Rodrigo De Paul is one of those players in Serie A who is certainly good enough for a bigger club than Udinese, but for some reason or another, it never really happens in any summer transfer window. It could have been Milan or even Fiorentina last summer and links with Inter are well-documented, but nothing concrete ever comes by for the Argentine. Now the time has perhaps come with Leeds United.
Despite playing for a club that barely avoids relegation every year, he still managed to put together 17 caps for Argentina, most of them in the starting XI, in a variety of midfield roles. Last summer’s contract renewal seemed more like an attempt to increase his value than a shot at keeping him at the Dacia Arena for the longer term. Whatever it was, the attempt was worth it for the club owned by the Pozzo family, as De Paul came across as one of the best chance creators in the 2019-20 Serie A campaign.
It was a typical Udinese season, as Igor Tudor got the sack in November and Luca Gotti took over the reins. While Gotti did a fair bit to keep the Friulani in the division, De Paul was once again their best player in the campaign. What is special about the 26-year-old Argentine isn’t just that he is one of the most creative players, but the fact that he has shown a consistent ability to play in multiple positions across the pitch.
Under Tudor, De Paul even played as a second striker early on in the 3-5-2 shape. The rest of the campaign saw him become the chief creator in an Udinese midfield that had two players who possess different styles - Seko Fofana and Rolando Mandragora. Fofana, who has now joined Lens in France, was given more of the freedom to carry the ball into attack and Mandragora sat deeper. De Paul was tasked with the job of often winning the ball back in the heart of the park and circulating it forward using his impeccable eye for a pass.
He contributed to 14 goals in all competitions last season, but those numbers don’t really say everything about how good a chance creator he is. De Paul came up with the fifth-best tally of shot creation actions in Serie A last season. He was eighth-best in the division for the most number of shot creation actions from live-ball situations.
If that isn’t enough, he is widely known to be one of the best creators from set-pieces as well, as he created four goals from set-pieces and was only behind Sandro Tonali, Erick Pulgar and Simone Verdi in that regard. He came up with a contribution like that in the very first game of the season, as his corner led to Udinese’s vital winner against Milan. He impressed in the club’s 2-0 victory over Roma, creating both the goals as well.
In the 2019-20 campaign, De Paul had the fourth-highest distance of progressive ball-carriers for players who had played a minimum of 1000 minutes. That is another strength of his, and playing in between Fofana and Mandragora allowed him to tap into it. That is a fair reflection of him as a player - he isn’t just progressive with his passing and creation, he is just as ambitious when carrying the ball too.
When Mandragora was missing against Juventus, De Paul stepped into the defensive midfield spot and set the tempo for an impressive 2-1 win over the Bianconeri. A lot of his versatility is down to how complete a player he is and can perform a variety of roles across the pitch. For the Argentine national team, he has even played in a wide position. Even under Udinese coaches Julio Velasquez and Davide Nicola, De Paul played on the left-wing and as second-striker multiple times, and he was still equally effective.
While playing in that position, he actually contributed to five goals in the opening four games. That is perhaps the hallmark of the sort of player De Paul is. He is adept enough to play in multiple positions across the pitch in various formations and systems. He has this skillset which has just about everything. He has the sort of graft in him that Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa would surely like and has flair and panache in abundance too.
All of that hardly makes links with the likes of Inter or Leeds United a surprise. He is someone who has kept Udinese afloat on many occasions in Serie A and if not for him, it can be said that Le Zebrette might already have been in Serie B - considering their constant habit of chopping and changing managers.
De Paul knows how to take initiative when the team really needs it. He has the skillset to perform multiple jobs on the pitch and never lets his team down. Those might be exactly the sort of talent that Bielsa would love in his player. A big move is long overdue for the 26-year-old.