CHRIS COLEMAN insists there is still a chance Jack Rodwell could return to Sunderland’s first-team fold, but the Black Cats boss has challenged the former England international to prove he retains a desire to play football.

Rodwell rejected Sunderland’s offer to tear up the final 18 months of his £70,000-a-week contract earlier this month, even though he has not figured in the first-team picture at all since Coleman was appointed at the Stadium of Light.

The 26-year-old broke his silence in a newspaper interview and rejected suggestions he was only interested in protecting the £5.4m he is due to earn over the remainder of his Sunderland deal, instead arguing that he is desperate to get back on the pitch to kick-start his career.

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He could have done that last month, as while a planned trial at Dutch side Vitesse Arnhem was scrapped, Coleman has revealed that Rodwell turned down the opportunity to move to another club that was willing to take him before the transfer window closed.

Celtic had been linked with a possible interest in his services, but now he will be remaining on Wearside until at least the end of the season, Coleman has challenged the former Everton and Manchester City midfielder to live up to his words. Not, however, that the Sunderland manager is holding his breath.

“We need everybody involved, it’s as simple as that,” said Coleman. “We need all hands to the pump, of course we do, but my door hasn’t been knocked on yet. I’ve not had a knock on the door yet to say, ‘I’m ready – I want to play football’.

“I saw the article and what he said, but Jack had a chance to go out this window. We’d said yes, and there was another club who wanted him. I can’t name the club, but there was a club there and Jack turned that opportunity down.

“But my office is right at the end of the hall, and I’m always ready if he wants to come and have a word. He knows where it is, but it’s not for me to try to motivate someone or change them. Whatever you are, you are. And whatever you say you’re going to do, just back it up.”

While Rodwell remains on Sunderland’s books, Coleman successfully eased out three players who had expressed a desire to leave Wearside over the last couple of months.

Lewis Grabban returned to Bournemouth as his loan spell was cut short – the striker moved on to Aston Villa on deadline day – while James Vaughan was sold to Wigan Athletic and Didier Ndong signed a loan deal with Watford, with a view to a permanent departure in the summer.

Coleman made five additions during the transfer window, and while a number of his leading targets might have slipped through the net, the Welshman was nevertheless delighted to have successfully changed the mind-set of his squad.

“Some of the people who left didn’t want to be here, and the people who came here want to be here, so there’s an improvement straightaway,” said Coleman. “When you’re stuck in the bottom three, it can be draining, but there’s still everything to play for, and it’s in our hands as long as our attitude is right.

“I see the squad we’ve got together now, and I think we’ve done good business. We’ve got players who have come here with their eyes open, and who have come here because they want to come and play. The players that have left didn’t want to be here, so that improvement to the mental side of things has to help us. In the long run, it has to be beneficial.”

Lee Camp, Ovie Ejaria and Ashley Fletcher signed on deadline-day, and the trio will all be named in the squad for tomorrow’s home game with Ipswich Town, and could well start. Coleman can only select five of his seven loan players in a match-day 18, although Brendan Galloway was unlikely to have played much of a role between now and the end of the season anyway.

“They’re (the new signings) here to play,” said Coleman, who welcomes John O’Shea back into tomorrow’s squad, although Lamine Kone will be absent with a knee injury. “They’re here to get on the pitch. Fletch has the experience, he’s played in play-off finals. Lee has been there, seen it and done it, so that won’t be a problem, and Ovie has played international football for England and come through with flying colours. They’ll be fine.

“They’ll come in, add to us and help is. It’s just a matter of them getting onto the pitch now and hitting the ground running.”

Jason Steele remains on Wearside after a proposed loan move to Derby County collapsed a matter of hours before the window swung shut on Wednesday.

The goalkeeper finds himself third in the pecking order behind Camp and Robbin Ruiter, but Coleman claims there is still a chance of him forcing his way back into contention in the remainder of the season.

“It’s a shame for Jason,” he said. “The deal was done and he went to Derby, but when he got there, he found out the deal was different, and the player rightly said, ‘No, that’s not what was agreed’.

“Jason is back with us, and he can fight with Camp and Robbin for the number one position. He can have a crack at that. There’s no blame on the player at all for what happened.”