Friday, October 12, 2012
Jack of all trades
The omission of a Manchester City midfielder was one of the newsworthy elements of Roy Hodgson's choice for the England squad to face San Marino and Poland. Jack Rodwell wasn't that man. The belated addition of an up-and-coming midfielder, chosen because suspension ruled Steven Gerrard out and rendered others doubts, made further headlines. Once again, it wasn't Rodwell.
If Hodgson's decision to overlook Gareth Barry - a veteran of 53 caps and a player who, but for injury, would have figured at Euro 2012 - was clearly more of a surprise than Rodwell's exclusion, the more damning detail came when he was ignored a second time.
Shelvey's sudden promotion occurred with barely a mention of Rodwell. Even if it is partly explained by the Liverpool man's unavailability for the first leg of the Under-21 team's play-off against Serbia - he is serving a ban - it is a sign of his swift progress that he has leapfrogged Rodwell, long tipped for eminence, as well as an indication of Hodgson's willingness to involve the next generation. Some have been spectators, but Raheem Sterling, Adam Lallana, Steven Caulker, Jake Livermore, Jack Butland, Phil Jones, Martin Kelly, Kieran Gibbs, Ryan Bertrand, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Danny Welbeck and Jordan Henderson have all been called up in a brief reign.
But not Rodwell. An England career that only encompasses the final two games of Fabio Capello's tenure has stalled; he is in Stuart Pearce's Under-21 party. At club level, he received an upgrade, from Everton to Manchester City, in a £15 million move. But the international scene may paint a truer picture.
Rodwell's brief time at the Etihad Stadium has rather reinforced two theories: firstly, that he rarely features in his club's strongest side and, secondly, that the confusion about what he actually is continues. Because of the injuries that occur all too frequently, he was absent for Everton's end-of-season rally last year without being missed, partly because David Moyes found a cut-price replacement before he had gone. Darron Gibson, the £500,000 buy from Manchester United, cemented a place in the team in a way Rodwell never did. His sale then funded the summer purchases of Steven Pienaar, Kevin Mirallas and Bryan Oviedo, a profitable return for one who never developed beyond being a squad player.
While Moyes once compared Rodwell to Rio Ferdinand, he never selected him as a central defender. Nor was he overly keen on giving the Englishman the responsibility of being the most defensive of his midfielders - a duty he preferred to give to Phil Neville, Marouane Fellaini or Mikel Arteta - meaning Rodwell was sometimes shunted out to the right and sometimes left on the bench.
The notion of him as an attacking midfielder was given credence when he burst through the Manchester United defence to score in Everton's 3-1 win in February 2010, yet the move to City has cast that into doubt - partly because Yaya Toure is the country's premier box-to-box runner and partly because positions in the attacking half of an elite side are the most coveted in football.
Hence, perhaps, Roberto Mancini's deployment of Rodwell as the defensive midfielder. Except that, rather than stopping goals, he has twice gifted them. Stray passes led to first Southampton and then Borussia Dortmund scoring. It is a role, too, where there is an onus to be destructive, and not just the distributor. He is yet to impose himself upon a game, to exert the control that can come from authority or sheer energy. Even a deep-lying playmaker of the gifts of Xabi Alonso has shown he can play the pressing game.
It links to a larger question: is Rodwell essentially a physical or a technical player? A blend of both would justify the predictions of greatness. So far, however, there is the risk he will he prove neither. After signing Rodwell, Mancini, as is his wont, proclaimed that the 21-year-old is young and improving - it is his normal spiel about any player in their early 20s. The other aspect of his quote was instructive. "He can play in different positions," he said.
That was the intention in the Capital One Cup game against Aston Villa. Rodwell seemed slated to operate as one of three central defenders, which would have provided a rare opportunity to see how accurate the Ferdinand comparisons are. Instead, he sustained a thigh injury in the warm-up.
But if youth, versatility and potential comprise a holy trinity of attributes for scouts, consistency of both position and performance are the ultimate objectives. The signs are that Mancini sees Rodwell as his odd-job man. In comparison, Shelvey has been handed the task of being an attacking central midfielder by Brendan Rodgers and has responded with goals.
If his future seems more sure, the opposite is true of Rodwell. Precocity meant some things were put on hold, but almost five years since his first-team debut, his status still remains uncertain. The questions persist. What sort of a midfielder is he? Or is he a defender? Until his identity crisis is resolved, the chances are that others will overtake him in the international pecking order.