Pep Guardiola has long known the lot of the holding midfielder.
During his playing days, Guardiola operated at the base of Barcelona’s engine room as the likes of Michael Laudrup, Romario, Hristo Stoichkov, Luis Figo, Luis Enrique and Ronaldo took the plaudits higher up the field.
In his Manchester City side, who claimed a 15th successive win across all competitions this week to set a new record in English top-flight history, the attacking stars also trip off the tongue.
Ilkay Gundogan is enjoying the most prolific season of his career from midfield and was named Premier League Player of the Month on Friday, while Phil Foden’s rapid rise is firing enthusiasm over England’s Euro 2020 prospects.
City’s all-time leading scorer Sergio Aguero and star playmaker Kevin De Bruyne are still to return to the mix after spells on the sidelines, but another less-glamorous player has been there throughout the dominant run.
No one in Guardiola’s squad has made more than Rodri’s 21 appearances, the Spain international having made the anchor role his own.
“The best holding midfielders never appear in the newspapers, in the front pages,” the City manager said ahead of Saturday’s game against Tottenham.
“They hide behind the team but when [the team] plays good it is because they are playing outstanding.”
Since a 2-0 defeat to Spurs last November, City are undefeated in 22 matches – something that reflects very well indeed on Rodri in Guardiola’s eyes.
A £62.8million signing from Atletico Madrid in July 2019, the 24-year-old’s first season in English football proved a struggle at times.
Without Aymeric Laporte through injury for large chunks of the season, the defence Rodri was charged with protecting often looked vulnerable.
Fernandinho being pressed into action at centre-back meant the new man was left to learn on the job as Guardiola sought and struggled for midfield balance.
But Rodri has started to thrive in the months since City last tasted defeat, with Ruben Dias at the heart of defence and an attacking line ahead of him displaying its fluidity of old.
“He adapted quickly, immediately. He’s still young and there are some issues that he still has to learn but he will learn them,” Guardiola said. “He’s a really important player for us.”
No Premier League player has attempted more than Rodri’s 1,723 passes this season and he retains an impressive 90.3 per cent accuracy across that volume of work.
The quality of possession Rodri plays a part in and often launches is notable.
According to Opta, he has initiated 36 open play sequences leading to a shot and five resulting in goals – both league-best returns.
Similarly, Rodri is out on his own with 81 involvements in open play build-ups concluding with a shot, while weekend opponent Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is the only man who can match the Spaniard’s 11 involvements in build-ups preceding a goal.
Smoothness on the ball is a pre-requisite for any Guardiola player, especially one operating in the Catalan’s old position, but Rodri has also shown an aptitude for the dirty work required to keep City’s pristine machine on the road.
None of his team-mates can boast more than his 174 recoveries this term – 10th in the Premier League overall. Rodri also leads the way at City for tackles (40) and duels won (128), while winning 52 of 70 aerials contested – that is unmatched in the top-flight leaders’ squad as well.
“A good holding midfielder plays for the other ones and not for himself. These are the best holding midfielders,” Guardiola said.
“They think what’s happening, what they have to do to correct the mistakes of the other ones and don’t play for the highlights.”