Remembering when Everton signed a terrible David Beckham lookalike
As a football fan, there’s always something seductive about your team signing a Brazilian player, so Everton fans could be excused for feeling quite excited upon the arrival of a Botafogo attacker compared to David Beckham in 2002.
After impressing in his native Brazil, Rodrigo was touted to break into the national team’s squad ahead of the 2002 World Cup.
That dream failed to materialise, but Rodrigo did earn the rather curious honour of being voted the most attractive player in Brazil by Globo Esporte in 2001, finishing ahead of Kaka and Romario.
The attacking midfielder’s glamour and style led to the nickname Rodrigo Beckham, which is quite awkward, given he looks f*ck all like David Beckham.
But he appeared to be on the cusp of his big break in football when he moved to Europe in the summer of 2002 to join David Moyes’ Everton, who paid £1.25million to sign the player on a temporary deal ahead of a permanent £3million transfer.
Joining a squad featuring the likes of Lee Carsley, Alan Stubbs and Tony Hibbert, the Toffees first ever Brazilian player offered a welcome injection of panache as well as a left foot as attractive as his face.
Rodrigo made a positive impression by scoring against Wrexham in pre-season while still working his way back to full fitness, having suffered an ominous knee injury earlier in the year on loan at Atletico Mineiro.
“I feel about 50% fit at the moment and I will do my best to make sure I’m ready for the start of the Premiership in a fortnight,” he said.
“While the coach wants to see me playing in a number of positions, I feel more comfortable playing behind the front two, linking the defence and the attack. But I’ll play wherever the coach feels I can be of most benefit to the team.”
Writing for the website Everton-Mad, Austin Rathe noted: “My betting is that it will be Gravesen and Rodrigo as our two central midfielders, but it is as of yet unclear exactly how fit the Brazilian is, he looked OK against Wrexham but that wasn’t a Premiership game. We shall see.”
Rodrigo was instead named on the bench on the opening day of the season, as Everton visited Tottenham with a central midfield of Mark Pembridge and Thomas Gravesen.
He replaced Li Tie for the final 14 minutes of the 2-2 draw but was overshadowed by fellow debutant Wayne Rooney, who helped create Pembridge’s opener as he became the second-youngest player in Everton’s history at the age of 16.
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Ten years Rooney’s senior, Rodrigo at least managed to catch the eye by wearing ‘Rodrigol’ on the back of his shirt, although he was quick to play down expectations: “It says ‘Rodrigol’ because the ‘L’ is for my middle name, which is Lopes.
“My full name is Juliano Lopes Rodrigo. It’s not like Gabriel Batistuta being called Batigol. That was a nickname the fans gave him because he scored so many goals.”
Three further appearances from the bench followed in a draw with Birmingham and defeats at Manchester City and Southampton before fate cruelly intervened.
“We were having a small-sided game and the keeper threw the ball out to him, which he went to control with his chest,” Moyes told Everton’s official website. “He turned at the same time and his knee went from under him.”
Moyes added: “I’m disappointed to lose him, but for the boy it’s a big, big blow. He’s come over here to impress and was getting much closer to being involved with the first team in recent weeks.
“We always knew that he was a little bit behind in his fitness when he first came, but he’s been introduced in one or two games and had little spells and he was just about ready to make a start.
“He’s a smashing lad, everybody likes him around the training ground and we’re all disappointed for him.”
Rodrigo had ruptured a ligament in his right knee, but a struggle to properly diagnose the injury led to a series of botched operations which ultimately blighted the rest of his career.
He never appeared for Everton again and returned to Brazil only to become something of a journeyman, moving clubs nine times while never establishing himself as a first-team regular.
After retiring in 2010, a report notes that Rodrigo “dedicated himself to surfing, skateboarding and studying football and the financial market as well” prior to a short-lived spell as Boavista manager.
Everton had similar misfortune with Brazilian players in the subsequent years, as Anderson Silva, Jo and Felipe Mattioni failed to make much of impression at Goodison Park.
But things have changed more recently thanks to Bernard and Richarlison in particular, with the latter becoming the first Everton player to be called up to Brazil’s national team.
Perhaps only bad luck prevented Rodrigo from earning such an honour, which seems ironic for a player who is remembered largely for his good looks.