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Player Profile: Cristian Rodriguez  

Cristian RodriguezFull name: Cristian Gabriel Rodriguez Barotti

Position: Midfielder

Date of Birth: 30 September 1985

Birthplace: Juan Lacaze, Uruguay

It’s difficult to imagine that there were many better free transfer signings last summer than Cristian Rodriguez. Such has been his success since arriving as a replacement for Atletico Madrid-bound icon Simao that Benfica are already over the departure of their star player of previous seasons.

Besides not costing a euro cent, Rodriguez didn’t look much like a replacement for a nimble, flying winger. The Uruguayan is stockily-built and less pacey than your archetypal Liga wideman. Appearances can be deceptive though. Nicknamed ‘The Onion’ at home in Uruguay (because he drives defenders to tears), he is surprisingly nimble, while relying on power, pinpoint passing and a fearsome left-foot shot.

Rodriguez was something of a child prodigy, making his debut for first club Penarol at the tender age of 16 and becoming a full international at 18, winning his first league championship with his club in between.

Uruguay debut goal

He announced his arrival on the international scene in style, scoring a superb goal against Argentina in a World Cup qualifier in 2004. Always a bit different, Rodriguez was once chided by the Penarol directors for joining the club’s fans on the terraces to cheer the team on for a game he missed through injury.

It was always a case of when Rodriguez would make the big move to Europe and in 2005 he joined Paris Saint-Germain in a double deal with his club-mate, striker Carlos Bueno.

However, the transfer was not smooth. The players were out of contract but Penarol claimed to still own them, and that the transfer was therefore illegal. FIFA agreed that the players’ contracts had ended but suspended the pair pending a full investigation, much to the chagrin of PSG. It was therefore not until the defeat at Lyon in December that year that Rodriguez was permitted to make his debut.

The controversy frustrated PSG and with their indifferent form they struggled to effectively integrate the youngster – Bueno had similar problems and was loaned to Sporting for a season. By the time the Uruguayan pair were released from their contracts in summer 2007, Rodriguez had started just nine league matches in his two seasons at the Parc des Princes.

Instant hit

Rodriguez was still held in high regard back home and played all six games in his country’s run to the semis of the 2007 Copa America before signing for Benfica. An instant hit at the Estadio da Luz, he scored his first goal for the club in September’s home win over Naval with a typical piledriver. Also impressing in the Champions League, the Benfica faithful were mystified at how such a talent could have gone unfulfilled in France.

With initial doubts over his fitness, the number 26 only received a one-year contract on his arrival, something which the Lisbon club are hastily trying to renegotiate, especially with champions-elect Porto rumoured to be waiting in the wings. Rodriguez is however keen to repay the club’s faith and has denied all talk of a move north.

Transfer bombshell

With initial doubts over his fitness, the number 26 only received a one-year contract on his arrival, something which the Lisbon club repeatedly tried to renegotiate. But at the end of his highly successful first year at Benfica Rodriguez was the protagonist in one of the most bombastic transfers in years in Portugal when he turned his back on a renewed deal with the Eagles and signed for bitter rivals FC Porto.

 

The switch instantly transformed the Uruguayan into a figure of hate at Benfica, as shown by the vitriolic abuse he was subjected to when the two clubs met at the Estadio da Luz at the start of the 2008/09 season. And as the feisty midfielder struggled to impose himself at the Dragao – even incurring the wrath of a group of Porto fans on the back of disappointing early season results – it seemed Rodriguez’s audacious career decision may have backfired.

 

Not a bit of it. As the player settled into his new surroundings, his performances soon improved. He began hitting the heights of his debut year in Portugal and added a new and surprising weapon to his armoury – an aerial threat. Several headed goals helped him become joint top scorer at the club at the midway point in the season. Along with Lisandro Lopez and fellow new signing Hulk, Rodriguez forms a potent three-pronged all South American attack for the Dragons, and looks set to become ‘part of the furniture’ at Porto.

 

by Andy Brassell & Tom Kundert (last updated 13/02/2009)

ClubAppearances*Goals
Penarol404
Paris St-Germain361
Benfica246
FC Porto**166
   
 URUGUAY292

* League appearances only

** Up to February 2009

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