Why Rodrigo De Paul Is Starring For Club And Country
Rodrigo De Paul’s £30million move to Atletico Madrid from Udinese made him one of the most expensive La Liga signings of the summer. The Argentina midfielder was in high demand, with Liverpool, Leeds United and AC Milan all reportedly interested, but it was Diego Simeone’s Spanish champions who ultimately won the race to secure his services. And the 27-year-old has shown exactly why he was a wanted man, with a series of impressive displays for club and country in the opening months of 2021-22. Football expert Tom Hancock takes a look back at his career to date and why the talented midfielder is starting to make a name for himself for both club and country.
Where It All Began
De Paul made his debut for boyhood side Racing Club three months before his 19th birthday, coming off the bench to replace Italian World Cup winner Mauro Camoranesi.
His performances for the 18-time Argentine champions soon caught the eye of Valencia, who swooped to sign him in the summer of 2014.
But things didn’t work out too well at the Mestalla – where he played during Gary Neville’s short, disastrous tenure – and he returned to Racing on loan just 19 months later, before being sold to Udinese ahead of the 2016-17 season.
The Big Break
Plying his trade for a thoroughly mid-table club – Udinese never finished above 12th during his time at the Stadio Friuli – De Paul went without continental football for five years.
A move to one of Europe’s elite was perhaps overdue, as evidenced by his final season in Serie A. He finished the campaign with ten expected assists (xA) – the highest in the league.
That kind of creativity and his ability to drive forward with the ball will have been key factors in Atleti’s decision to open their chequebook.
After all, no one in Serie A attempted (167) or completed (112) more dribbles than De Paul in 2020-21.
A Promising Start In Spain
Well, a promising return to Spain – five years after leaving Valencia, De Paul is back in LaLiga for another crack at success on the Iberian peninsula.
He’s in his prime now – as is typical of Simeone’s signings – and he has the potential to become one of the best playmakers in the Spanish top flight.
While he has provided just the one assist from 1.2 xA in seven LaLiga appearances so far, it’s worth noting that Atletico are not massively creative as a team – for expected goals, they rank outside the top 50 teams in Europe’s top five leagues so far this season.
Of course, De Paul has the tools to boost their creative output, but we know that Simeone is a defensive-minded coach, whose set-up means Atleti score a great deal of their goals on the break or from turnovers high up the pitch.
De Paul has shown what he can do, notably with his ball-carrying ability – he sits among the best in Europe in terms of dribble completion and progressive carries (carrying the ball at least five yards towards goal or into the penalty area) – so perhaps it is just a case of acquainting himself with a new manager and tactical approach.
Making History With Argentina
De Paul made his international debut in a 4-0 friendly win over Iraq in October 2018 and went on to feature at the Copa America the following year.
His greatest moment for the Albiceleste, however, came in the latest edition of the same tournament, as they lifted the trophy for the 15th time this summer – and the first time since 1993.
In the final, De Paul set up Angel Di Maria for the only goal of the game, as Argentina defeated their great rivals Brazil – at Rio’s iconic Maracana, no less.
Earlier in the competition, he opened the scoring as Lionel Scaloni’s side beat Ecuador 3-0 in the quarter-finals. That was his first international goal – his second came in Monday night’s 2022 World Cup qualifying win over Uruguay by the same scoreline.
On current form, don’t bet against the Buenos Aires-born star adding to that tally in Argentina’s upcoming clash with Peru.