Ever wondered how it feels to score in front of a capacity-full stadium, a goal that lifts the fans off from their seats in collective euphoria? New Colombian striker Hugo Rodallega describes that feeling as ‘hermoso’ or to put it into its English context – as ‘beautiful’.
Rodallega joined Fulham in July and following the departures of Clint Dempsey and Mousa Dembélé, like his teammate and fellow Fultime interviewee Bryan Ruiz, much is expected of him over the coming campaign.
An explosive talent, who is powerful in the air and can shoot with either foot. From close range or distance, Rodallega is a genuine goal threat. He plays with a somewhat childlike exuberance too; you get the sense that he plays the game now as he did when he was a kid.
It’s a trait of his game that is somewhat misleading, however, for underneath the playfulness is a player that holds a deep resolve – and one that likes nothing more than punishing his opponents by hitting the back of the net. It’s an inner resourcefulness that has enabled him to handle the inherent pressures that come with being a top-flight striker.
“It’s my job to score goals, it’s what I am here to do,” claims Hugo. “It’s also one of the things that I live for – it’s a beautiful feeling and one like no other on the football pitch.
“To see the fans celebrating after you have scored is like a revolution – and one that I have caused. It’s something that makes me very happy.
“At this level, scoring goals is a difficult thing to do. People expect strikers to score, it’s simple, and they are right. Of course, with that comes pressure, but that’s something that I have learned to live with.
“If anything that pressure inspires me, because if they expect good things, then it means I am a valuable player – one that can help make a difference in front of goal. You have to find ways of managing that pressure, and use it to your advantage.”
Rodallega has settled well in his new surroundings and as Martin Jol continues to mould his attacking, front-foot team, it looks like he will play a key role having put in man-of-the-match performances against West Ham United and Wigan Athletic already.
If you believe the rumours, he was close to joining Fulham last season too, as part of a deal that would take Andrew Johnson to Rodallega’s former club. While last summer, he was heavily linked to Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool and Everton before arriving at Craven Cottage.
“Joining Fulham is the biggest challenge of my career,” he says. “There were opportunities elsewhere, but I was excited by the prospect of playing for this club. For me, I really believe that we could challenge for a place in Europe again, and I want to help take the Team to even greater things.
“There is a lot of quality in the squad, and if you look at the players that I am competing with for a place in the starting XI – Dimitar Berbatov, Mladen Petrić and Bryan Ruiz – that is quite clear.
“Competition is good, though, I believe it can only improve you as a player. It keeps you on your toes and striving to be the best that you can be. I know the fans were disappointed to see Clint Dempsey and Mousa Dembélé leave, because they were heroes here, but I want to make a similar impact and help them forget about that loss.”
Rodallega has also impressed in the yellow of his country and has almost 50 caps to date – alongside Radamel Falcao of Atletico Madrid and FC Porto pair Jackson Martinez and James Rodriguez, the 27-year-old shares much of the attacking burden as Colombia edge closer to qualifying for the 2014 World Cup in Rio.
While he has made his name in front of goal, in a 1-0 Copa America defeat of the United States in 2007 he required a different set of skills. When goalkeeper Robinson Zapata was dismissed, with all substitutes already used, Rodallega found himself as a stand-in stopper.
“As a kid I always liked to play in goal and I had messed about in training at times, so I put myself forward,” he reflects. “We won as well, and I made two or three good saves too. There’s not many people that can say that they have played up front and in goal for their country. It was a surreal experience.
“I’ve always loved playing for my country, it is a special occasion for a player. As a nation we haven’t qualified for a World Cup since 1998, so of course, we want to be part of the tournament in two years’ time in Brazil.
“The last World Cup to be held in South America was in Argentina in 1978, so there’s a lot of excitement building as another draws closer. We’re in a good position in terms of the qualifying process, so hopefully we can be part of it. We have some very talented players so hopefully this can be our moment.”
Hugo Rodallega is the fifth Colombian to play in England’s top flight and, in scoring his first goal for his new club in September, he became the ninth South American to notch 25 Premier League goals.
It was a strike that ended a run of seven hours and 43 minutes without a goal, but despite his penchant for a colourful celebration, it was one that drew a muted response - for his first for Fulham came at the expense of his former club Wigan.
“It was a sign of respect and I think their fans appreciated that,” clarifies Hugo. “I hope the Fulham supporters understood though, because even though I didn’t celebrate as I normally would it was still a special moment for me.
“I’m a professional and scoring goals is what I do best and I promise that I will celebrate fully next time. Hopefully there will be many opportunities to do so over the coming years.”
To read the full Hugo Rodallega interview be sure to pick up your copy of Issue 39 of Fultime magazine which is in store now. The winter edition is also available to read digitally.