Weekly Wonderkids: Episode 17

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One of Football Index’s unique attributes as a platform is that it allows traders to pick and choose which players to buy and sell, which to stockpile, and which to keep an eye on in the future. Traders can spot a promising footballer, buy stock in said player, and watch them flourish as the player’s profile grows on the world stage. If you truly believe that a teenage prospect who’s only registered a handful of substitute appearances will go on to become a Golden Boot winner, you have the power to put your money where your mouth is and add him to your portfolio.

Each Monday, Zach Lowy will analyse a new U-23 player who Football Index traders should consider buying in a new weekly series called “Weekly Wonderkids.” With this series, you’ll be able to discover which youngsters you should place your trust in – and money – and why.

Name: Renan Lodi

Age: 21

Club: Atlético Madrid

On July 28, 2019, Filipe Luís joined Flamengo on a free transfer, returning to Brazil after 15 years abroad. He ended a glorious spell with Atlético Madrid that was interrupted only by an ill-fated season at José Mourinho’s Chelsea. The long-haired left-back left behind an unforgettable career, one in which he lifted domestic and international silverware, locked down a starting spot in Diego Simeone’s steel trap defense, and played a leading role in the most successful era of Atlético’s 116-year history.

Nevertheless, when asked about the man replacing him, Luís had no doubts that he would surpass his own legacy. “I think he’ll be the best left-back in Atlético Madrid history,” said Luís in an interview with MARCA. “He’s strong, young, willing to learn, and above all, humble. He has everything it takes.”

The man in question was Renan Lodi, who joined from Athletico Paranaense in the summer. At the age of 21, Lodi is already blossoming into one of the best left-backs in the world.

Tough Upbringing in Brazil

Born in Serrana, São Paulo, Lodi’s journey to the top was anything but easy. His parents split up when he was three, and due to financial reasons, he stuck with his father and his grandparents. 

“I lived in a very humble environment,” said Lodi in an interview with ESPN Brasil. “I could’ve taken the wrong path, but I opted for football and fought for my dream.”

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Lodi grew up flying kites and playing football on the streets of Serrana, and sold cans to afford bus tickets to training facilities. Whenever he couldn’t find cans to sell, his grandparents managed to scrape together money for him to go to practice. Lodi started off playing in Santos’s satellite academy ‘Meninos da Vila,’ located 25 kilometers away in the nearby Ribeirão Preto.

“From the start, I saw a boy with a lot of strength, a lot of potential, and who was already standing out due to his technical ability,” said Lodi’s youth coach Paulo Borges. “As soon as he joined our team, the results came immediately.” 

In his first season, Lodi scored 21 of the team’s 30 goals, with Borges’s side capping off their undefeated season with the league title. He later tried out for Corinthians, which accepted him, but the four-hour drive from his hometown to the academy was too long for him to make on a weekly basis.

Lodi returned to Serrana, where he would stay for another year, before heading nine hours south to Curitiba, joining the amateur side Trieste. He caught the eye of Alessandro Brito, a scout for first-division side Athletico Paranaense. After seven months at Trieste, Brito brought Lodi to the Furacão, where he would spend the next seven years of his career.

Evolution in Paraná

Like many Brazilian full-backs before his time, Lodi started off as a forward, modeling his game after the likes of Ronaldinho and Kaká. However, upon joining the club as a 13-year-old, his coach moved him to left-back. He disliked playing in defense at first, but soon gained a liking for the position. Lodi rose up the youth ranks, before making his professional debut on October 13, 2016, in a 1-0 loss to Grêmio.

Three days later, he was given the start in the ‘Atletiba,’ the crosstown derby between Paraná’s two biggest sides: Athletico and Curitiba. Athletico won 2-0, and as he came off in the 66th minute, the Rubro-negro fanbase bellowed his name into the night sky.

