Momentum in football is a funny thing, and often the deciding factor in a player’s career. Take Jamie Vardy for example. Seemingly every day, we are reminded that he played in the Mickey Mouse Under 30s Square South Division three years ago and was paid in Homebase vouchers and bags of Skittles. Or something like that. As much as he makes it hard to buy into the Leicester "fairytale" - screaming "you f***ing c**t" at a ref who correctly sent him off for diving - you cannot disagree his rise to the Premier League top scorer charts has been meteoric. His progression through the football leagues can only be compared to a rolling stone, gathering momentum as he chases and harries defenders of an increasingly high standard (with the obvious exception of Billy Jones).
The opposite can be said of Jack Rodwell. While Vardy will be playing in the Champions League next year, Rodwell’s career is in a tail-spin. He was once hailed as a "future star of English football" and the "next Bobby Moore" by the Everton youth team coaches who discussed his future in the same hushed tones they reserved for Wayne Rooney. Rodwell burst onto the Premier League scene in 2008 and received his first full International cap for England before he turned 21. He made his first appearance in a European competition before he turned 17 and even scored two long-range screamers in his first ever European start. His career was off to a flyer and potential suitors competed for the right to buy the talented youngster. No wonder financial behemoths Man City came calling in the summer of 2012. Unfortunately, this is where the problems started for Rodwell.
Man City are not entirely to blame for allowing Rodwell’s career to stagnate. Sometimes, a player is fated to suffer relentless injury problems and this curse befell Rodwell. It is pitiful that he managed only 16 league appearances for City in two seasons. Even more pitiful are Sunderland for paying £10M for a player who had only appeared in 16 league games in two seasons. When Rodwell arrived at Sunderland, he already looked like a player bereft of confidence. His move to Sunderland was a chance to resurrect his career and halt his decline. Darren Bent had managed this just a few years before at Sunderland, re-building his career after an inauspicious spell at Spurs.
It wasn’t to be for Rodwell. The fans, who were passionately behind him at the start, started to turn against him towards the end of last season. He seemed happy to coast through games or play it safe. He was given chances to impose himself on games, become the box-to-box midfielder the club was crying out for, but he never took his opportunity. If you contrast his performances this season with M’Vila (particularly the first half of the season), the imperious Kirchoff, and the recent performances by Cattermole, it’s hard to see what he could possibly offer the club. Rather than take a step forward at Sunderland, he appears to have taken two steps back.
The final straw was his performance against Leicester. As the ball ballooned over Kasper Schmeichel’s cross-bar in the dying minutes of that match, our chance of an equalizer and his chance of resurrecting his Sunderland career went with it. At the start of the season, I spent much of my time defending Rodwell on Twitter because I thought he still had a future with us. But no more. You cannot defend the indefensible. It is a sad state of affairs but if we get anything approaching £3M for him this summer, it will be worth cutting our losses and allowing him to complete his downward spiral at another club.
If you have a player who misses half the games through injury and misses the other half by being anonymous, with one or two decent games sandwiched between, they do not represent value for money. With Rodwell pocketing one of the largest pay packets at the club, it actually becomes a financial burden. Perhaps the most damning thing that could be levelled at Rodwell is that, if we go down, would he make our first choice eleven in the Championship? I don’t think he would merit a place. That must be a painful thing for the club to realise after spending £10M on him just two seasons ago.
Ending on a positive note, the club itself have started to gather momentum at the right time. Only two losses in nine have made the club start to believe again. By the time we play Arsenal at home on Sunday, we will hopefully be 1 point clear of Newcastle with two games in hand. With Norwich not playing until the following week it gives us a chance to get one over on both our relegation rivals. Even just a point would add fuel to the fire of our survival bid. Rodwell’s career may be devoid of impetus but Sunderland’s survival bid will rely on the momentum created in the last few weeks by his team-mates. Long may it continue.