“I think I’ve watched that goal, the celebration, the reaction of my team-mates about 5,000 times,” Rodri admits. And it’s safe to assume his view count won’t stop there – not when rewatching the scene is the closest he can come to travelling back in time for another raw hit of dopamine. “It was a magical and special moment. That moment lasts less than a second. You start sprinting and it lasts no more than two or three seconds.”
Fortunately for the rest of us, Rodri’s viewing habits have made him a world-class authority on his own glorious strike. If he didn’t already have a degree in Management and Business Administration, it would be easy to picture him as an Oxbridge undergrad specialising in the 2023 Champions League final – and who better to conjure up that night in Istanbul and the moment which took City to the summit of Europe?
“The goal came in the 68th minute,” he begins, unsurprisingly right on the money. “It came after a play where we’d had possession for a long time, with the ball moving through different areas. It was a through ball into space from Jack Grealish, which İlkay Gündoğan got to, close to the byline. The ball went back to Phil Foden. It seemed the move had ended there because the ball then went back to Manuel Akanji, a central defender. I think the key to the goal was precisely that: moving the ball backwards for Inter’s defence to jump forward.
“At that moment, Akanji carries the ball forward to grab the attention of one of their players, and that’s when Inter committed one of their few mistakes in the whole match. One of their centre-backs came out to pressure him, which left space in behind for Bernardo Silva to run into, and that’s when Manu Akanji played the through ball. To be honest, I’d barely been involved in the move because I was being marked and the ball was being played on the wings.”
“When I saw the ball go in, it was just an explosion of happiness. It was a Euphoric moment for the whole team”
Here, it’s difficult not to interject and note Rodri’s tactical nous. The 27-year-old clearly has an analytical mind, as if that were not already obvious from the way he plays – always reading the game, always knowing how and where to intervene to stifle the opposition and then which pass to select as City get moving again. In that, there are echoes of Pep Guardiola, himself an astute and elegant holding midfielder in his playing pomp. No wonder the City manager is a massive fan, having given him more minutes on the pitch last season than any other player, including goalkeeper Ederson. Anyway, sorry Rodri. Back to you…
“When the pass went through to Bernardo, I wasn’t expecting to shoot. I was expecting a cross for our striker or our wingers who were arriving in the box. When I saw the cross was a strong one, and that it rebounded off an Inter centre-back, I saw the ball was coming towards me at pace. During that second or millisecond when I start to move towards it, I see a space open up due to their centre-back leaving his position. They had gone very deep, which left the edge of the box free, and the ball dropped to me.
“I first thought of striking the ball hard because that’s how I usually shoot, but I analysed how many players there were inside the box – and there were many – so striking the ball hard was not the best option. It was at the very last moment when I chose to place my shot, even though I knew it would be difficult. In the end, I decided to put some swerve on the finish because there were many players defending the goal.”
Swerve or not, it was still an emphatic effort, the force of the strike lifting the net off the grass and leaving Inter goalkeeper André Onana unable to react, aside from a swivel of the head as if he were watching a serve at Wimbledon. “When I saw the ball go in, it was just an explosion of happiness,” adds Rodri. “It was a euphoric moment for the whole team. When you score such an important goal, you all feel that relief, that happiness, but it was also contained as we knew there were still 20 minutes left to see the match through.
“I felt exhausted after the celebration, after sprinting away. However, at that moment, you think you’ve just scored a very important goal. We knew how difficult it was to win that final, but you felt a step closer to victory. We just had to keep believing. That’s what I thought at that moment. I obviously enjoyed celebrating that joyous moment with my team-mates, with our fans – that explosion of happiness. It was a mix of all these emotions; so, on the one hand, I was delighted but, on the other hand, I had to keep calm as there was still time left.”