SERGIO RODRIGUEZ GARCIA 'RODRI'

Date of Birth: 17 September 1984
Nationality: Spain
Contract: 2006 - 2010
Transfer: Free transfer (2006)
Previous Clubs: Poli Eijdo (2007/2008), Deportivo (2007/2008), Almería (2006/2007), Deportivo (2006/2007), Barcelona B (2003-2006), Barcelona C (2002-2003)
Buy-out Clause: ??
Height: 185 cm
Weight: 81 kg
Position: Defender (Left/Centre/Right)

Versatile RODRI was signed in 2006 when Deportivo, led by Caparrós, mainly focused on acquiring young players. The curious aspect of the ex-Barcelona player became the fact that he played both the first Liga match in the season 2006/2007 and 2007/2008, but after it was loaned out on both occasions. The fact that Rodri will be 24-years old when the season 2008/2009 kicks-off, and enough players are available to cover his positions, will probably mean a sale or another loan out for Rodri this year.

Rodri started to play football in his hometown team, the Catalan city of Mataró (close to Barcelona). He arrived at the FC Barcelona youth system during the 2001/2002 campaign and quickly advanced from Juveniles, Barcelona C and Barcelona B. The Catalan defender debuted with the B-team on 23 May 2003. It was a play-off match against Universidad Las Palmas and Rodri replaced the injured defender Oleguer. Oleguer's promotion to the first squad for the next year was good news for Rodri, and the player converted himself into one of the B-squad's pillars. Rodri played 32 matches during the season 2004/2005 and scored two goals. For the 2005/2006 campaign the youngster only missed two matches because of suspension.

The coach of Barcelona B at that time was Quique Costas, and he gave good references to Frank Rijkaard about the qualities of Rodri. Costas explained: “Rodri is very strong and knows how to head the ball. He is very regular and has the behaviour of a veteran, although he still is a youngster. Rijkaard knows him well and he is happy because the boy can replace any injured player in the first squad. Nobody will notice the difference”. And Rijkaard followed his advice. Rodri debuted with the first team on 11 December 2004. It was a confrontation against Albacete and it was only an statistical fact since he played just two minutes replacing Rafa Márquez at the end of the game. But the best part came in the season 2005/2006: Rodri played four Liga matches including two full games (against Málaga and Sevilla). This happened at the end of the season for one clear reason: Barcelona was preparing its Champions League's final game against Arsenal and Rijkaard wanted rest for some of his starting players. Rodri also enjoyed the opportunity to play in the Champions League and debuted during the season 2004/2005. The youngster was called for the first round's clash against AC Milan at San Siro, but he didn't have the chance to play. Finally his opportunity arrived on 7 December 2004, four days before his Liga debut, when he replaced Francisco Peral at half-time of the match between Barcelona and FC Shakhtar Donetsk (0-2). It was the last game in the group phase and with Barcelona already qualified, Rijkaard wanted to bring experience to some of his youngsters.

But the good luck for Rodri ended soon. Barcelona's officials decided to reinforce the defensive line for the 2006/2007 campaign and experienced players like Lilian Thuram and Gianluca Zambrotta were signed. It was clear to Rodri that his progress was blocked. This happened at the same time as Deportivo's 'revolution'. Caparrós was searching for young and hungry faces and the name of Rodri emerged. During July 2006, president Lendoiro negotiated his incorporation and Barcelona allowed his exit for free. As compromise, the Catalan club will get 30% of a possible sale in the future. It was a copy of the deal which delivered winger Cristián in La Coruña. Rodri signed a four-year contract at Deportivo and wanted to demonstrate that he’s up to the task to play in Primera. All started well at Deportivo. Rodri played the pre-season on several defensive positions, exactly the reason why he was signed by the club “to cover defensive holes”. The idea was that either Barragán or Manuel Pablo should occupy the right wing and Capdevila and Filipe the left one, leaving players like Lopo, Coloccini, Jorge Andrade, Arbeloa and Juanma taking the other positions. Right-footed Rodri was the only one to be able at all three defensive spots and that could be his advantage. His personal preference was the one of central defender though, and competition was tough here. Rodri, playing at the left, scored a header in the first match of the 2006 Teresa Herrera against Nacional de Montevideo (a 3-0 win). He also started the final (next to Barragán, Lopo and Arbeloa) when Deportivo beat AC Milan (3-1). On 27 August 2006 he came in during the first Liga match against Zaragoza (3-2 win), replacing Arizmendi, in an effort of Caparrós to waste time. And four days later he started the match of Deportivo in the Copa Xunta Galicia at Racing de Ferrol.

