There’s a show on Netflix about tidying. Initially, I was amazed that anyone would spend a couple hours watching someone else tidy up. Surely there must be better things to do, I thought. But then I remembered that I sit and watch on for a couple of hours every weekend as Rodrigo Hernández tidies up Atlético Madrid’s midfield.
There may not be all that much in common between Marie Kondo and the young Spanish midfielder, but they both know how to sort. While the former takes a jumble of clothes and organises it into neat piles, the latter takes all kinds of passes — good, bad, high, low, bouncing or whatever — and sorts them into neat offloads to his rojiblanco colleagues.
Against Real Sociedad on Sunday, Rodrigo didn’t misplace a single one of his 42 passes. No other player in this league season has managed a 100 percent pass completion percentage for such a high number of attempts. No matter how awkward each ball that arrived at the 22-year-old’s feet was, he was able to glue it to his boot in the way that dried Weetabix sticks to a bowl, process it and send it back on its way. Wrapped in a ribbon.
This stat may be special, but it wasn’t really anything new for those who have been watching the No.14 all season. His season-long pass completion percentage of 90.5 percent is the 13th highest in all of LaLiga. Among midfielders, it’s the eighth best and it’s third behind only Toni Kroos and Ivan Rakitić out of midfielders to have made 55 or more passes per game.
While he’s still young and still learning, Rodrigo has already shown enough for his €20m summer move from Villarreal to be considered a success. As much as this transfer has made Villarreal weaker, it has made los colchoneros stronger in the middle of the park.
Rodrigo led the league in recoveries last season and is still a very valuable asset in this aspect of the game — he won the ball back seven times during Sunday’s match at Anoeta. Yet it’s the ability to recycle the ball to his teammates that is so important for Atlético, adding a skill that their central midfield previously lacked. While Gabi could do everything and do everything well, even he couldn’t tidy up through quick and accurate passes to open teammates in the way that Rodrigo does.
This is excellent news for Atleti’s future and for Spain’s. For years the Spanish national team has had Sergio Busquets in the middle of the park collecting passes and repackaging them out to his colleagues, and soon they’ll have Rodrigo doing the exact same thing. He’s a sorter, an organiser, an arranger. He’s the man who tidies up any clutter in Diego Simeone’s midfield.