Welcome, Mr Rodwell. Please State Your Purpose

Posted by Simon Curtis

Jack Rodwell's transfer from Everton to Manchester City has been hailed in most quarters as a sensible bit of business by a club, which has been forced to engage in anything but that over the past four years, in order to catch up with the Premier League behemoths. On the face of it, at £12 million, Rodwell represents good value for money. Compare with Henderson, Allen and various other in-coming deals across Stanley Park in recent times, and you quickly come to the conclusion that this one smacks of diligence and good housekeeping.

But what exactly have City bought for their money?

The answer is – mainly – unfulfilled potential. Potential that is currently on simmer, rather than coming to the boil. Tall and elegant in possession, strong in one-on-ones, two-footed and unflappable on the ball, Rodwell is a young player who has already pocketed some of the essential aspects of his trade: being able to look up before receiving, putting him vital seconds ahead of those around him. Like the best purveyors of the midfield art, the next pass has already been made in his head before the ball arrives at his feet.

As a friend of mine said this week, "If you put together a montage of his best moments, then he'd look close to world class." But a montage tells a fraction of the story.

Firstly where (and when) do City intend to play him? After coming through the Goodison ranks as a central defender, he has mainly played as a defensive midfielder for Everton's first team. Perhaps Mancini and his staff see him as a reasonably priced back-up for both Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott. If so, there are problems. For all his height, Rodwell has been unable to dominate convincingly in the air. He tackles well, but he lacks the 90 minute concentration that will be required in a title-challenging side. He can pick out a pass, but it is often sideways or back to central defence. There will be little applause from the exacting Mancini if he manages a string of pretty moves only to give the ball away.

Another oft-heard Evertonian gripe is that he does not dominate midfield like a robust player of his nature should or could. "He never gets a game by the scruff of the neck," says my contact, "unlike Fellaini, who does it all the time." Rodwell has been tried in a variety of positions: out wide, which didn't suit him; for England he played in the hole, which might be a future home for him if he got used to it, this supposing he can learn the subtle art of arriving Gerradesque at the edge of the box at the right time to blast a shot towards goal before defenders have picked up the run.

For Everton, Rodwell has mainly played defensive midfield. He has become a cautious passer of the ball in this deep position, where passes are often short and to a defender. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as it would fit with the slow, possession build-up that City have become famous for over the last two seasons.

As an apparently teetotal workaholic, Rodwell may not exactly be Mario Balotelli's ideal Bonfire night invitee. He will need to come out of this shell, both on and off the pitch, if he is to become the imposing figure many Evertonians thought (and some still think) he can be. Others have hinted there might be a little "too much Birkdale and not enough Kirkdale" in the young midfielder's make-up. Carlos Tevez and tales of Fuerte Apache might be enough to toughen him up rapidly.

It remains a fact that Everton's first-choice midfield partnership is currently Fellaini and Gibson, with Rodwell seemingly marked down as the least painful sacrifice in the Goodison club's yearly preseason cull. If this is true, then his move to City may not be the masterstroke some are calling it and the touted release of De Jong to Italy may well be slightly premature.


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