OVER time, certain players find that their names become attached to certain adjectives. Any description of Lee Cattermole is generally preceded by the term “tough-tackling”. John Terry is “passionate” or “committed”. Hatem Ben Arfa is “mercurial” in his better moments or “inconsistent” in his fallow spells.
Jack Rodwell, who completed a £10m move from Manchester City to Sunderland earlier this week, is invariably described as “injury-prone”. Type the midfielder’s name into Google, and the first three archived stories that appear feature the phrases “injury-hit career”, “injury blighted” and “badly affected by injury”.
Away from Wearside, the major talking point in the wake of this week’s transfer wasn’t that Sunderland had persuaded a young England international to turn down eight other Premier League clubs in order to move to the Stadium of Light, it was that the Black Cats had gambled an eight-figure fee on a crock.
In the cut-and-dried world of football, however, popular perception can often bear precious little resemblance to reality. It is true that in his two years as a Manchester City player, Rodwell made just seven Premier League starts, the most recent of which came in a goalless draw with Stoke City in September 2013. It is also true that he suffered a succession of hamstring problems that straddled the end of his Everton career and early days at City, and that even forced him to trade in his sports car in case the low-slung style was exacerbating the injuries.
However, his lack of playing time last season was purely because Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini chose not to select him, and he has only been unavailable for three weeks out of the last year-and-a-half. He would happily have spent the second half of last season playing on loan had City not blocked a number of proposed moves, and has not missed a single second of pre-season training in either Manchester or Wearside this summer. Hardly the record of a perennial absentee.
“Last season, I was probably injured less than pretty much any other member of the Manchester City team,” said Rodwell. “Over the course of the whole season, I was injured for about three weeks.
“That might surprise quite a lot of people because they probably didn’t see my name on the team sheet and just assumed I must be injured.
“In the first season (at City) I did have a few injuries, but last season I was fit and available for 47 out of the 57 games. And the ones I missed all came in a three-week period. I feel fit, but I’ve been fit for a year-and-a-half now. I’m just ready to go.”
Rodwell insists that the perception of injury problems does not affect him, but his failure to make a positive impression at the Etihad Stadium has clearly left a considerable mark.
A leading North-East football scout has described the Southport-born midfielder as the most talented player in Europe at the age of 16, and he appeared to have the world at his feet when he made his Premier League debut at the Stadium of Light two days before his 17th birthday.
He spent five seasons cultivating his reputation at Everton, earning three full England caps in the process, and looked set to be one of the stars of the English game when he moved to Manchester City in the summer of 2012. Instead, his dream move quickly became a nightmare.
“In the first season under (Roberto) Mancini, when I was fit, he was playing me,” said Rodwell. “I spoke to him just before they let him go, and he was telling me about his future plans and I was a big part of them.
“I was actually playing quite a bit of football under him, but then the new manager (Pellegrini) came in with his own ways, and he bought his own players. It was difficult in the second season for me to play.
“It was difficult because you want to be playing football. Since coming back at the start of pre-season, I had in the back of my head that I wanted to get out. There were new signings coming in, midfielders, and it was really in my head that I had to do something about it.”
Adam Johnson, who trod an identical path from the Etihad Stadium, tells a similar story, and has claimed it is practically impossible for a young English player to force their way into the first team at Manchester City.
Johnson has said he would counsel against any emerging English talent moving to the Etihad, so having experienced similar frustrations, would Rodwell offer similar advice?
“Just because you’re English and young, it doesn’t mean you’re not going to play for Manchester City,” he said. “I would never say, ‘Don’t sign’, but I would say, ‘Just weigh up your options and ask yourself if you want to be playing regularly’.”
So does that mean Rodwell regrets his own move to Manchester, and the two years of his career which have effectively been lost?
“No, you can’t look at things like that,” he said. “If I hadn’t made the move, I might have encountered problems at Everton. You can’t look back in life and say, ‘I should have done this’ or, ‘I should have done that’. If Mancini hadn’t left, I would probably still be at City now.”
Nevertheless, Rodwell has moved to the North-East determined to make up for lost time, and keen to become reacquainted with the trials and tribulations of regular first-team football.
“For me, it’s all about playing regularly now because I’ve had a couple of seasons without doing that,” he said. “I need to get back on it, and I feel that this is the perfect club to take me forward.”