After his third start against Atlético Mineiro, Lodi returned to the bench for a while, with then-manager Paulo Autuori preferring the elder Sidcley to the 18-year-old full-back. Lodi polished his skills under the tutelage of Athletico’s U-20 coach Tiago Nunes, who assumed the position of first-team manager on June 27, 2018.

Within a month, Lodi had staked out a starting spot under Nunes, relegating veteran defender Thiago Carleto to the bench. Nunes’ arrival catapulted Athletico from the relegation zone to midtable, and Lodi’s pinpoint crossing and marauding runs down the left flank fit like a glove in the new system. With Lodi emerging into one of the best left-backs in the continent, Athletico went on to win their first international trophy: the Copa Sudamericana (South America’s version of the Europa League).

Despite attracting interest from the likes of Juventus and Zenit, Lodi stayed put in Brazil for another season. He demonstrated his elite potential against the likes of River Plate and Boca Juniors, whilst attracting a new suitor: Atlético Madrid. Athletico held out for top dollar for their young stud, rejecting two separate offers, before selling him for €25 million — €20 million upfront and €5 million in add-ons.

Breakthrough in Madrid

Anyone who knows Diego Simeone knows that he can put the fear of God in his new signings. Luciano Vietto and Bernard Mensah vomited during their first training sessions under ‘El Cholo’ due to the intensity of the workouts, but even his ferocious screams can make a young player second-guess his future.

During a preseason retreat in the Guadarrama Mountains, Simeone summoned Lodi to a room for a private conversation. He pulled up a TV screen and told him what he needed to improve on defensively. A week before the league opener, he brought him back for another meeting and showed him what he had improved on. “You will play, you will be the starter,” recalled Lodi in an interview with GloboEsporte.com.

It was a debut to forget. 41 minutes into the match, Lodi was booked for a late tackle, gifting Getafe a free-kick. As he jumped to head the ball away, he inadvertently slapped the face of Damián Suárez, who fell to the ground writhing in exaggerated pain. Referee Cuadra Fernández did not hesitate to give Lodi his second yellow in as many minutes, as his debut match for Atlético ended in ignominy.

Whenever Lodi returned from preseason workouts, he would always collapse in exhaustion due to the strenuousness of the exercises. This time, though, he came back home and told his girlfriend Rafaela, “Let’s go back to Brazil. I can’t take it anymore.”

Like so many other Brazilian kids, Lodi grew up dreaming of wearing the green and yellow on his back. So when Athletico Paranaense refused to liberate him for the Toulon Tournament, he broke into tears. Three months later, he suffered the same fate when Atlético Madrid refused to release him for a pair of friendlies for André Jardine’s Olympic team. Once again, Simeone called him in for a private talk, and this time, Lodi poured his heart out to him.

He spoke about the heartbreak of being unable to play for Brazil, of the challenge of living an ocean away from his family and friends, of the pressure of playing for one of Europe’s biggest clubs. Simeone told him, “Let’s get to work, because you’re still going to play for Brazil.”

Lodi put the pedal to the metal and returned to the starting line-up immediately after serving his one-game suspension. A month later, Simeone was proven right; Lodi won his first-ever call-up to Brazil’s senior team.

Since the expulsion against Getafe, Lodi has gone from zero to hero, blossoming into one of the finest left-backs in Europe. He isn’t just showcasing his attacking finesse, but his defensive acumen as well. In the first leg of the round of 16 fixture against Liverpool, he didn’t give Trent Alexander-Arnold or Mohammed Salah an inch of breathing room and held on for a 1-0 win.

After Luís made the transfer to Flamengo official, Lodi contacted him for the first time, revealing how much he wanted him to stay in Madrid and mentor him. Luís told him that he had already watched several matches of him, that everyone in the national team was already talking about him, and advised, “Be patient with Simeone, because he is very blunt and seems like he’s always pissed off at you. But don’t change the way you play, play your game, because you’re an ace.”

No matter how well he does, Lodi will never erase the legacy that Luís left for Brazil and Atlético Madrid. But he will write his own.


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