That was almost it tough for the season 2006/2007. Competition was such fierce that Rodri lost the battle. Rodri’s disadvantage was that Arbeloa also could occupy a right and central spot, and he developed such that he was signed by Liverpool during the season. Rodri was used in several of the friendlies that Caparrós wanted in the first part of the season, and he played the first four Copa matches. It were ninety full matches against Racing de Santander (1-0) as central defender. In the return match, which saw Deportivo qualified after penalties, he played 120 minutes at the left. But Rodri had a lot of troubles with winger Balboa (on loan from Real Madrid) and was booked, while Rodri also missed his effort during the penalty shoot-out. Rodri also started as left defender in the Copa match at Mallorca (1-2 win) and this time was involved at Depor’s first goal. In the return match against Mallorca he was taken off at half-time. All-in-all, after five months into the season, this wasn’t much. At Deportivo he was mainly used at the left, a position which was third on his list of preferences. Caparrós and Rodri then decided that a loan deal would be the best solution. Cádiz was named as destination, but Rodri would finish the season at title candidates Almería.

Rodri’s time at Almería was quite successful and he achieved promotion to Primera with the Andalucians. At the same time a debate emerged at Deportivo about who should replace veteran defender Capdevila at the left. The ex-Espanyol player was moving to Villarreal as their financial offer was too big to reject. The names of Alcántara and Rodri came forward, and there were rumours about an exchange between Mané (Almería) and Rodri (Deportivo). Many will have regretted that this deal wasn’t materialized as Mané evolved into one of the best left defenders in Primera. In the end, the club didn’t count on Alcántara and at first gambled on Rodri and Filipe for the left defensive spot. Coach Lotina believed in Rodri, but (like Caparrós) the player was used in all defensive positions during the pre-season. But he seemed to count to Lotina. The Basque coach said that “Rodri has good control, despite being a central defender, and is very fast. But he still has to mature and assume obligations. He’s an alternative to use at the sides”. Rodri started another Teresa Herrera final, this time when Deportivo beat Real Madrid (2-1). But rumours kept appearing that Rodri was going to be axed from the squad to give new signing Aythami a place. During the summer Lotina rejected many left defenders, and when the Liga started he surprisingly counted on Rodri for the left defensive spot against a well-known team: Almería. Rodri would have a déjà-vu after this match. He played the full ninety matches, but the Galicians were a disaster: 0-3. And it remains a mystery why Lotina started with Rodri and only three days later affirmed his loan deal at Poli Ejido. When asked about it, Lotina explained: “Rodri had already played during the pre-season and I wanted to see more of him. But we only made the final decision one day after the Almería match, although Poli Ejido had been calling everyday”. The strange thing is that Lotina referred to having Barragán and Manuel Pablo already, two players covering the right side.

The next months Rodri played at Poli Ejido and he reached 25 matches in Segunda. Rodri said about that period: “Loan deal always are good to make a player even better. Last year I achieved promotion with Almería and now I went down with Poli Ejido. These are positive and negative experiences which help me grow as a player and as a human. Our team performances last year were bad, but at a personal level I’ve played many matches and that’s important for me. That’s why I’m satisfied”. Because that league only finished in June, he was allowed to return to Deportivo at the end of July together with Coloccini, Jairo and striker Adrián. But it seems very unlikely that Rodri will have a spot in the squad for the season 2008/2009. His preferred positions (central defence and right defence) are well-covered, and only being a substitute for Filipe at the left might be an option. A loan out deal, for the third consecutive year, seems a more logical solution though and Sporting de Gijón are mentioned as his destination. In any case, it seems unlikely that Rodri will play another Primera match with Deportivo. And that's still strange because all Rijkaard, Caparrós and Lotina used him in the Primera División while he did very well in Segunda at both Almería and Poli Ejido. Rodri himself only expects that Deportivo treats him “with the same respect as my colleagues”.
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