clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Make Your Case: Jack Rodwell - Should We Play Him In Defence?

In the last two pre-season games we've seen Jack Rodwell fill in at the back, prompting Sunderland fans to discuss whether or not we should look at using the former England international as a defender. Today, Richard Callaghan and Simon Fenton go head to head to argue for and against using Rodders at the back - vote for who you side with in the poll below!

Lynne Cameron/Getty Images
Simon - Play Jack At The Back!

Every day Jack Rodwell remains solely a central midfielder is another day of utter irresponsibility at Sunderland AFC. Here’s a cornucopia of reasons why.

We’re talking about a player whose career has been nothing but false dawns; his last season of any notoriety was six years ago; he went three years without regular football before joining Sunderland, and he has colossally tanked since day one here.

And much of that can be attributed to this persistent lie that Jack Rodwell can achieve as a holding midfield player.

Look, this is no cheap shot at the player.  Rodwell has talent – it’s just being applied in the wrong place; and subsequently Jack has the unwanted statistic of being the least effective midfielder at the club in the 2014/2015 season; with barely enough chance creation to be considered for attacking roles, and whose tendon-torn legs belong nowhere near box-to-box responsibilities either.

Worse still, Rodwell’s strongest midfield traits (mainly, possession) are no better than Lee Cattermole’s.  He doesn’t stand out over anyone.  You know who does? Jan Kirchhoff does.  Yann M’Vila does.  They stand out over him.

But, despite that, I believe Jack Rodwell can still contribute positively to Sunderland – just not in midfield.  However, in central defence, there exists the platform that Rodwell should have re-established himself on when he first arrived here.

Think about it.  Commentators and observers have mulled over the idea of Rodwell in defence since 2008.  The player himself is a 6"2 aerial eclipse; he has the eye for set-piece headed goals.  His concentration toward his defensive work rate is admirable, and admittedly he has a decent tackling success rate to throw in.  That attention he has in the defensive third (particularly for clearances and shot-blocking) actually ranked amongst the best in the Premier League only two years ago.

Are these not traits you’d want to see from a centre-back?

Also consider his longevity for a minute.  Rodwell has a brutish legacy of injuries and Sunderland holds a duty to avoid needlessly sacrificing his worn-down-torn legs.  So why not use his advantageous stamina in a role that requires less high-tempo, and where Rodwell can go a full 90 minutes? Surely that is better than persevering with him in a position that constantly sidelines him.

Furthermore, and to put bluntly, Rodwell is not good enough for the first team anymore.  Perhaps it would make a better investment for Sunderland to consider him as a utility player rather than a midfield substitute.  Any player is useful if they can competently play in multiple positions, so if we’re still talking about using Rodwell in defence, we should at least be preparing him for it – even if it is as a back-up.  His value to the squad would mean so much more that way.

To bottom line this: Jack Rodwell is now twenty-five years old and has no more potential to justify even being needed in midfield anymore.  But he does have established strengths that can be applied in central defence.  And after years of being so underwhelming and so unspectacular, he is now a player in desperate need of rebuilding.  Jack Rodwell was bought for £11 million and with three years remaining on his contract, now is the time to get some worth out of him; and if he can’t do that as a midfielder, it’s time for him to try something else.

Richard - Rodwell Hell!

We’ve all heard it by now, haven’t we? Jack Rodwell’s future mapped out, his destiny as a top class centre half written in the stars. Everton youth coaches queuing up to tell us how they always thought he’d be a defender, that he’d ended up playing midfield almost by accident, and that the inevitable move into the back four would see him cement his place as a Premier League centre back. They’ve encouraged us to picture this future, a renewed Rodwell gliding effortlessly into an under-staffed England defence like the love child of Bobby Moore and Franz Beckenbauer.

Physically, Rodwell ought to have all of the attributes necessary to make a top class centre half. The lad is a unit. He’s big, he’s well built, he might not be the quickest but he’s no slouch. He should be easily good enough to play centre half for Sunderland. Add in a pinch of the undoubted ability he’s shown all too briefly during his time here and we ought to be looking at a natural partner for Lamine Kone, one half of a defensive pairing which would make Sunderland teams a nightmare for all but the best forwards to play against.

It’s an attractive fantasy, but it’s just that. A fantasy. The motivation for moving Rodwell to centre half is to try and salvage something from a complete disaster of a signing, to make the best of an expensively acquired waste of wages. Nobody argues successful players ought to change positions, why would they? But when a player is a failure, it’s tempting to look at his history, or look at his attributes, and wonder if there’s a way to use him which might make him worth the shirt he’s wearing.

The reason Rodwell is a crap midfielder is because he isn’t mentally capable. He lacks the drive, the commitment, the will to win which would turn someone with his physical and technical attributes into a Premier League footballer. He gets bullied, he goes missing. Constantly, and continuously. He does, in short, what a Premier League centre half cannot afford to do. Switch off in centre midfield and he’s got a back four behind him to cover his arse. Switch off at centre half and we’re one-nil down.

I’m not a fan of Rodwell. I’ve made that very clear in these pages before, and I’ve no doubt once the season begins I will do so again. I don’t believe there’s a Premier League midfielder in there, let alone a Premier League centre back. But I’m not the only one. Of the three managers to pick Rodwell in competitive games since he joined Sunderland, none of them have played him at centre half.

Not one. Gus Poyet, a man whose system was crying out for a ball playing centre back, didn’t fancy him there. Dick Advocaat, determined on a gung-ho attack which almost cost us our place in the division, wasn’t interested. Sam Allardyce, as fine a judge of a Premier League player as we’ve had at the Stadium of Light, never once tried Rodwell in his defence.

It’s tempting to try and find a use for Jack Rodwell. We’re spending enough on him, after all. But, for our sakes and our Premier League survival, centre half isn’t it.

Who do you agree with? Vote below!

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Roker Report Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Sunderland news from Roker Report