- Tigres back in action in the Concacaf Champions League this Wednesday
- Rodriguez aiming to make it to Qatar in 2021 and 2022
- “Every game’s a final from here on”
Life is going pretty well for Luis Rodriguez these days. He is about to appear in the quarter-finals of the Concacaf Champions League with Tigres, he has earned a place in the Mexico squad under Gerardo Martino, and, most importantly of all, his family have put their health problems behind them.
Before joining Tigres in 2016, the man they call Chaka left Monterrey to further his career at San Luis and then Chiapas. It was then, far from home, that he received some very bad news.
“My wife had cancer in 2015,” Rodriguez explained. “She was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma, which hadn’t spread to her bone marrow. She was in treatment for a year, with chemotherapy and radiotherapy. She was back and forth from Monterrey for treatment. When we talk about it she makes light of it, but it’s a huge challenge for the person who has to deal with it and for their family.”
His wife’s illness has shaped his character and his life. “It helped me to mature in various ways,” he said. “We see life differently now. We know that we’re here today but that tomorrow we don’t know. We enjoy other things. We focus on other things and our priorities have definitely changed.”
To be closer to his family, Rodriguez made the move back to Monterrey, this time to play for Tigres, the arch rivals of the team he started out with.
“I’ll be honest: I wanted to go back to Los Rayados, because that’s where I came through,” he said. “Then the talk turned to me moving to Tigres, and I had no problem with that because I’d be going back to my hometown. It also appealed to me because of the fans and what Tigres represent. I was a bit scared because I know Tuca [Tigres coach Ricardo Ferretti] is strict and demanding, and I know the players they’ve got. But there’s competition anywhere you go.”
Rodriguez had to fight hard to earn a place in a side with some big names. Given few opportunities to begin with, he had to draw on all his mental strength to keep his faith before eventually becoming an undisputed starter.
“Yes, it was a struggle getting some game time,” he explained. “You’ve always got two or three players for each position here, so I had to work hard to get a starting place. I always knew that I had a bigger challenge here than at other clubs. I spoke about it with my dad and my wife, though, and I said to them that the only thing could happen, with so many good players here, is that I would become a better player. Even if I wasn’t going to get a game, I’d shine with another team.”
Rodriguez’s new-found maturity is an asset he will be bringing to Tigres’ bid to set straight their recent record in finals – three defeats in the last five years – and win the Concacaf Champions League. Achieve that and a place at the FIFA Club World Cup will be theirs.
Rodriguez has another very good reason for wanting to win the regional competition: “I’d love to play at the Club World Cup. I won the Concacaf Champions League with Monterrey but left just before they went to the Club World Cup. I’ve always wanted to make up for that and I hope I can do it with Tigres.”
The first port of call on the road to the final is New York City FC, with Tigres holding a 1-0 aggregate lead from the first leg, held way back on 11 March, before Covid-19 caused the world to shut down.
“Having stopped for so long is not an advantage or a disadvantage for anyone,” said Rodriguez. “It’s a really important game and every team is thinking the same. In just a few matches you can end up champions and go to the Club World Cup. Every game’s a final from here on.”
Fourth time lucky
2016, 2017 and 2019. Three times Tigres have reached the Concacaf Champions League final in recent years and three times they have lost. The quest for the trophy resumes on Wednesday for a club that is not accustomed to letting silverware through its fingers. “We’ve been in a few finals and mistakes up front and at the back have cost us,” said Rodriguez.
Asked if he is excited about what the rest of his career might have in store for him, he said: “My priority is not to go to Europe. I’m too old now and having four children makes it tough to move to another country. I’d love to play in a World Cup and if I keep doing what I’m doing, I can stay in Martino’s plans. All these games are a lot of fun. My goal is to go to Qatar first of all in the Club World Cup and then go back with the national team in 2022.”