Should Manchester City’s Rodwell expect to follow Johnson to mediocrity or Rooney to stardom?

Jack Rodwell signed for Manchester City on a five-year-deal last weekend for £12m-£18m, depending on which newspaper you read. The transfer had been kept out of the press so whilst it came as no real surprise that Rodwell had left Everton, with him being linked to the top clubs for several years, the timing and destination of his move weren’t expected.

Rodwell became the youngest player ever to represent Everton in Europe when he came on as a 16-year-old substitute against AZ Alkmaar in December 2007 and since then predictions have been made about his future career.

Two years ago, with rumours rife that Manchester United were ready to put in a £15-£20m bid for the teenager, Everton signed him up to a new five-year contract extension, just fifteen months after the last five-year deal he had signed with them.

“We have brought him on in games and tried to give him as much playing time as we can,” David Moyes said of the 18-year-old towards the end of the 2008-2009 season. “Come the end of the season, we are starting to see the young boy mature into a young man. At the start when he came in he was a little bit starry-eyed and looking a little like a young professional footballer. To go from the youth level to a first-team regular in the Premier League is completely different. He has undoubted talent, great ability and there is a long future for Jack here.”

At the start of the following season, Moyes likened Rodwell’s potential to that of Wayne Rooney, further exacerbating rumours that he was about to make a big club move sooner rather than later.

“Wayne, as expected, has gone on to be a big talent and we’ve got a couple of others coming through,” said Moyes. “Jack Rodwell’s one, he’s a different character to Wayne, but he has got potential in a different position and he is going to be a big, big talent.”

With Manchester United repeatedly linked to the player, Moyes kept denying that any deal had been done and insisted that Rodwell was one of the players he wanted to build his future teams around. However, Rodwell’s progress has been severely hampered by injury and he struggled to make the impact people had expected.

“I thought this could be the season where I cement myself in the team, but it hasn’t been that way,” he said at the end of the 2010-2011 season. “But the good thing about football is that the new season comes around very quickly, so I’m looking forward to it.”

However, when the new season came, Rodwell’s injury problems continued, and when he did get in to the team, didn’t look too special.

By the time Rooney was Rodwell’s age, he had won the league with United, scoring 23 goals in 2006-2007, as well as the League Cup the season before. He had won the PFA Young Player of the Year award twice, a FIFPro World Young Player of the Year, a PFA Fans’ Player of the Year, United fans’ Player of the Year, two goals of the season awards, preceded Lionel Messi as European Golden Boy, as well as featuring in the Euro 2004 Team of the Tournament. He had more than 200 club appearances to his name as well as 40 caps for England.

Rodwell has yet to win anything, has just over 100 club appearances, and has made one start for England as well as one substitute appearance. The injuries have certainly played a part in this but as yet he just hasn’t looked like the “big, big talent” that he was predicted to become.

He is only 21-years-old though, so whilst players like Rooney, Ronaldo and Messi have set the world alight since being teenagers, they are the anomalies, with most players starting to shine in their early to mid 20s. At 21-years-old, Roy Keane was still at Nottingham Forest and had made just a handful of appearances for his country. Frank Lampard was still at West Ham and had played one game for England. Yaya Toure was playing in the Ukrainian league for FC Metalurh Donetsk and had just made his début for the Ivory Coast.

Still, being young didn’t put anyone off Rodwell, and during the last January transfer window, he was linked with a £20m move to Chelsea, but Moyes felt his development would be best served at Everton. However, if Everton were to sell him, they wouldn’t sell him on the cheap, he said.

“We’ve always said if anyone wants to bid for the players we can’t stop that happening but what we do do is sell expensively,” said Moyes at the time. “If we are sellers we are always expensive sellers.”

Rodwell played in just four games for Everton in 2012 though, leading them to accept a bid of, if the BBC and Liverpool Echo are to be believed, £12m. When you consider that Rodwell had three years remaining on his deal, counts towards City’s much needed home-grown quota and carries the ‘tax’ which ensures clubs overpay for British players, that is ridiculously cheap. Andy Carroll was £35m, Joe Allen was £15m and Steven Fletcher is being quoted at £14m, and all of these players had three years remaining on their current deal. Whilst you could argue some clubs are willing to overpay, it’s not as if City, with their status as the richest club in the world, are a prime candidate for snapping up bargains. The fact that Everton have let him go on the cheap indicates that as yet, he hasn’t delivered the promise he showed as a teenager.

“Rodwell is a player that needs to improve to play in this XI but he is young and a good player for our future,” said Roberto Mancini. “We are interested in all good players. I liked him last season. For this reason, we bought him.”

