Jack Rodwell: A second chance at second chances?
Background image: Bill Boaden, CC BY-SA 2.0
When Sheffield United signed Ravel Morrison last July, sceptics raked Chris Wilder over the coals. Morrison barely played in previous stints in Mexico, Italy, England and Spain. All were cut short due to the gifted midfielder's propensity for trouble and his terminal inability to remain in place. Wilder hoped he’d picked up a bargain. Why not? Signing a 26-year-old once described by Sir Alex Fergusson as “the best [young] player he had ever seen” could be a good bit of business for a newly-promoted side.
Morrison hasn't made an impact but the Blades have. Sixth in the Premier League, they decided to roll the dice on another reclamation project in the January window. Sheffield gave themselves a second chance at offering a troubled player a second chance when they signed former Everton and Manchester City midfielder Jack Rodwell on a free. The deal ended the player's six-month exile from football after being released by Blackburn Rovers.
The one-time England international’s career emphasises the down in downturn. A one-time Premier League star with Everton after working his way up through the Toffees' youth system and becoming their youngest European debutant, it all began to unravel in October 2011 during a heated Merseyside Derby. Rodwell was sent off for a challenge on Luis Suarez. The tackle looked harmless but the Uruguayan's simulation chops are legendary. While the card was rightly overturned on review, the young midfielder was badly affected. His confidence tanked.
When he signed for Manchester City less than a year later, the move seemed perfect to reignite his career. Instead, it only worsened matters. Hampered by injury and competing with a strong squad, Rodwell couldn't find a place in the squad.
A move to Sunderland followed, unfortunately coinciding with the club’s own slip down the leagues. The fiasco ended [or didn't] with Rodwell’s refusal to cancel his contract, as captured on Netflix’s Sunderland ‘Til I Die documentary.
Despite his tarnished history, Rodwell isn’t nearly the match for Morrison as a disciplinary problem. While he's not played a Premier League match in nearly three years, Jack's made nearly double the appearances in his career than Morrison who is just two years younger. Of the two, he's the one who's shown he can play at an elite level with some measure of consistency. He wasn't handed three England caps to keep him from throwing a tantrum.
Rodwell's decline is more rooted in circumstance than a flawed personality. While Morrison's infuriated coaches and engaged in criminal mischief since a tender age, Rodwell’s only crime is being a bit naff over an on-field spat. To be fair, Morrison hasn't caused trouble at Bramall Lane and Chris Wilder insists he remains in the team’s plans with every chance to move up in the pecking order but his history is the far more alarming of the two players.
Rodwell can fill in in several positions for the Blades. As an attacking or defensive midfielder, even at centre back as David Moyes once suggested. He faces plenty of competition and can't expect to be more than a role player for the season's remainder. However, under Chris Wilder’s guidance, he can get a few top-flight games under his belt, regain his confidence and maybe put his career back on track. Who knows? If he pulls it off, he may provide inspiration for a certain teammate.