Alvaro Rodriguez: Have Real Madrid really unearthed their own Erling Haaland?

Comments (0)
Alvaro Rodriguez NXGN GFX
The 18-year-old marked just his second Liga appearance with a goal against Atletico Madrid, and is being eyed as Karim Benzema's long-term successor

Alvaro Rodriguez was perhaps not the saviour Real Madrid expected on derby day, but when the teenager nodded in a late equaliser against Atletico Madrid on Saturday, he became an instant hero among the Santiago Bernabeu faithful.

Still, his vital goal, a wonderfully guided header in the 85th minute, was of little surprise to those who have been tracking his progress in recent years. Rodriguez has quietly become a hot commodity in Madrid's acclaimed academy system, developing from an injury-prone winger into a dominant No.9 in less than three years.

Once a Barcelona reject, the 18-year-old is now a promising striker who has the potential to replace Karim Benzema when the Madrid legend eventually moves on.

Tall, quick and devastating on the ball, Rodriguez has earned Erling Haaland comparisons from those who have coached him in the Spanish capital. And while he may not ever hit those heights for the first team, Rodriguez has bags of talent - certainly enough to be a regular for Los Blancos.

But who is Rodriguez, and what makes him so good? NXGN takes a closer look at one of Spanish football's most promising youngsters...

  1. Where it all began

    Where it all began

    The son of former Uruguay international forward Coquito, Rodriguez was born in Girona, around 60 miles from Barcelona. And having impressed for Girona's youth sides, in 2020 the giants of Spanish football came calling.

    Barca were the first to make their move, with Sport having reported that the Blaugrana's scouts were hugely impressed by the then-15-year-old. Officials at La Masia, though, could not be convinced, with his lack of 'Barca DNA' cited as a reason for rejecting him.

    Madrid quickly swooped in, and once Los Blancos entered negotiations, boyhood fan Rodriguez didn't have eyes for anywhere else.

    There were those at Madrid who weren't immediately sold on the teenager, though. Rodriguez had spent the majority of his youth career playing as a left winger, but his new coaches felt that his long-term future might be elsewhere on the pitch.

    A series of injuries put any chance of a positional switch on hold, but once he returned, it was decided that he would be given a chance to impress as a central striker.

  2. The big break

    Rodriguez began to shine in his new role for Madrid's Under-19s, leading to Real Madrid Castilla manager Raul to request some film of Rodriguez in action after a star showing against Atletico Pinto.

    The former Madrid striker was sold, and immediately called Rodriguez into his side, who play in the third tier of Spanish football.

    The goals came quickly, with Rodriguez finding the net for the first time as a Castilla player on January 8, 2022. He continued to develop into a more reliable centre-forward, reportedly binge-watching film of Romelu Lukaku to learn the position.

    He was soon being compared to Erling Haaland for his size and pace, as well as finishing prowess. This season, he saw off competition for the central striker role in Raul's team, earning his place ahead of highly-rated former Barcelona starlet Iker Bravo.

    "He’s quicker than people think and if they try not to give him space, he gets his back in, brings the ball down and distributes. In the box, he finishes any aerial ball. Down low, if he turns he can shoot with both feet,” a Real Madrid source told The Athletic.

    Rodriguez was called up to the Madrid first team for the first time in October 2022, but had to wait four months for his La Liga debut.

    When he eventually made his bow, however, he wasted little time in making an impact, as he provided the assist for Marco Asensio to seal a 2-0 win over Osasuna in stoppage time.

  3. How it's going

    How it's going

    Rodriguez has been tasked with the not-so-insignificant job of backing up Karim Benzema, with Madrid crying out for a player who can provide cover for the 2022 Ballon d'Or winner.

    His goal against Atletico suggested he can perform that role going forward, as he stole away from his marker to power a header past a helpless Jan Oblak to keep Madrid's slim La Liga title hopes alive.

    His international performances, too, have been catching the eye, having shone for Uruguay as they finished runners-up at the U20 South American Championship in January.

    Rodriguez finished the tournament with five goals, just one shy of the competition's top scorers, and looks capable of carrying on the fine recent tradition of Uruguayan frontmen thriving in Europe.

  4. Biggest strengths

    Rodriguez has a clear gift that will work at every level: he's a deadly finisher. The youngster is terrific inside the box and good in the air.

    While he isn't an unbelievable athlete in the mold of Haaland, he is physically gifted enough to turn bad crosses into good ones.

    The youngster is also rather quick for his height, while his history as a winger contributes to his impressive dribbling ability, especially while on the run.

  5. Room for improvement

    Rodriguez's most obvious flaw is his first touch. His occasionally clunky feet were why Madrid were reluctant to let him play on the wing, especially given the senior team's reliance on agile, shorter players on the outside.

    That could be an issue long term for Los Blancos, with their fluid possession-based style. Still, Rodriguez is only 18, and can work on that part of his game.

    There are also some gripes about his decision-making, especially in counter-attacking situations, and manager Carlo Ancelotti will hope that he can improve in such situations as he matures.

  6. The next... Darwin Nunez?
    Getty Images

    The next... Darwin Nunez?

    The trendy comparison for Rodriguez is Haaland. And in some ways, it makes sense. Their physical profiles are remarkably similar, and they both rely on pace and jumping ability to supplement their already impressive finishing skills.

    But Rodriguez lacks the calmness of Haaland, and instead is probably more similar to his potential national-team colleague, Darwin Nunez.

    Both were developed as wingers, but are clearly more comfortable playing as inside forwards or central strikers. Both are incredibly dangerous on the run, and can falter when the game slows down. They are almost exactly the same weight, and are just chaotic enough to be unpredictable.

    The flip side, as with Nunez, is the occasional poor decision or loose touch, but these are things that should improve with age.

    The duo swapped shirts following Real Madrid's Champions League win over Liverpool at Anfield last week, and it would not be a surprise if they were to be sharing the limelight for Uruguay over the next few years.

  7. What comes next?

    As with any Madrid youngster, it all depends on how consistently Rodriguez can perform. Playing for the European championsl can be a harsh and ruthless task. Even with Ancelotti at the helm, there is little patience for youngsters who don't show consistency.

    But if Rodriguez continues to contribute off the bench, he could be in the running to replace Benzema when the striker presumably moves on after next season.

    Ancelotti has certainly backed him to be a regular contributor at the Bernabeu in the long run, saying after Rodriguez's derby-day intervention: "Our plan for next season is for Alvaro to be in the first-team squad. He has quality like few others and he’s tall and strong.

    "Benzema isn’t a traditional centre-forward, so having one with this quality of his height is good for us."

    It is expected that Rodriguez will still turn out for Castilla for the remainder of this season to maintain his match fitness, but it won't be long until playing in the lower tiers is a thing of the past for Madrid's next striking superstar.

    Check out NXGN's previous player profiles and follow us on Instagram and TikTok for all the latest on the world's best young ballers.