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Talent Tracker: Óscar Rodríguez

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An in depth look at the free-kick wizard!

After studying the young lives of Fede Valverde and Martin Ødegaard in the first two parts of this series, the time has come to look a bit closer to home. Óscar Rodríguez is the first player featured in this series that has come through the academy, and is currently playing for Castilla!

Who is Óscar Rodríguez?

Óscar Rodríguez announced himself to the world on Sunday, the 28th of June in 1998. He was actually born in Toledo, a city located over an hour south west of Madrid. He took an interest in football early on, and joined local side CD Los Navalmorales when he was eight years old. It took him just three years to attract the attention of the biggest club in the world. Five days after his 11th birthday, he joined Real Madrid and was slotted straight into the under-12s for the coming season. He settled in very quickly, and progressed through the ranks and age groups. By the time he was an under-17 player, he would already be an established Spanish youth international, and would go on to score 12 goals in 29 league games from midfield.

His good work earned him the captains armband for Guti’s under-19s side, as they went on to create club history - winning three trophies and making the UEFA Youth League semi-finals in one season. Óscar himself would go on to be the standout player for his side, scoring 22 goals in 40 games. He of course got the call-up to Santiago Solari’s Castilla side, but not before joining the Real Madrid first team on their pre-season tour to America. This experience would be gargantuan for the youngster, as he scored a world class goal against Manchester City, and featured in a friendly Clásico against Barcelona. He would go on to make his first team debut in the Copa Del Rey against Fuenlabrada, as well as three other squads. Óscar Rodríguez is still very much a blank canvas waiting to be painted, but the finished product has the potential to be exceptional.

This seems a good time to embed talent tracker 3’s feature. In the first article, Fede Valverde himself described his playing style, and in the second Martin Ødegaard’s training schedule as a child was uncovered. This time out, ManagingMadrid’s very own academy expert Ondra Paul is on hand to share his experiences of watching Óscar during his under-19 days:

Just how good was Óscar for the under-19’s, and for the academy in general?

OP: “Óscar was a leader of the under-19 team, guiding them to the treble in his last season (regional league, Spanish championship, Cope del Rey). In younger categories, he was a classic no.10 with excellent passing and free-kick ability. During his spell with Juvenil A, Guti began to experiment with his role in the team. He played a bit further back and his main task wasn’t to feed the forwards, but to set the tempo and bind all together. He improved his long range passing and started to work on his defensive positioning. All of this applied to domestic leagues. In the Youth League, he was still played more forward, because when he played as “classic” CM, he was often overrun by the opposition.”

Did he show any signs of inconsistency?

OP: “In domestic league, he was quite consistent and ended up as the team’s second highest goalscorer. However, in the Youth league, his impact was far less significant.”

Do you see a future for him at Real Madrid?

OP: “In the current moment no, but it’s mainly caused by the brilliant midfielders waiting ahead of him - Kovacic, Ceballos, Valverde. He still hasn’t been able to covert to a CM nor he is prolific as a winger. His best position is still a no.10 and this role is a luxury for most teams.”

How far do you think he can go?

OP: “I think he will go through Segunda league and eventually end up in the bottom / mid table club.”

A very insightful Q&A with Ondra. I find it interesting how Ondra views Óscar as more of a central midfielder, but highlights his inconsistencies in that position. For a large chunk of this season, Solari tried to deploy him in that role with no success. Ondra is right in saying that Óscar’s best role is more of a luxury. In a modern game that see’s tactical and positional trends constantly come in and out of fashion, the central attacking midfield or number 10 position can be a hard job to find. Players are often required to become more versatile to give themselves the best advantage going forwards, and perhaps Óscar will have to work on that if he ever wants to truly realise his potential.

El capitán

His CV so far:

  • Joins Real Madrid at 11 years old, after playing for his local club for three years.
Mini-Óscar
  • Becomes a regular Spanish youth International from under-16s level.
  • Scores 12 goals in 29 league games for the under-17s during the 2014/15 season.
  • Gets called up to train with the first team in 2015, as a Juvenil A first year player.
  • Captains and stars for the under-19s in their historic treble winning season under Guti.
  • Ends his academy career with a record of 25 goals in 53 under-19s games.
  • Gets promoted to Castilla, and signs a four year contract with the club.
  • Joins the first team on their 2017/18 pre-season tour, and scores against Manchester City.
  • Scores his first senior goal in November 2017 - a trademark free kick against Cerceda.
  • Makes his Real Madrid first team debut in the Copa Del Rey, starting against Fuenlabrada.
  • Is listed for three further first team matches, including the La Liga squad for the Espanyol game back in February.

