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OPINION - Make or Break Season for Sunderland's Jack Rodwell

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Another season of passive performances will give the club a big decision to make regarding Jack Rodwell. The player faces a defining period on Wearside, and one that is likely to decide his future in red and white.

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Like many other fans I was delighted when we signed Jack Rodwell, and swiftly headed to the pub to toast the fact we had finally signed an imposing midfield player. The club looked to have answered our prayers in the acquisition of a young, English, athletic, ball playing midfielder with something to prove after a miserable time and just 26 appearances at Manchester City. He was hailed as the box to box midfielder we had craved for so long, and it appeared the timing was perfect for both the club and the player. Safe to say his period on Wearside has been pretty miserable to date (bar the odd flash here and there), and he now faces arguably his most important season ever as a professional footballer.

Rodwell’s CV suggests there is clearly talent and a pedigree there – you don’t get capped at every level by England and hailed as a future captain without both ability and application. However he cannot drift through another season merely being the passenger in a midfield three, which has been a regular occurrence in his time on Wearside so far. I’ll always back any player in red and white who runs themselves into the ground for the cause, but unfortunately for Rodwell hard work and effort isn’t enough. I want to see him grab a game by the scruff of the neck and be willing to take risks, instead of this tendency to always take the safe and unimaginative options. I want to see him use that powerful frame and stature to burst forward from midfield, and carry the ball with purpose.

His confidence is obviously low, and that’s something which needs addressing by both the coaching staff and the individual. Failure to overcome this will surely result in matches continuing to pass him by, and the crippling nature of being too afraid to try something different with the fear of losing the ball and the groans of the crowd that follow. I don’t think it’s fair for Rodwell to be made a scapegoat for our current plight – yes he’s underperforming but the players around him are hardly setting the world alight either. That being said he has to do more to make his mark on a game, and not just accept being the third wheel alongside Cattermole, M’Vila or Larsson.

I believe a big part of this problem is his role within the team, and the fact that the player himself looks completely lost within this system. Under both Gus Poyet and Dick Advocaat, there is no definitive role for Rodwell in that midfield three. Cattermole is the defensive screen/ball winner, Larsson brings bags of energy in both defence/attack and so….does that make Rodwell the creative presence? I think most of us would now agree that is not within his make-up, and therefore he just ends up acting as an extra body in there trying to do a bit of everything.

Having watched Rodwell so far in his time at the Stadium of Light, I believe he has two options going forward in terms of a long term role within this squad. The first is competition for the role Lee Cattermole currently fills, and a chance to learn from a man who has developed significantly over the last two seasons. The second would be to explore a potential switch to centre half, which both the youth team coach at Everton and David Moyes highlighted as the position they felt he would end up in. Both options would take advantage of his defensive abilities, as well as allowing him to distribute effectively from deeper positions.

If we acquire the creative number 10 we all crave, I don’t believe Rodwell has a future in either of those other two midfield slots if we are to persist with a 4-3-3 set up. He doesn’t have the creative capabilities or workrate/physical robustness to be able to assume those roles, and asking him to do so is unlikely to yield anything other than the performances of late.

It is worth remembering that not so long ago Lee Cattermole and Seb Larsson were in similar positions, in terms of feeling the brunt of fans frustrations. They have come through it and forged a role within this team, and now Jack Rodwell faces the same challenge if he is to have any future at the Stadium of Light.