Rodrygo played probably the game of his life when Real Madrid eliminated Manchester City in their Champions League semi-final. His two dramatic late goals forced extra time at the Bernabéu when all hope appeared lost, but the Brazilian still ended the night a loser as well as a winner.
Rodrygo had made a bet with his father, the former footballer Eric Goes, that he would score a hat-trick. When Madrid won the penalty that sealed a 3-1 victory on the night and a place in Saturday’s final against Liverpool, surely he was tempted to ask Karim Benzema to stand aside?
“There wasn’t even a conversation on who should take the penalty,” Rodrygo says with a laugh. “He is the club’s penalty taker, one of the most experienced players we have. He knew what to do, went there and gave us the spot in the final.”
In any case the gamble with his dad was nothing out of the ordinary. “These bets are a regular thing between me and my father,” he says. “It’s one of our inside jokes since I was little. It motivates me.”
When Rodrygo came on against City in the 68th minute, replacing Toni Kroos, his chances of scoring two goals, never mind three, appeared slim. Five minutes later Riyad Mahrez’s strike seemed to have put the game beyond Madrid but the fightback extended their run of epic Champions League recoveries. First had come Paris Saint-Germain, then the quarter-final against Chelsea, when Rodrygo was brought on in the 78th minute and scored the 80th-minute goal that forced extra time.
“We are organised, we train well and we fight to win every time,” Rodrygo says. “We were thinking that we had a shot of going to the final until the last minute and it paid off. It was hard, complicated, but we had time and the conditions to change the situation. That was my focus. I was 100% sure that we’d be in the final and it all worked out. It was a magical moment. We celebrated a lot.”
The 21-year-old has enjoyed a strong end to the season, scoring seven times in his past 10 games to help Madrid to another La Liga title and the final in Paris. He is making a powerful case for inclusion in Tite’s Brazil squad for the World Cup in Qatar. Rodrygo was 17 months old when Brazil won their last World Cup, in 2002.
“We are having a great season and that makes every player look good,” he says. “When a young player gets to a club such as Real Madrid, it takes time to adapt. I have matured and evolved within the club mentally, technically and physically. We have the companionship of players who have won everything and they all want more, so we want more too. I’ve always looked to win titles such as the national league or Champions League, and I’ve always dreamt of playing for Brazil. What I do at Real Madrid is what takes me to a World Cup.”
Rodrygo’s father, a right-back, played for seven years as a professional in Brazil and his son always had a ball for company. Rodrygo made his Santos debut at 16 and a €45m deal to take him to Madrid was done in June 2018 when he was 17, although he did not join for another 12 months. It took him five months to score his first hat-trick for the club, in the Champions League against Galatasaray.
“I always thought about football,” he says. “My father was a player and I was always with him. I played with my friends, had that dressing-room experience … Things were beginning to happen for me and people saw that I could be a football player. When we are young, we just want to have fun, but things got serious; there were a lot of tests and then I joined Santos. There was a training routine, a game routine, and the hardest part was to keep enjoying childhood, by playing with my friends, studying and all that. We never know if the dream will come true because a lot of talented players don’t turn into professional players.”
Before Rodrygo moved to Madrid he was selected by the Guardian as one of the 60 best young talents in world football. “I try to not get caught up in the pressure of these things,” he says. “It’s something that I leave to the papers or opinion leaders. It motivates me a lot, of course, because I always want to be among the best. It only happens if I work hard every day.”