santos have had a winning DNA up there with Real Madrid. Beyond the success on the pitch, however, lies a never-ending factory that produces top class youth talent year after year. The list is staggering: Pelé, Zito, Pepe, Clodoaldo, Edu, Gilmar, Robinho, Diego, Ganso and Neymar are just a few of the countless talents that emerged from the Vila Belmiro factory.

As a Santos native myself, I remember growing up watching what at the time was the new golden age of the “Meninos da Vila” (the boys from Vila, a term used to describe prodigious young talents playing for Santos), with Robinho and Diego leading an incredibly talented side to Brasileirão glory and Libertadores runner-up, all while playing some of the best and most eye-catching football the South American continent has ever seen. As I got older, so did that generation of Meninos da Vila, but quickly there was another golden generation, with Neymar emerging as the new prodigy for the Santista side. Just like Robinho had an incredible young playmaker to lead the team with him in Diego Ribas, so did Neymar, as Paulo Henrique Ganso looked to be destined for greatness in the world football stage as much as Neymar. Unfortunately for Ganso, his career has been derailed by constant injuries and a man who could have been one of the great number 10’s in the history of world football has become a player who never reached his full potential. Seven years after Neymar and Ganso’s Santos won the Libertadores, many “next Pelés” (as the Brazilian press often dubs talented youngsters coming from Santo’s academy) have emerged, with the most notable being Gabigol and Neilton. Unfortunately, neither of the two came close to reaching the heights people thought they would. Instead, it’s a 17 year old kid who first emerged this year that appears poised for greatness. His name? Rodrygo Goes.

Although he’s been known for quite a while by Brazilians who follow Santos’ youth ranks, Rodrygo was a relative unknown when he made his debut late in 2017. Early 2018 saw Rodrygo’s stock keep rising, as he came off the bench to score a game winning goal for Santos in the Paulista championship, shortly after having turned 17. His impact off the bench was so significant every time he took to the pitch that Jair Ventura, son of the great Jairzinho and the manager of Santos, realized the youngster was just too good to come off the bench. On March 1st of this year, Rodrygo became the youngest Santos player to ever feature in the Libertadores, making his debut at the age of 17 years and 50 days. Two weeks later, Rodrygo continued a great month with his first goal in the Libertadores and in the process became the youngest Brazilian to ever score in the competition.

The success didn’t stop there for Rodrygo, however, with the now starting forward alongside Gabigol scoring his first goal in the Brasileirão a month after his first Libertadores goal and just last week, getting his first ever hat trick in professional football in a mouth-watering display against Vitória. One of his goals, in particular, was reminiscent of what people were used to seeing from Neymar here in Santos, as he produced a wonderful bit of skill to leave his defender on the ground and coolly slot it into the net. Rodrygo is simply on fire.

Similar to Neymar, Rodrygo is incredibly skillful with the ball. Quick on the dribble and able to just burst past any defender after tricking them with a bit of skill, Rodrygo is a nightmare for defenders. Santo’s latest wonderkid has that rare combination of pace, skill and finishing that very few players possess. Goes is able to play anywhere on the frontline – left, right, center, behind the main striker. Having said that, I think Rodrygo is best used in a two striker formation and not as a sole striker. While he likes to run in behind, he’s not your typical number nine that looks to run off the shoulder of the last defender, but rather a player who prefers to get the ball to feet and either combine with a strike partner, cut in and get a shot off, or leave a defender biting the dust with some classic Brazilian flair.

Just like most of the Santos squad in May, who went five games without scoring, Rodrygo suffered a bit of a poor stretch of form last month but as evidenced by his hat-trick against Vitória and terrific performance against Corinthians, that was just a rough patch that came along with an entire team struggling. At times, the youngster can be a bit selfish with the ball, trying too hard to create something out of nothing by either shooting way too much or going for individual plays excessively, but that’s something one can chalk down to his age and is something that will surely be improved with time. Beyond this shortcoming, Rodrygo is a player who plays way beyond his ears, with no evidence whatsoever that he’s just 17 years old. The composure, pace, ability, finishing and mentality are all there and together make Rodrygo into one of the greatest talents in world football.

Just as they did with Vinicius Jr., Real Madrid quickly snapped up Rodrygo before any other team (especially Barcelona) could do so. The Culé club reportedly tried very hard to sign the youngster, but it appears Santos’ poor relationship with the Catalan side due to the Neymar deal fallout caused them to instead go for Real Madrid’s offer instead. At a fee of around 45 million euros (plus add-ons), Florentino Perez is showing people he means business and is not ready to make the same mistake he made when he didn’t go all out for Neymar a few years ago. It has to be noted that the move to Real Madrid is not yet confirmed, but reports in Spain and Brazil have indicated the deal is as good as done and will be confirmed any day now. In Rodrygo, Real Madrid are getting a player who one day could very well be the king of world football. Just like Neymar, Rodrygo possesses the sort of generational talent that can lead him to truly dominate on the world stage. Who knows, five years down the line (or even sooner), Real Madrid might feature an all-Brazilian front three of Neymar, Rodrygo and Vinicius Jr. What an attack that would be!

Written by Thomas Horcel (@EiFThomas)