DOHA: Rodrygo is the complete striker: the 21-year-old Brazilian can play on the left, the right, as a No.10 or as a false nine.
And after his decisive second-half performance against Switzerland on Monday he looks well-placed to finally earn his first start for the Selecao, maybe even in Neymar’s playmaker role.
Substitute Rodrygo set up Casemiro’s late goal in their 1-0 win against the Swiss, which followed a 2-0 victory against Serbia in their World Cup opener.
Brazil have already qualified for the last 16 ahead of Friday’s final Group G clash against Cameroon and coach Tite is likely to make changes, with Neymar still nursing an ankle injury sustained in their opening match.
Casemiro believes Rodrygo, who plays for Real Madrid, has the talent to be Brazil’s next big star.
“God gave him the gift of playing football. It’s beautiful watching him play,” the Manchester United midfielder, who used to play alongside Rodrygo at Madrid, said last week.
The five-time World Cup winners have an embarrassment of riches in the attacking department, even with Neymar injured and Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho left out of the squad.
Raphinha, Antony, Vinicius Junior, Gabriel Jesus, Gabriel Martinelli, Pedro and Richarlison are all providing competition for Rodrygo.
But the youngest player in Tite’s World Cup squad has one major advantage over the others.
“We’ve seen him playing as a false nine, a 10, the ‘Neymar” of Real Madrid, with the ability to play on the left and right,” Matheus Bachi, an assistant coach with Brazil, who is also Tite’s son, said recently.
“He’s a chameleon, but a chameleon who does all these functions very well.”
That versatility was evident when Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti started deploying Rodrygo in the center of the attack this season alongside striker Karim Benzema, rather than using his pace on the flanks.
“He’s a special forward, he can play in every position. He’s quick, intelligent off the ball and effective one on one,” said Ancelotti.
Rodrygo has seven goals and five assists in 19 club matches this season.
His two late goals off the bench for Real in the Champions League semifinal against Manchester City last season turned the tie on its head and the Merengue went on to lift the trophy.
- ‘Very smart’ -
Rodrygo’s versatility was well known at his first club, Santos — the same team that produced Pele and Neymar.
He played as a No.10 in the academy but made his first team debut in 2017 on the left wing.
Neymar used to play on the left before he was moved into a more central position and back in 2017 Jair Ventura, who gave Rodrygo his Santos debut, decided to develop his abilities “on the right, in the center and as a false nine,” he told ESPN in 2019.
That ability to play across the forward line has served Rodrygo well.
His performances soon alerted Real Madrid and he moved to Spain in 2019.
“He’s extremely professional and educated. He’s very smart, you explain something to him once and he understands it immediately,” said Ventura, the son of ex-player Jairzinho, a World Cup winner in 1970 alongside Pele.
Since his Brazil debut three years ago, Rodrygo has made nine appearances, but all as a substitute.
He scored one goal in a 4-0 World Cup qualifying win over Paraguay and now has one assist to his name too.
And he has no doubt that he could fill the void left by Neymar.
“I feel comfortable playing in every position up front. I’ve already played with the No.10 jersey in the junior categories but it’s only recently that (senior) coaches have started putting me there,” Rodrygo said recently.
“We already have our No.10 here, Neymar, but who knows for the future.”
The future may be now.