'Rodagol' hopes to catch up with Messi

He outshone Barça's genius as a youth player but things have not gone so well for Wigan's striker – until now, he tells Ian Herbert

There were grounds for a rueful smile in rain-drenched Lancashire during this week of paeans for Lionel Messi. The Argentine collected the Ballon d'Or on Tuesday, the latest staging post in a footballing journey which began at the Fifa Under-20 World Cup of 2005, generally remembered as Messi's coming out party.

But the tournament in the Netherlands wasn't the only one of that year. At the South American youth championships, where Messi was widely expected to be the dominant player, he found himself eclipsed by one Hugo Rodallega, a striker who has made it as far as Wigan on his own journey, but is beginning to provide evidence of why he broke all South American goalscoring records that summer.

Rodallega, or "Rodagol" as he's known to most Colombians, started the under-20s tournament on the bench but soon arrived, coming on in the second half of the opening game against Bolivia to score four times. He duly rewrote the South American record books, with 11 goals in nine games as Colombia took the title. They headed to the world championships, only to meet Argentina in the first knock-out round and lose 2-1 to a last-minute Julio Barroso goal.

The tournament became Messi's. Rodallega's career took a different course. His prodigious club record saw him lured from Colombia to Mexico but his spell at Monterrey was disastrous, a loan move to Atlas forgettable and despite a decent 2007-08 season at Necaxa, his potential seemed unfulfilled. Then Wigan manager Steve Bruce, whose trawl of central and South America had unearthed such riches as Antonio Valencia and Wilson Palacios, signed him in January last year.

Questions were asked when his first 11 games failed to elicit a goal but it is now felt that Rodallega was thrown into the fray too early, after Emile Heskey left for Aston Villa, and a truer picture emerged at the back of last season – three goals in the last four games, including one against Manchester United, contributed significantly to the extra £8m Wigan secured by finishing 11th. Rodallega's strike at Sunderland last week took him to six in this campaign.

His resolve certainly makes him a more reliable prospect than Amr Zaki, Wigan's Egyptian import who set the League alight last autumn, scoring nine by early December but infuriated Bruce with his unreliability. "To become a better player you should always set yourself targets and I do that. I do it with my close friends and family," Rodallega says. "This season I thought 15. I suppose I have six now and there is half a season to go so it's still a realistic target."

It was the same figure he told his manager Roberto Martinez about at the start of the campaign, which began with his auspicious strike in the win at Aston Villa, though few goals will probably be more satisfying to club or player this season than the strike against Sunderland last Saturday which gave Martinez three points to atone for the 9-1 defeat at Tottenham. "We knew we had to rid ourselves of that bitter memory of the shameful defeat to Tottenham," the 24-year-old says, his resolve to score underlined by the fact that he had suffered a bad fall earlier in that game, which left him feeling dizzy. "I felt I was on the edge of losing consciousness at one stage," he says. "The physio said to the gaffer that he was going to have to make a change but I said, 'No, I want to carry on'. I never want to leave a game."

As he talks, you get a sense of what Martinez meant earlier this season when he spoke about the welcome type of "arrogance" in Rodallega. "He's a typical example," the manager said. "He feels he's going to score in any game. He's very, very arrogant, in the right way."

One of the most colourful range of boots in the Premier League – each with the Colombian flag stitched in – adds to this general impression. "Yellow, red, orange, white, blue," he says, detailing his collection. "The one I will never wear is black. And not pink." (Emmerson Boyce suggested a few weeks ago that pink was in the repertoire, but we'll just take Rodallega at his word.) There's the Carlos Tevez style thumb-sucking celebration, too, in recognition of his little boy, Hugo, who is currently kicking a ball around the Rodallega front room for the first time. The player promises another if he scores at home to Birmingham today. "It's still under wraps."

Given the recent Sunday afternoon at White Hart Lane, it may be of relief to Martinez to know that Rodallega is not averse to a spell between the sticks if the moment is called for. In his full international debut for Colombia, a stand-in was needed after Robinson Zapata was dismissed 10 minutes from the end against the United States in the Copa America in Venezuela, when all three substitutes had been used. "As a kid I always liked to play in goal and in training I messed about and went in goal so I volunteered," he relates of Colombia's 1-0 win. "I didn't let in a goal. I made two or three good saves."

Wigan's bumpy season suggests there will be much outfield work at hand, though Rodallega does not believe that the journey, which began in 2005, is necessarily finished yet. "Wigan are the club that brought me here and from day one I've been treated really well," he says. "My desire is to leave my mark on Wigan. But footballers are always ambitious and if a bigger club was to come in you have to be honest and take the situation as it happens. As an individual you think of your own future."

Hugo on a hot streak: Rodallega's record

*Hugo Rodallega has hit a hot scoring streak for Wigan, and is among the top Premier League goalscorers since 9 May last season. His tally of nine goals compares with some of the more usual names at the top of the scoring charts – only Jermain Defoe, Didier Drogba, Fernando Torres, Wayne Rooney, Robbie Keane and Louis Saha have hit more in the same period.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot