Spain and Man City defensive midfielder Rodri did his level best on Saturday to join the likes of Ryan Shawcross, Dan Smith, and Martin Taylor during Spain’s match against Norway in Euro qualifiers, going in with a reckless, studs-first tackle on Norway and Arsenal midfielder Martin Ødegaard. It was, to be honest—and regular readers will know that I’m averse to hyperbole—disgusting. Ødegaard had planted his right foot and had taken the shot with his left. Rodri, late to close down, slid in from Ødegaard’s right (from his planted foot) and scythed the Norwegian down in a move that reverberated down through the years.
After all, we’re no strangers here to ankle-snapping tackles that derail seasons if not careers:
- 2006: Dan Smith snaps Abou Diaby’s ankle, completely and utterly derailing one of the best box-to-box midfielders this club has seen since Patrick Vieira. Diaby would never recover, suffering all manner of other ancillary injuries. Smith didn’t even see red.
- 2008: Martin Taylor breaks Eduardo’s fibula and dislocates Eduardo’s ankle, derailing the brilliant Brazilian’s career and sending our title-tilt into a tailspin. At least Taylor was sent off.
- 2010: Ryan Shawcross scythes Aaron Ramsey down in an incident so gruesome that most networks refused to show replays. Shawcross too was sent off, Ramsey did enjoy a resurrection of sorts, for what that’s worth.
We fast-forward to 24 Saturday 2023 and Rodri, holding down the fort in a Euro qualifier that Spain have already taken a lead, lunges into a studs-uptackle on a rival for club and country, sending the full weight of his body into the planted leg of a player whose shot was already well on its way. A split-second earlier, and Rodri might have had a chance to block the shot. A split-second earlier, and Rodri might have had a chance to snap Ødegaard’s ankle. Was Rodri thinking only of Spain’s chances, or was he also weighing up Man City’s? We’ll never know, but it’s hard to resist speculating. He’s a cagey one, that’s one thing for sure.
Speaking after the match, Ødegaard was blunt:
Yes, he chopped me right down…maybe the ref thinks because I got the shot away…but he flies in with the studs high on my ankles. That’s a blatant penalty. But put it this way, I don’t want to talk about the referee…Look, I don’t even…if I speak…
Ødegaard might be being diplomatic here. The fact that he got the shot away shouldn’t absolve Rodri of wrongdoing. By that logic, after all, a player can foul or even maim his opponent if he simply waits until after the shot’s off. French referee Benoit Bastien was apparently comfortable with this linke of thinking, ignoring the actual foul and instead booking Ødegaard for remonstrating for the foul, red card, or penalty or simulating injury. I’m sure Bastien will spill the tea in his tell-all autobiography to be released a decade hence.
One issue emerges: Rodri feels like Man City are on the ropes. I won’t go so far as to suggest that Guardiola offered any encouragement, and I’m not doing that thing where I deny something in order to bring attention to it. Guardiola is not Tony Pulis. I will suggest that certain Man City players are feeling the pressure that we’ve brought to bear. If Rodri or anyone else is willing to resort to such “tactics”, that says a hell of a lot about who they are.
Ødegaard was able to finish the match, suggesting that Rodri’s cynical attempt missed its mark, but the Spaniard has still sent a message. We hear it loud and clear. Last I checked, Spain’s next Euro qualifier is against Scotland. Without suggesting that anyone in our squad would stoop to Rodri’s level, we do have a rather-fierce roadman waiting in the wings. Failing that, there’s always Scott McTominay, who makes Marouane Fellaini look like a glass ballerina at the best of times. Hey, when it comes to Rodri, I’m a well-wisher, in that I don’t wish him any specific harm…