What’s his playing style?

Strengths:

Free-kicks

We all know what I’m talking about. Óscar Rodríguez is arguably the best free-kick taker on the planet. I mean it. This unique ability would warrant his place in any team. The sheer hours of practice he must have put in on the training ground to perfect this skill would probably make your eyes water up. He doesn’t actually apply any distinctive techniques, such as the infamous ‘knuckle ball’ into his kicks, he simply curls them towards goal, and many of them go in. Placement is key, but he is yet to show any tendencies about where the ball is going to end up. I have seen him hit many different areas of the goal. It really is a sight to see. If you haven’t already experienced an Óscar masterclass in free-kicks, the video below of his under-19 days should give you some idea of how good his dead ball game really is. One thing’s for sure, if my team made it to the Champions League final, and won a free-kick in a semi-decent position after a scoreless 89 minutes, there is nobody that I would rather have on the field...

Dribbling/Ability

If you’ve tuned into Castilla for the odd game this season, then you may well be scratching your head at this one. Rest assured, Óscar has a humongous amount of ability in the tank, even if it’s largely yet to be seen for Castilla. There’s something very natural and classy about the way he beats a man, and his close control is at the heart of his technique. Rather than knock the ball five yards ahead and turn the burners on, he takes a lot of intricate touches to manipulate his path. In full flow he is a very entertaining player to watch, but the big problem this season has been reaching that full flow...

Weaknesses:

Consistency

In his first season in men’s senior football, Óscar has struggled to maintain the good form that saw him promoted to Castilla. There are many contributing factors to this problem, but Rodríguez has to hold his hands up and take a share of the blame himself. If you are a football player - it is hugely damaging to have a manager as bad as Santiago Solari put in charge of you. For the first half of the season, Óscar was deployed as a central midfielder. This move neglected his creative capabilities, and his confidence levels took the usual blow that many who have fallen under Solari’s guidance have experienced. However, unlike many of the other players that have faded away because of Solari, Óscar has been deployed in his preferred position of central attacking midfield for over half of the season, and has failed to live up to the expectations. His record of one great game over the course of the entire season is a testament to his lack of consistency. It has to be said that this is the first of many seasons for this talent though, and if he can maintain a starting spot at Castilla, under a different manager he could potentially flourish. But he will have to do his part.

Decision Making

A big reason for Óscar’s lack of consistency is down to his decision making. Unlike his competition for a place in the first team, Óscar often makes the wrong decisions during games. For a player who has the ability to make the Segunda División B his pet if he wanted to, the biggest thing holding himself back is the fact that he just gets it wrong too often. He shies away from taking on players, plays poor long passes, and shoots all the time. This is something that can be improved, and that is vital for him to work on. If he sorts this out, his game will completely change, but at the moment watching him can be a mess at times.

Shooting

How is someone who is so good at free-kicks so poor at shooting, you say? Well, the answer is quite simple. Óscar Rodríguez shoots all of the time and misses all of the time. This comes under his decision making problem. When Óscar picks up the ball anywhere on the pitch, a good 65% of his brain is screaming at him to shoot. Often he does, and barely ever does he score. The amount of good chances I have seen this kid waste for Castilla because he has taken a shot and it’s flown over is unbelievable. Just in case you haven’t got the gist of what I’m saying, he shoots all the damn time. Like all the time. Stop it, Óscar. If he lends half of his shooting tendencies to Martin Ødegaard then that would be ideal for everybody.

What are his first team chances?

As it stands, there are none. There isn’t much competition for a potential spot ahead of him in his best position at the moment, but the club can always just buy someone world class, and the competition he does have is a certain Martin Ødegaard. Martin is younger than Óscar, and is currently unquestionably miles in front of him. The fact that he can only really play in one position currently could also be a big factor, as the club may not even have that role in their future plans if they were to change tactical ideas or bring a new manager in. His lack of experience plays a big part in his chances, but he can only really improve from this stage. It would be foolish to completely rule him out.

Who should be next? Let know in the comments section!