Real Madrid pearl Rodrygo is the talk of the town after his heroics against Manchester City in the Champions League semi-final second leg at the Bernabeu on Wednesday night.
Once more coming off the bench and turning the tie on its head, as he had done against competition holders Chelsea in the quarter-finals, the Brazilian scored a brace in the 90th and 91st minutes that forced extra time before Karim Benzema converted a 95th minute penalty to put Los Blancos into the final against Liverpool by winning 6-5 on aggregate.
“I’m really happy to be able to score two goals in the semi-final and get Madrid to the place where they always belong – the Champions League final – and to win it,” said the 21-year-old post-match.
“I couldn’t hear what my teammates were saying to me because I couldn’t believe what was happening. We were losing the game [before] my first goal in the 90th minute and we were dead, and then what happened was what happened.”
“That’s my best version of myself in the Champions League and I hope I can continue to score a lot more times. In this shirt we learn to always fight until the end and that’s the way it was. We conceded a goal and we were almost dead, but with my first goal we started to believe because we’ve fought back in other games and then came the second,” he added.
But as SPORT have revealed, the Qatar 2022 World Cup hopeful could have been performing these feats in a Blaugrana shirt instead, with FC Barcelona narrowly missing out on his signature in 2018 to bitter rivals Madrid.
Fearing he would lose the next ‘new Neymar’ after losing grip of the Paris Saint Germain forward himself earlier in the decade, Madrid president Florentino Perez stunned the football world when paying a combined €120mn ($127mn) for Vinicius Jr and Rodrygo from Flamengo and Santos respectively before they had turned 18.
After a member of Vinicius’ staff “betrayed” Barca in 2017, the Catalans turned their attention to Rodrygo and had an agreement in principle with the player and his family.
All that was left to do was begin negotiations with his club Santos, which also produced Neymar from its world famous academy, but Barca were told to refer to Rodrygo’s €50mn ($53mn) release clause by then-president Jose Carlos Peres.
Due to a blossoming relationship with Rodrygo’s camp, Barca wanted them to put pressure on Santos to agree to sell Rodrygo and close the door to any other interested parties.
With Madrid having just shelled out for Vinicius months earlier, there was no feeling that they would pay a similar amount for a similarly-aged Rodrgyo too, but a meeting in Liverpool of all places changed everything.
On the eve of the 2018 World Cup, Brazil were in town to play Croatia in a warm-up friendly won 2-0. And while Rodrygo was too young for the senior Selecao team, Peres was present and met with Madrid’s general director Jose Angel Sanchez.
In the brief sit-down, Sanchez offered €40mn ($42.5mn) for Rodrygo of which half would be paid up front immediately, and the president of a cash-strapped outfit on the brink of being fired for mismanagement willingly accepted.
Due to Barca being financially-challenged themselves at the time after paying premiums for Phillipe Coutinho and Ousmane Dembele, they could neither match this nor personal offers of an €8mn ($8.5mn) signing bonus and €8mn in commissions to Rodrygo’s agents which Madrid adminstered to Vincius Jr’s entourge too.
Rodrygo’s father allegedly called Barca apologizing for changing direction and breaking their verbal agreement. But the rest, as they say, is history with the Goes family arriving in the Spanish capital the summer after the prodigy had turned 18 at the start of 2019.