“The worst mistake the club have made.”
Considering our current predicament, it would be interesting to pick over the results if we polled Sunderland fans on what they think the club’s biggest mistake to date has been.
You know, like a dark-humoured game of tragic Family Fortunes;
We’ve asked 100 Sunderland supporters what has been the club’s biggest ever error?
When you analyse the twisted multitude of possible answers to this dreary category, it’s almost endless - in fact, where do you begin? I’ll take the lead from Gabbiadini, a club great and one of York’s finest boutique hoteliers;
They took a punt on a Rodwell - a massive liability that they’ve got to somehow get rid of. There was no safety valve in his contract whatsoever.
As we hurtle towards League One, is it conceivable that we will be crippled in our attempts to finance a comeback by the iron-clad ‘contract of doom’ that enriches Jack Rodwell and incapacitates the club?
We have already seen from Jack that he’s happy to sow the seeds of further job losses at the club. He’s content to watch the club lurch from misery to misery and he’s even satisfied in the knowledge that his unsustainable salary will severely impact our chances of a footballing resurrection should the inevitable happen.
To put it into perspective - Jack earns approximately £70,000 per week. The average salary in League One is £1700 a week, which means we could pay 41 League One players with just Rodwell’s wages alone. That’s staggering considering our precarious financial position - a position that has strangled any hope of a ‘phoenix’ style rising from the ashes that we have all yearned for under Chris Coleman.
It’s difficult to quantify the impact of Rodwell and his ridiculous contract or his stubborn refusal to leave it behind, regardless of the consequences. But one thing I can guarantee is that the impact will be comprehensively negative - on all fronts except that of his bank balance.
Can you imagine the feeling in the dressing room, where seasoned professionals who have played 4, 5 or 6 times as many games for Sunderland as Rodwell have seen a 40% decrease in salary, while Jack’s full and obscene wages have continued to roll in? Imagine the bitterness as our under-pressure players give their all in training, for a small portion of the salary of someone who gives no effort whatsoever?
Give them their due - despite our players doing little but confirm their professional weaknesses this season, at the very least they show up. It is their limitations that inflame the slander from the stands. Every boo is aimed at them, every abusive howl, every single and well deserved verbal brickbat thrown onto the pitch, pours from the frustrated terraces and seeps into the already panicky nervous systems of our maligned team.
Our players are flat and shell-shocked and still they exchange their trembling abilities for a stadium full of bile, groans and personal criticism. It must sicken them, that they endure the humiliation of their fragile confidence levels being exposed to the world and the demeaning ritual of their timid failures ending in embarrassing public performances - for feasibly quarter of the pay of Jack Rodwell. Perhaps a tenth? Or in our young players’ cases, even less?
All the embarrassment, the indignity, the shame and the public judgement is theirs to take - every week, while Rodwell slinks away in the background counting his money, the kind of cash most of our youthful squad of loanees and kids can only dream about. If that doesn’t cause major squad unrest I don’t know what will.
There’s another issue with Jack the lad. He should be everything that’s great about the game - someone all our young players should observe and aspire to be - but he’s not.
He’s a curse. He symbolises the dark side of professional football. The seedy, grimy and selfish side no agent wants you to see, but is practiced in the dark wormholes of our game.
Chris Ramsey, QPR Technical Director, describes the Rodwell’s of this game we love in extremely blunt terms;
Money is taking hunger out of young players, creating teenage millionaires with bleak futures.
It’s clear when you listen to the experience of Ramsey that he believes the immense flood of money offered to largely ignorant and naïve young men obscures priorities, pollutes thought processes and disintegrates aspiration. In some, it simply kills genuine ambition. Rodwell, despite his pathetic platitudes certainly fits into that tier of wealthy, but entirely hollow and unfulfilled potential.
It wouldn’t frustrate the average Joe quite as much if Rodwell himself hadn’t, through his own actions and words, cemented his dreadful legacy with a series of staggeringly ridiculous statements and deeds. Poor Simon Grayson, like Coleman had to deal with the enigma of the mysterious riddle that is Jack Rodwell;
He (Rodwell) told me that, psychologically, and maybe physically as well, his body can’t take the demands of playing in midfield anymore.
There could have been a lot to admire about Rodwell’s frank admission to Grayson that he was no longer sufficiently mobile to compete in midfield if his confession was matched with any ounce of humility. If he then arranged to change his contract to a ‘pay as you play’ deal or if he negotiated a new contract where the financial arrangement matched his new found and more limited physical status, then it could have even been a PR win for Jack.
