Who is Real Madrid's new Brazilian teen sensation Rodrigo?

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Rodrigo Antonio Rodrigues
Santos wanted the 17-year-old, while Palmeiras had first option on him, but the gifted attacking midfielder will move to the Bernabeu next year

Young Rodrigo Antonio Rodrigues admitted it was all a bit of blur. “Before I knew it, I was back in the changing rooms,” he told Globo. “I didn’t even swap shirts with anyone.”

At 16 years, 11 months and 8 days old, he had just become the youngest player to participate in the 2017 Sao Paulo state championship – one of Brazil’s most competitive regional tournaments – starting against Santos at the historic Vila Belmiro, once home to Neymar, Pele and world’s greatest club team.

That afternoon, he had learned that Santos were showing interest in him only when he stumbled across a story from a national newspaper while boarding the team bus.

Not that he appeared fazed by it all. Rodrigo even grabbed himself an assist on what was his professional debut, playing in Henrique for a dramatic 11th-minute opener on a night that will never leave him, despite his Gremio Novorizontino side ultimately going down 3-1.

“It was crazy. Everything has just happened so fast,” he said. “I’d only ever seen the Vila Belmiro on TV, and now I was there… It was all very surreal.”

That was March. Rodrigo was living in digs, completing his high school education by taking night classes. His father was unemployed, so the youngster would send a portion of his €300 monthly youth-team salary back home.

“At my age, I could still be living with my parents," he'd explained. "So, I am very happy to be able to help out. I want to help even more.”

He looks like he’ll certainly be in a position to do so.

By July, Rodrigo had signed a contract with Nike. By September, he and his father were sitting side-by-side as the youngster made Instagram posts from first-class seats on an international flight, having agreed a move to the mighty Real Madrid.

Young Rodrigo’s life is being transformed. Not much else has happened on the pitch, however – at least at senior level. Novorizontino don’t compete in national competition, meaning their staff have to find work elsewhere for half the year.

The young attacking midfielder has been turning out for Palmeiras’ under-17 team, where his story truly began just over a year ago. It was during a loan spell with the Verdao in 2016 that he first found himself on Madrid’s radar, having travelled to the Spanish capital to compete in an international youth competition.

Indeed, Palmeiras have a constant throughout his tentative steps in the game. The second of his two appearances at senior level arrived as he came off the bench for the last 12 minutes Novorizontino’s Paulista quarter-final defeat to the club.

Palmeiras, who had first option on the forward, will be receive around €300,000 from the fee that will take Rodrigo to the Spanish capital next year when he turns 18.  

"Rodrigo is a complete forward, who can play out wide or in the middle,” Novorizontino president Genilson da Rocha Santos told AS. “He's very quick, explosive and he's developed a lot since he started here at Novorizontino at the age of 14.”

He's also staying grounded. "I have worked for him for two years now and can tell you he is a good kid," Novorizontino youth coach Marcelo Barbotti told Goal .

"Rodigo has a big heart and, even with all this attention that is now on him, he has remained the same person."

And Rodrigo's transition will be made a little easier by joining Madrid's youth ranks or B team as the club seek to more closely assess his raw potential.

His speculative signing is ostensibly part of a strategy at the reigning European champions to ensure they don’t miss out on talented youngsters in the same way they did with Kylian Mbappe. 

Not that Rodrigo looks like your stereotypical youngster, with his sleeve of tattoos on his right arm only adding to the impression that he’s more mature than his tender age suggests.

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“I got my first tattoo when I was 14,” he said. “It was my mother’s name. My family said I was too young, but they like it. I think I’m too young, too. I do not think I will have many more.”

With his big move still just over the horizon, Rodrigo is now looking forward to next year, when he appears set to compete more regularly for Novorizontino when the Paulsita resumes.

And this time all eyes on will be firmly focused on the future Real Madrid boy. It’s all been a bit of a blur, but now Rodrigo can see what lies ahead. And this time he’ll no doubt make sure he collects a few souvenirs before saying goodbye to Brazilian football.