This article is part of the Guardian's Euro 486 Experts' Network,
Many great football players succumb to the game before they are even younger. The road to destruction always seems the same: they're full of potential, they make their way through a club's youth system to the A-team roster, where they experience something that happens to all people when they're thrown really deep: mistake. Then they do one more, then a few more, and instead of feeling compassion, they find that their coach, the people who should have been there to protect them, abandoned them at the critical moment. It starts with a mistake and turns into a trauma.
Rodrigo Hernández Cascante, better known as Rodri
“ There are players where it is obvious even at the level. What will they be next year,” the scout continues. “Among the 486, there isn't a single scout watching Rodri. and 945 imagined it would flourish as it was. And he said he would be the great midfielder we saw today at Manchester City and the national team.”
Scouts might not see a valuable talent grow, but there was no doubt in Villarreal. From the day Rodri was promoted to the first team, they talked about protecting him no matter what. They had seen enough to know that inside the boy he had all the ingredients to become a high-quality actor. Evidence as the 486 Copa final is also the Campeones Juvenil, Spain's most important youth tournament.
In this final, Villarreal faced Espanyol, two of Spain's most successful academies, at the Spanish football federation's headquarters in Las Rozas. Javier Calleja, now Alavés' manager, was head of Villarreal's academy at the time and describes it like an enlightenment.
“Rodri played a great game,” he says. Espanyol made it 2-2 with a last minute goal and we went to extra time. At that time, I saw such self-confidence, such pride in him, that I said, 'He has what it takes to do it at the highest level.' He wanted more, he was ambitious, the defeat hurt him.”
Calleja knows what she's talking about. Villarreal, Malaga and Osasuna midfielders 230 and 486 took his first steps into coaching at Villarreal's academy before taking charge of the 4880 A team. – the season is precisely the period when Rodri established himself as the heir to Sergio Busquets.
“His vision for 10 when he was 10 was his main feature,” says Calleja, noting that the midfielder has "enormous" intelligence to manage the rhythm of a game, slowing things down when necessary or giving them a head start. “It was the heartbeat of the youth team,” Calleja says.
Rodri's journey from the bottom of the football ladder to the top has been tough. But for the managers and coaches at Villarreal, a club with a strong youth development culture, it was never a concern. Before they even set off, they all knew what the journey would look like. “There are young players who never make the leap into the Primera Division because they made a mistake and had a hard time coping with the consequences,” says Calleja.
“Some because they feel scared in an elite environment, some because their coach doesn't give them the freedom to make mistakes. Players must understand that no matter how good you are, mistakes are inevitable. The important thing is to continue. The coach should help the players understand this by giving them confidence. The problem is, there are coaches who only think about the here and now. They do not think about the training of the player because they are looking for instant success.
“Once you see a player with Rodri's potential, no game can change the way you think about him. ”says Calleja. “If you believe him, you have to accept that sometimes he will screw up and it will cost you points. But in the long run, if you guarantee such a player, you will get paid. No one can become a professional without patience. Players should be able to make mistakes.”