The need to improve was a viewpoint that Rodwell shared in his first interview after signing for the club.

“I relish the opportunity of playing with some of the best players in the world and continuing my development,” he said.

So, whilst everyone seems to agree that Rodwell needs to improve, there is a doubt over whether that will be possible at Manchester City.

“Jack Rodwell has just gone to Manchester City,” said England manager Roy Hodgson. “If you look at their midfield I don’t know how many starts he’s going to get there.”

At Everton, Rodwell faced competition from Marouane Fellaini, Phil Neville, Darron Gibson and Ross Barkley. At City, he faces competition from Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry, Nigel De Jong, on occasion, James Milner, and if recent reports are to be believed, soon Daniele De Rossi. Rodwell will be lucky to make the bench at City, let alone start or even get minutes on the pitch. City’s midfield is one of the best in Europe without Rodwell, with world class players fighting it out for a starting position. Where does that leave a player that even Everton, no disrespect, aren’t too fussed about losing?

It would be harsh to be too critical of Rodwell for making this decision though, particularly when you consider how slow his development has been of late. His form has been hit and miss for Everton for two seasons now, so it would be difficult for him to turn down an offer from the champions.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Rodwell. “I believe in my ability and believe that whatever squad I join I can add to it. It might take some time, but that’s what I’m there for. It’s a great opportunity for me joining the champions. I’m still young and will try to work my way into the set-up. I will go there with the right frame of mind. It’s a great squad and I’ll have to work hard to get into the team.”

You have to admire his self-belief but you also have to wonder if he’s being a bit naive. Being in the right frame of mind is great, but it’s not going to dislodge Barry or Toure from the starting XI.

I wonder if Adam Johnson would have recommended Rodwell sign for City if he spoke to him before the contract was agreed. Also viewed as a future star when he was younger, Johnson, now 25-years-old, must wonder where it all went wrong.

“I wanted to come and try to better myself instead of staying in my comfort zone at Middlesbrough,” he said upon signing as a 22-year-old. “I want to be the best player I can possibly be and I think that is going to be the case coming to City and playing with world-class players.”

Johnson might now believe that his development might have been best served at Middlesbrough, or at least at a Premier League club where he regularly made the first XI. At City, he is no longer a youngster, but he has yet to leave much of a mark on the game.

By the time Rooney was Johnson’s age he had 350+ club appearances and close to 70 England caps. He’d won three league titles and the European Cup, as well as other cup competitions and being named PFA and Football Writers’ Player of the Year. Johnson has just over 200 club appearances and 12 England caps. He has won the FA Cup (after playing 15 minutes in the final) and the Premier League title (after starting just ten games).

Whilst I’m not suggesting if Johnson and Rodwell haven’t reached the level Rooney had at their age that they must be failures, it’s important to point out that players who are tipped for greatness since their teens can go on to fulfil that potential. Rooney has done but Johnson and Rodwell haven’t. Whilst you could argue there is a difference in basic raw talent between these players, it’s also important to note that Rooney has been playing in the first team of his club regularly since he was 16-years-old. Between that 2002-2003 season and reaching 21-years-old, Rooney averaged over 40 games a season, with him starting and playing the full 90 in most of them. The same point can be made for Keane, Lampard and Toure, who were all given plenty of time on the pitch to learn and improve their game when they were young.

Last season, Johnson played for 90 minutes in just four Premier League games and started ten in total. The season before he played for 90 minutes in six Premier League games and started fourteen in total.

“I’ll be quite honest and say I really think I should have been picked,” said Johnson when asked about his omission from the Euro 2012 squad. Whilst it would be wrong to write off a player based on Hodgson’s assessment of them, it would be hard for any manager to pick a player who can’t get in to his club’s team.

“It was pretty hard watching from the sidelines,” Johnson said, talking about City’s season. “We won the title, which was the main thing, but you want to feel you’ve played your part, too.”

There are of course question marks over Johnson’s attitude and Mancini clearly has his reservations over him because of this. Rodwell doesn’t seem to have an attitude problem at all but he isn’t as good as Johnson and he has fiercer competition for his spot in the team than Johnson does.

After stuttering at Everton, will the limited playing time Rodwell will almost certainly have at City allow him to develop in the way he wants to? The odds aren’t stacked in his favour. It’s hard to imagine that Rodwell’s career will come close to matching Rooney’s, in terms of him fulfilling his potential as much as the trophies he contributes to winning. But at least he will probably pick up a few winner’s medals and maybe he won’t feel as gutted as Johnson clearly does about not playing his part in earning them. Only time will tell…

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