Real Betis have seen several highly talented players graduate from their academy over the years and the latest is Rodri Sánchez, the 21-year-old line-breaking midfielder who made his senior debut in November 2020.
Rodri joined Real Betis’ academy in 2016 and he did so with an unparalleled footballing education already behind him.
It was quite a coup for Betis, given that he’d already spent time in the youth setups of Real Madrid, Atlético de Madrid, RCD Espanyol, FC Barcelona, and RC Deportivo, some of the best academies in the country.
Born and raised in Talayuela, in the large but sparsely populated autonomous community of Extremadura in Spain’s southwest, Rodri had to travel in search of his first footballing opportunities.
His quality stood out enough that he was given a place at CD Canillas, a feeder club to Real Madrid, and he regularly made the four-hour round trip to prove what he could do at the capital city club.
That later brought Rodri moves to the academies of Atleti, Espanyol, Barça and Depor, never spending more than one season in the same institution.
While some might have viewed that as disruptive to his development, Rodri took the opposite approach and embraced the chance to learn different skills and different styles from as many of the country’s best youth coaches as possible.
Looking for a finishing school in 2016, where he could spend the final yet crucial years of his youth career, Rodri attracted a lot of interest from Premier League sides.
But he and his family considered the project offered to him by Real Betis, a club known for its quality youth set-up, too good to turn down and he signed with the Verdiblancos.
It took Rodri just two years to break into the first time, making his first appearance for the senior side in a 4-0 friendly win over Merida AD in summer 2018.
He trained with the first-team squad once the season started, making his competitive debut on November 7th against Barcelona no less, coming for the final minutes of a 5-2 defeat at the Camp Nou.
Despite competing on the Saturday under the Camp Nou floodlights, Rodri made yet another trip across the country in order to play the full 90 minutes for Real Betis’ B team the following day, starting and finishing a 1-1 draw against Yeclano Deportivo in Murcia, 400km away. That exemplified Rodri’s commitment and desire to take every opportunity presented to him.
Over the following weeks and months, he grasped every other chance given to him by first-team coach Manuel Pellegrini and has since become a regular in the starting XI.
He’s already made over 30 appearances for the first team, and even scored a couple of goals too: one in the Copa del Rey against Real Sporting and another in the Europa League against Ferencváros.
That goal in Budapest was scored a long way away from Talayuela, Extremadura. But Rodri has demonstrated that it doesn’t matter where a footballing journey begins.
What matters is the talent displayed along the way and he has certainly proved his worthwhile working his way through some of the best academies of Spanish football.
As Real Betis go from strength to strength, competing both at the top end of LaLiga Santander and in Europe, keep an eye on Rodri as their star of the future.