As it was, he still expected to be fully compensated for a job he just admitted he could no longer do to the best of his ability.
So the large, cash-laden rock continued to roll down hill.
This is not a personal attack against Rodwell the man, only the footballer.
I have no idea what he’s like as a family member, a husband or a friend. I sincerely hope that he’s wonderful in every one of those categories and all credit to him if he is.
But as a professional sportsman? He’s woeful.
He’s every club’s nightmare, a financial black hole with no shame and a steely desire to bleed every last penny from an institution he knows can no longer afford him. A fortunate athlete, with a net worth of £14,000,000 who can live with the darkness of knowing that his determination to cling onto his salary will partly result in job losses for ordinary employees of the club, with modest mortgages they will then struggle to pay.
He’s never shown such courage on the field for Sunderland, but the brutal narcissism required to cast adrift the less fortunate, that you are partly responsible for making less fortunate, really does take balls to carry through. That’s brazen.
His January interview with the Daily Mail was so cringe-worthily dreadful that either his professional advice is pathetic or he’s simply pathetic at taking professional advice. That interview was a PR disaster, otherwise defined as a ‘career killer.’ But we needn’t be concerned - Jack stopped worrying about his career long ago, the minute he could retire at 20 and not panic about paying a bill for the rest of his days.
The melancholy tale of the missing England international could hardly be more symbolic of our lunge towards footballing and financial disaster. As a sporting and business institution we have perpetually strived to set the bar as low as possible, but even for us Rodwell and his unbreakable mega-contract is surely some form of record in blind incompetence.
And despite his Daily Mail PR fail and the sheer dishonest rhetoric regarding cancelled contracts and mutual agreements, it’s almost unfathomable to comprehend that the saga of Jack Rodwell and his poisonous contract will continue to choke the club breathless for yet another season.
In his January interview, he talked quite ludicrously of getting back into the England squad, being a Premier League player and being the fittest he had ever been.
‘It’s not about the money,’ he claimed. ‘I just want to play.’
Thing is Jack - it is, and you don’t.
The numbers bare out the naked truth, not the barrel load of bizarre mistruths he attempted to peddle while trying to rescue his soured reputation in the media.
For every 18 games in his career, he missed 17 of them. If I only turned up to one important meeting out of every 18 at my work place, the consequences would be raw and stark. There would be no ‘seeing out’ my contract. If Rodwell stays for another season, which in fairness to him he is entitled to do, he will have earned a remarkable £18m from Sunderland.
£18m from a club on the brink of financial ruin, where redundancies are common place and whose supporters sit in a state of ominous foreboding, fearing the very worst as each day goes by.
One of the saddest parts of this sorry soap opera is the fate of Rodwell himself.
He is no longer a professional player, just a retired footballer with an excellent pension plan. Even his current boss, Chris Coleman, has lost complete interest in even the most basic aspects of Rodwell’s employment - you know... like his health or even his whereabouts.?
At the minute I don’t even know whether he is fit or if he’s back in training. I have absolutely no idea.
Sadly, Rodwell will never be talked about by enthused fans for his flair, his passing accuracy, his never say die attitude or his courage. He will not have garnered any form of legendary status from any club that has enriched him. He will leave behind no sporting legacy, no memorable moments.
All that will follow him are shadows - shadows of what could have been. Shadows of those ordinary people who lost their jobs, so he could be paid. Shadows of a potential never touched, shadows of a surface barely scratched.
Rarely has a player taken so much and given so little.
Yes, we vilify Ellis Short as our transatlantic villain of the piece. Of course, his tenure has been horrific, with a myriad of cataclysmic consequences, many of which are still to play out. But at the very least we know he wants out - AND he’s bleeding money by staying. Jack would cling on forever if he could, until every last droplet of cash had been sucked from Sunderland’s inviting neck. He doesn’t quite match Short for such cartoonish villainy, but he’s not that far behind.
The Times’ legendary sports writer Mike Calvin has written a fascinating book that delves into the seedy world of young overpaid players, manipulative agents and desperate parents. The book is aptly entitled ‘No Hunger in Paradise.’
Calvin describes a ‘world of fear and loathing,’ where ‘kids are secured on silly amounts of money, which creates apathy, or a sense that the game owes them a living’.
No Hunger in Paradise? The book could have easily been entitled ‘Jack Rodwell - the Autobiography’ and no-one would know the difference.
Sadly, it’s too late for him to save his legacy now. But he could help Sunderland save theirs.