I had the privilege of being at Wembley on a gloriously hot Saturday evening last August when Liverpool romped to a 4-0 victory over Barcelona in the International Champions Cup. While the result barely registered in the grand scheme of things, it was an unforgettable first visit to the iconic stadium for this Irish-residing Reds fan, who, at half-time went to purchase a refreshment and was entranced by the interval singing session of travelling Kopites. ‘Justice for the 96’ was aired, as was the ‘Luis Garcia, he drinks Sangria’ ditty. One song I hadn’t quite banked on hearing, though, concerned a player who left the club four years previously: ‘Maxi, Maxi Rodriguez runs down the wing for me!’.
The Argentine winger (as you may have guessed by the song lyrics) came to global prominence with three goals at the 2006 World Cup, the last of which was a sumptuous volley to settle a tense last 16 clash with Mexico. At the time, he had just completed the first of four and a half seasons with Atletico Madrid, where a string of consistently impressive performances convinced Rafael Benitez to bring him to Liverpool in January 2010. The Spaniard’s transfer dealings in his last two seasons at Anfield left a lot to be desired, but the capture of Rodriguez on a free transfer was undoubtedly among his better judgements.
He was solid and dependable for the Reds without setting the world alight in his first few months at the club. Having found the net with regularity at Atletico, his goal record in England wasn’t as pronounced, although he supplied quite a few for the team’s strikers. Rodriguez’s time in Liverpool would be defined by an outstanding 16-day period towards the end of a troubled 2010/11 season. In three league games against Birmingham, Newcastle, and Fulham, he chipped in with no fewer than seven goals; and with just one of those coming against the Geordies, it meant he netted hat-tricks in the matches either side of that 3-0 win. Indeed, it took him just half a minute to deny Mark Schwarzer a clean sheet at Craven Cottage, where he rounded off his treble with a 25-yard beauty in a 5-2 stroll for the Reds.
Rodriguez’s goal tally settled down to a less spectacular ratio during 2011/12, although he plundered key strikes in close-fought wins at Chelsea and Blackburn, all the while turning out lively displays that brought Liverpool fans some much-needed cheer during a dismal campaign which saw Kenny Dalglish’s side stumble to an eighth-place finish. He would leave Anfield in July 2012, writing an open letter of appreciation to Liverpool supporters upon his departure.
Rodriguez then completed the circle of his career by returning to boyhood club Newell’s Old Boys in his homeland a decade after leaving for Europe. Now 36, he has remained at the Rosario club since his return to Argentina, whom he represented along their run to the 2014 World Cup final, albeit in a bit-part role. It seems probable that he will give another couple of seasons at Newell’s before calling time on his career.
An Anfield stay of two-and-a-half years, most of it a time of struggle for Liverpool, would not hint at hero status, but the sheer skill, commitment, and humility of Maxi Rodriguez has meant that he continues to be hugely admired in the red half of Merseyside. We have not heard the last of the amended Heartbeat theme tune of appreciation for this gifted wide player.