It began as an understandable precaution, Jack Rodwell playing for 60 minutes or so before being subbed. This seemed unremarkable. At Manchester City, competition for places was so stiff and Rodwell’s injury record so troubling that he arrived at Sunderland short of match fitness.
But when he got that equaliser against Manchester United, it seemed a corner had been turned. Confidence would be high, fitness levels were presumably improving.
Then, a few anonymous or out-of-sorts performances saw him reduced to the bench. Since he cost a lot of money – £10m – and was self-evidently our major, statement-making signing of the summer, that was a blow but Gus Poyet’s decision was fair. But there he has more or less stayed, failing even to get a late look-in on Saturday at Leicester.
We asked our Man City “Who are You?” interviewee, Alex Sargent (the piece will appear early next week) what he made of our two captures from the Etihad (indirectly in the case of Pantilimon since he was out of contract) and this was his reply: “Rodwell. Unlucky, both with injuries and no one being aware where he should play. A bit of a victim of the English game in that his physical development probably put him in the wrong playing position – similar to Micah Richards really. Pantilimon. Hard to say. Decent player but not sure how good he is.”
Pants has fought his way into a starting place, or should I just say he has done well enough after profiting from Vito Mannone’s blunders? Rodwell’s position looks less promising. Or ity did until I read Chris Young’s piece in the Shields Gazette.
Chris quotes the boss as suggesting there’ll be room for Rodwell as Sunderland face the tricky coming games – Chelsea and Man City at home, then Liverpool away – and he’ll start in one (or more?) of them.
“He’s there on the training pitch every day and then it’s up to him,” said Poyet. “We didn’t want to go crazy with him in the beginning. He’s trained the last few weeks spot-on, no problem. It’s a matter of adapting to the position.
“… It’s a massive change for him too. With all respect to the players we’ve got here, when you’re in the middle of the park for Manchester City, you’ve got a different role. Here, there’s a little bit more needed.”
There you have. Poyet does not believe his squad is strong enough to accommodate Rodwell in the role he was given in his limited outings for City.
On the other hand, he has qualities some of the others lack and he has played at the level Chelsea and City take in their stride.
The views of Salut! Sunderland readers will be especially welcome on whether this coming crop of toughies offers precisely the challenge Rodwell needs to raise his game and show the money was well spent.