Receiving the ball with his back to goal, Rodrigo Riquelme’s first touch on the swivel brought him face to face with Martin Zubimendi. A nutmeg through the Real Sociedad midfielder’s legs and a quick burst of pace left him with options to the right, options to the left and options through the middle. Ignoring all of those, the young Madrileño curled a contender for goal of the season into the near top corner – a screamer from some 25 metres out.
This was how Riquelme’s first La Liga goal went down in Girona’s 3-5 home loss on Matchday 7. A long awaited maiden league goal for a player who made his debut in the competition over 3 years ago. Now, following his goal in his team’s 2-1 away defeat to Atlético Madrid, Riquelme has bagged in two consecutive games and will hope to be a key figure in the Catalan side’s hope to avoid the drop this season.
A product of the Atleti youth academy, “Roro” is into his third season being loaned away from Madrid, having spent time in the English Championship with Bournemouth and the Spanish second division with Mirandés. It was his performances last season in Miranda de Ebro that has given him the opportunity to play in the top flight this time around, with Girona winning the race to snap him up on loan for the 2022-23 campaign. He provided 12 assists, the most of any player in Segunda División, and added eight goals to complete a well rounded season, forming a deadly partnership with fellow Atlético Madrid loanee, Sergio Camello.
Able to play wide on either side or in a slightly more central “number 10” role, Riquelme’s big strength is clearly his dribbling – already being likened to Neymar by the commentators on Spanish TV for one of his plays at the Metropolitano. He was Girona’s biggest threat when he faced his parent club, and has been terrorising La Liga defences since Matchday 1 of this season. His direct style of running with the ball on the inside or outside of fullbacks is nicely complemented with his ability to skip past opposition at speed, or slowing down and using skilful feet to weave his way towards the penalty box.
He’s also become a regular feature this calendar year in the Spanish national team’s U21 set up, notching up three goals in six appearances for his country, able to re-spark his lethal connection with Camello. A partnership that started back in the B team of Atlético Madrid in early 2019, it didn’t take long for his work in the academy side earn him a promotion, being given his first team debut that September against Eibar. That season saw him drift in and out of the first team’s matchday squad whilst continuing to shine in the second team, then in the third tier of Spanish football. His trajectory suggests that he is on course for big things and his parent club clearly have Riquelme in mind for long-term plans.
On the same day he signed for Girona this summer, he also extended his contract at Atleti until 2028. He’s currently on a long list of offensive minded players that Los Colchoneros have opted to loan out for the current season, so Riquelme will be keen to have a standout campaign that sets him apart. Perhaps after a solid season at the top level, Diego Simeone will give him his much-anticipated chance at the club that he has a strong affection for. Choosing not to celebrate at the Metropolitano, Rodrigo left the pitch to a noticeably strong ovation from the home crowd when substituted in the 81st minute. Even El Cholo himself joined in on the act, applauding with his hands held high above his head and then outstretched towards the 22-year-old.
It is early in the season and Girona will want to put behind them this dip in form, that has seen them lose their past three league matches. Survival will be objective number one, but if Riquelme can continue his impressive start and those that surround him such as Valentín Castellanos and Cristhian Stuani can also start to fire on all cylinders, there’s no reason to believe that Girona can’t achieve more. However one thing is certain, Roro’s on the rise.