A draw against the Czech Republic is enough for the Swiss footballers on Tuesday to avoid relegation in the Nations League. Ricardo Rodriguez is facing his 100th international match, Granit Xhaka is 30 years old – and the Swiss want to celebrate a win.
First there are appreciative words from the boss. “He has a great service to this national team, he is irreplaceable on the left side of defense,” says Murat Yakin about Ricardo Rodriguez. Rodriguez is sitting next to the national coach at the media conference in St. Gallen. He faces his 100th international match against the Czech Republic on Tuesday evening. Rodriguez says: “It means a lot to me, I’m very proud and happy that I did it.”
Ricardo Rodriguez is only the seventh player to have 100 or more games entered in the statistics for the Swiss national team. Heinz Herrmann (118), Alain Geiger (112), Stephan Lichtsteiner (108) and Stéphane Chapuisat (103) are among them; in the current team, these are Xherdan Shaqiri (106) and Granit Xhaka (104). And when Xhaka celebrates his 30th birthday today and Rodriguez, also 30, joins the national team of 100, that represents an important part of the quality of the team, which at least secured its place in League A with a draw against the Czech Republic of the Nations League wants to defend. This part is called experience and friendship.
Xhaka is loud, Rodriguez is silent
Along with Xhaka, Shaqiri, Haris Seferovic, Yann Sommer and maybe Fabian Schär and Remo Freuler, Rodriguez is one of the “eternal” national players – they are all around 30 years old and form something like the tribe of the older ones, who have been there for many years years in the team. That Rodriguez is part of it is sometimes almost forgotten.
Because while Shaqiri is responsible for goals and spectacles or Xhaka for the role of boss on and off the pitch, Rodriguez is on the quiet side, doing his job as a left-back with stoic reliability. Ricardo Rodriguez? It’s always there.
That was already apparent when Rodriguez made his debut at FC Zurich in March 2010: He came on for the injured Hannu Tihinen and did his job with impressive ease by simply being there with no sign of debutant nervousness. Above all, he stayed – Rodriguez could not be driven out, not even by Ludovic Magnin, who at the time had to give up his regular place as a seasoned Bundesliga professional and national player.
Rodriguez was 17 a few months after winning the U-17 World Cup in Nigeria in late 2009 alongside Seferovic and Xhaka. At least since then the two have been friends, until today. The loud Xhaka, the quiet Rodriguez – maybe they fit together so well because of their opposites.
The Swiss are U-17 world champions!
It was Ottmar Hitzfeld who brought the two back together in October 2011. Xhaka was making his third senior appearance in Wales when Rodriguez came on as a substitute in a 2-0 loss for his first international cap. Both were meanwhile regular players, Rodriguez in FCZ, Xhaka in FC Basel. And both pursued their dream of going abroad “with tenacity and a lot of work,” as Rodriguez once said. In January 2012 Rodriguez moved to Wolfsburg, Xhaka to Mönchengladbach six months later. The rest is history. Today Rodriguez is captain at Torino, Xhaka leader at Arsenal.
Over the years, however, the national team has become a meeting place where the two saw each other again and again on the common foundation of the carefree years as youth footballers. Rodriguez hasn’t changed much off the field on his way to becoming a hundred-time international. He is not exactly considered a particularly fruitful interview partner. Instead of words in front of the microphones, Rodriguez prefers to show himself with actions on the pitch.
Rodriguez is also a man of tight sentences on Monday when he is supposed to look back. He says: “There are so many positive things. Participating in the World Cup and the European Championship is the biggest thing for the national team. And that I was always there and fortunately not injured. There aren’t that many negatives.”
High game intelligence
You don’t necessarily need eloquence to be a good footballer. Peter Knäbel, once technical director in the association, put it this way before the World Cup in Russia: “There is football intelligence. Intellect is something else. Rodriguez is an enormously intelligent player. He’s not particularly fast or has any other outstanding quality, but he’s enormously capable of learning.” And calm.
His calmness is another quality that astonished even junior coaches. “He didn’t seem to notice feelings like fear or nervousness,” said former FCZ training director Ernst Graf in the “Tages-Anzeiger” about Rodriguez, who came to FCZ from Schwamendingen as a 12-year-old. One can only speculate if Rodriguez’s apparent serenity has anything to do with the fact that he survived a diaphragmatic hernia at birth.
Rodriguez was sent off at half-time against Spain on Saturday, after a week with a fever he was out of breath after 45 minutes. “I’m better, I’m fit,” says Rodriguez. Murat Yakin left no doubt that Rodriguez will play “if everything goes well”. For once, Rodriguez not only wants to “win every game, as always” – he also wants to celebrate three times: the win, his 100th international match, Xhaka’s birthday.