When Manchester City needlessly and spontaneously splashed twelve million pounds on Jack Rodwell from Everton in 2012 - as though the cash involved was nothing more than pocket change to their billionaire owners - they surprised many of those looking in from the outside. Rodwell, despite his obvious talent and glittering reputation as a future star in the game was, and still is, a known ‘risk’ – his issues with hamstring injuries have been a constant thorn in his side since becoming a professional footballer. In fact, he’s had nine separate hamstring problems since 2009, the latest in a long line coming in January of this year.
When Rodwell burst onto the Premier League scene as a sixteen year old he was lauded by the masses – a typically English thing to do when a young player shows promise. It was made no secret that Alex Ferguson was a massive fan of Jack throughout his formulative years at Goodison Park.
Despite his immense breakthrough and rise into the first team picture at Everton under David Moyes, Rodwell's stop/start career thus far has been both frustrating and disheartening - even the most prudent of buyers would have concerns that their investment in such an undoubtedly brilliant player might just not be worth it.
Knocks, bruises and tears are not the only problems the bustling midfielder has faced in the last two years. Roberto Mancini had a glut of experience and talent to select from in Rodwell’s position and despite being fit for the majority of last term the Italian’s successor, Manuel Pellegrini, simply did not fancy him. Jack, along with Scott Sinclair, became a victim of stockpiling by the Premier League champions and was allowed to fester as nothing more than a backup option. Career wise, Rodwell made a poor decision in leaving Merseyside for the Citizens.
In many cases with Sunderland we find ourselves in the wrong place at the wrong time when it comes to potential signings. Lee Congerton, our much maligned sporting director, has faced brick wall after brick wall in his efforts to strengthen Gus Poyet’s squad this summer and, with a very specific and convoluted list of targets to work from, he’s received scathing criticism from certain areas of our support who have grown increasingly discontented with our supposed lack of competency in the transfer market. His job as head of player recruitment, coupled with the task to avoid becoming the scapegoat for the daily problems we face as a club in the process of rebuilding, is both unenvious and onerous.
The emergence of Rodwell as a preeminent target for Sunderland shows that Congerton, despite appearing to operate sluggishly from the outside, has been working hard. I’ve never doubted him for a minute.
Despite all of the issues that Rodwell has faced he's a desirable player that will have been lusted after by most sides in this league. The potential for growth in such a young and talented midfielder makes the signing of the England international a relative coup for any club that can afford him regular game time – his ability to operate and dominate in every area of the midfield, against any level of opposition, makes him a ‘next level’ signing for a club like Sunderland.
Being able to showcase a significant acquisition like Rodwell somewhat strengthens Congerton’s hand in the transfer market and enables him to present so much more to other potential signings. That, coupled with the large contract handed to the player, makes this procurement much more than just another buy; it’s a statement. It showcases that Sunderland, under a progressive and relevant coach in Gus Poyet, are going places.
Rodwell's continuous issues and difficulties with fitness will concern many but it may not be as big of an issue as we fear. The solace I suppose we can seek is that the club medical team have managed to keep the likes of John O’Shea, Lee Cattermole and - perhaps most notably and incomparably - Wes Brown fit for such large parts of the last two years. Rodwell arrives at the club to the club with a clean slate, safe in the knowledge that his fitness will be managed by a team of doctors and physicians that have worked with some of the most problematic injury-prone players we’ve ever had at this club.
It’s a risk, but what purchase isn’t? You can never predict the future when it comes to injuries – any player can break his leg or rupture a cruciate in a second. We have to be confident that Rodwell’s troubles are behind him.
In finally acquiring a central midfielder of Rodwell’s calibre we’ve dusted away the cobwebs and peeled away the tape that has held our midfield together for what feels like an age. Not since the likes of Gavin McCann and Don Hutchison graced the pitch in the red and white cloth during the heady days of the Peter Reid era have we seen a central midfielder in his mould at our club.
The hope, I guess, is that we’re finally making progress. I get the feeling that Congerton has delivered with this one – patience was all that was required.
Perhaps we should afford him some more as he seeks to encourage others to join Poyet’s army.
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