• I want to get the feeling of the city. I’ve come to Manchester alone — not with family — so I (will) like being with people — Rodri
• When you play in my 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 —Rodri
The most expensive player in Manchester City’s history strides inside the Pudong Shangri-La hotel and takes a seat.
Leant back, the imposing Rodri sizes up the room, assessing his surroundings. Just like he’s anchoring a midfield.
It feels as if nobody told him the price tag. City paid Atletico Madrid £62.8million last month but Rodri seems unflappable, already talking of how he must be a leader in this team. There is even a cheeky gentle dig into Pep Guardiola’s ribs.
“I want to get the feeling of the city. I’ve come to Manchester alone — not with family — so I (will) like being with people,” he says. “I’ve been to Pep’s restaurant, Tast. It’s good… but you have to take a big wallet!
The confidence. Rodri is still only 23 but City have bought an eminently likeable character, one who recognises he is still learning but owns serious belief in himself. This particular dressing room is not one for shrinking violets but does not accept the arrogant either. A fine line to tread.
“When you play in my 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. 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.”
The new boy certainly has charisma and his story is a little different. The Spaniard speaks almost flawless English after travelling to three consecutive summer camps in America as a teenager. The reason was to master the language and he has impressed team-mates with his grasp of it.
In Spain he is seen as the heir to Sergio Busquets. He suffered the heartbreak of leaving boyhood Atletico’s academy, before a growth spurt at Villarreal then saw him complete a ‘dream’ switch back home last summer.
Atletico then told him he must ditch his budget Opel Corsa because it was not safe to drive. When they offered him a Hyundai, Rodri asked it be a plain version.
While studying for a business degree at Universidad de Castellón, Rodri lived in the halls of residence despite turning out in La Liga at the weekends to the astonishment of his peers. It takes 13 words of this interview for him to say the phrase ‘normal life’.
Rodri becomes increasingly expressive when the names Diego Simeone and Guardiola surface.
“I don’t sign here because Pep is here or a coach is here,” he says. “I’ve come here because I think for my career it is the best team and where I think I’m going to win. Pep being here helps but it wasn’t a big part of the decision. This last year has been amazing for me. Atletico is wonderful, it was a dream for me to go back to my home. Simeone taught me a lot of things.”
“Imagine me as a 23-year-old, I now spend two of my first seasons with two of the greatest coaches of the last 20 or 30 years! They were both midfielders like me, the No 4 in Spanish football.”
Taking facets from both can only make Rodri more complete. His style is more Guardiola — a pincher of possession, an interception king — than the bulldogging, old-fashioned British way that Simeone possessed. He has been nicknamed ‘apagafuegos’ — the fire extinguisher.
“I’m not used to tackles,” he adds. ‘I have another way to steal the ball. I see other players always go down and tackle but I’m very big. If I go to ground I waste a lot of time before I can go again!
“Football is getting more equal, you have to run a lot in my position. I waste all my energy in matches. I thought I ran a lot at Villarreal but when I arrived at Atletico, I thought ‘oh no’. I ran a lot, and then here I’ve run a lot in the matches.”
That is surprising to hear. Rodri has appeared unflustered in both friendly matches so far, leaving the field with his shirt still pristine. He knows that things will alter for him at City, a slightly different role. There is a greater emphasis on front-foot football; Rodri will have to become more proactive than under Simeone.
He is used to having another midfielder next to him but that comfort blanket will not be available. This transition may take a little bit of adjustment.