Rodrygo celebrates scoring during the Copa del Rey match between Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid at Santiago Bernabeu, Madrid, January 2023.

Rodrygo’s Copa gobsmacker was simply his most clutch moment yet

Seven days is nothing in the life span of a human being, but it can be a chasm in the career of a professional footballer.

It was only last week that Rodrygo received a public rebuke from Carlo Ancelotti for refusing to shake his manager’s hand during Real Madrid’s Copa del Rey win over Villarreal.

Quizzed on Rodrygo’s show of petulance, Ancelotti – who could be seen giving the Brazil international a dressing down – said: “At half-time, we saw that Rodrygo had a muscle that was a little overloaded.

“So, we decided to make an early substitution. He didn’t shake my hand as he came off, maybe because he forgot.”

Ancelotti would struggle to be anything other than affable in front of the cameras, but his displeasure was clear; Rodrygo was benched for yesterday’s Madrid derby.

In truth, the European champions struggled for much of the evening. After sailing millimetres from the wind throughout last season’s Champions League triumph, Madrid played with the energy of a chef that can only feel when stabbing a knife through the gaps between his fingers and trailed to an Alvaro Morata strike.

So, Rodrygo was summoned from Siberia to save Madrid’s blushes. Nobody quite expected how spectacularly he would fulfil that task.

Picking up the ball 35 yards from goal, Rodrygo navigated his way through a throng of Atleti defenders with the dexterity of an Olympic slalom champion.

Axel Witsel lunged in to dispossess his opponent, but was only rewarded with grass stains on his sock. Mario Hermoso was rendered irrelevant and invisible. Rodrigo de Paul could be seen visibly quivering from the upper tier of the Bernabeu.

But, despite stiff competition, the finish was the most delicious part of Rodrygo’s improvised banquet; a nonchalant toe-poke that left Jan Oblak wrong-footed and the Madrid crowd gobsmacked.

The Atleti players should have instantly left the field, got changed and returned home to their families. There was no chance of them winning the game any more; Rodrygo’s latest clutch moment had seen to that.

Ahead of the 3-1 victory, Ancelotti had spoken about the importance of recognising Madrid were in transition, primarily in response to the outcry over the benching of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.

“We are going through a period of transition in our first team and everyone needs to understand that,” the Italian told the assembled press pack.

“It’s understanding from the veterans and patience from the youngsters. Last season this mentality was essential for us to maintain a good atmosphere in the changing room, because everyone understood that it was the best thing for the team.”

Even so, Rodyrgo’s benching on Thursday night was surely more of a disciplinary decision than anything else. Fortunately, the 21-year-old responded in the best possible manner.

Chelsea fans still shudder at Rodrygo’s stunning goal to capsize their Champions League hopes last April. Three weeks later, his two injury-time strikes broke Manchester City hearts and turned Pep Guardiola into a shuddering wreck on the touchline.

Any footballer capable of delivering in the biggest games should be prized and feted. And, with his bewitching goal against Atleti, Rodrygo demonstrated that possessing this quality can even close week-long chasms.

By Michael Lee

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