FORMER loan star Rodrigo has thanked Wanderers for setting him on the way to the big time.
Arriving in Bolton from Benfica as a relatively unknown teenager in 2011, the jet-heeled winger could not quite make the impact required to become a first-team regular in his one and only year in English football.
He showed flashes of his undoubted talent, but was still too young and inexperienced to play a regular part in Owen Coyle’s side.
His big moment in a Wanderers shirt came at the DW Stadium, where he gave a glimpse of his huge potential with a silky finish to earn a point in the derby against Wigan Athletic.
Although he made only four starts in the Premier League, that did not deter then-manager Coyle from taking steps to attempt to sign him permanently the following summer.
Despite the best efforts of the boss and chairman Phil Gartside, Benfica failed to agree a price and they were forced to look elsewhere.
The forward – full name Rodrigo Moreno but simply known by the single monicker – has barely looked back.
Two Europa League finals, a hatful of domestic trophies and now a lucrative loan move to La Liga with Valencia have seen the Brazil-born youngster’s stock skyrocket.
Some reports suggested that Liverpool were interested in securing his signature earlier in the summer – with valuations placing him around the £20million mark.
But speaking ahead of a recent pre-season friendly between Valencia and Manchester United at Old Trafford, in which he scored for the Spanish side in a 2-1 defeat, Rodrigo acknowledged the time spent in the North West had been vital for his career.
“I was young and my coach Jorge Jesus preferred me to go on loan so that I could play more,” he said.
“It was a spectacular year. The Premier League is unlike any other in the world.
“It was important for my evolution and also my physical condition.
“You need to be strong to play in England. I wasn’t a regular starter for Bolton but I did get a lot of minutes. I enjoyed it.
“It was my first year as a professional in a first team and I’ll always be grateful to Owen Coyle for taking me to Bolton.”
Rodrigo missed a penalty against Sevilla in the Europa Cup final last season as Benfica lost at the showpiece for the second year running.
Technically owned by a private company, who had bought the player’s economic rights in January this year, the decision was made to move on to La Liga for a year – where he hopes to add a full Spain cap to his impressive collection of youth and Olympic appearances for his naturalised country.
“It’s another stage in my career,” he said. “I’m always looking for new experiences and I’m at a big club in a big league.
“I accepted immediately when I was approached. I’ve wanted to play in La Liga since I was a young boy. Now I have my chance.”