Jack Rodwell: Rising star or a gamble Everton can’t afford?

The return to Everton of Jack Rodwell has been mooted in today’s Telegraph, barely two years after leaving Goodison Park in a £12 million switch to Manchester City.

But what exactly happened to Rodwell and if the reports are true, what kind of player can we expect? Is he still the promising future of English football, or another expensive flop?

While Evertonians were hardly ecstatic at the thought of the youngster moving on in the summer of 2012, the ‘next-big-thing’ label that stuck to him since making his debut as a 16 year-old began to peel off as it became clear that Rodwell was unlikely to fulfil those initial ambitions.

His progress was dealt continual blows by cruel injuries, while early expectations that Rodwell would have the kind of impact on games that Wayne Rooney did at his age for Everton were soon ‘managed’ by Moyes who declared him a future centre-half.

A sensational goal against Manchester United in a 3-1 win in 2009 and a surging run which helped Mikel Arteta secure a 2-0 victory at the Etihad Stadium that same year are top of the billing on Rodwell’s highlights reel but on the evidence of his short career so far what City currently have is a composed, defensive central midfielder.

Which is effectively what Evertonians saw before his move. A tall, lean midfielder keen to take possession from defenders and distribute it among team mates, usually side-ways. A young-man with energy employed to harass opponents in possession while even harbouring the desire to bring the ball forward at full-stride in counter-attacking situations.

Not much has changed in that regard since his move to Eastlands but unfortunately neither has his familiarity with the treatment room. A persistent hamstring injury has been the source of Rodwell’s frustrations, allowing the 21 year-old to start just seven games in time at City. And he’s gone to some lengths to try and prevent further problems, even trading in his low sports car for a more hamstring-friendly jeep.

Whether a change of clubs would help his fortunes remains to be seen but there’s no doubting the talent Rodwell possesses and his attributes seem to complement the style of football currently being rolled out by Martinez at Everton.

If rumours are to be believed, the Everton boss tried to bring Rodwell to Goodison in the January transfer window. The approach was as a loan deal, which would have seen Gareth Barry’s loan from the same club turned into a permanent deal. But if we’ve already loaned one defensive midfielder from City this season, why do we need another?

Everton’s options in this position currently consist of Barry, James McCarthy and Darron Gibson: three players vying for two defensive midfield positions in the starting line-up.

The summer recruits have been in outstanding form since arriving on deadline day and as our first-choice defensive midfielders, so any incoming transfers in this position are, for the time being, likely to find themselves as back-up. It’s difficult to guess whether a fully-fit Gibson would even be a regular starter before Barry and McCarthy, a high compliment to the current pairing considering how well-thought of Gibson is among Evertonians.

While McCarthy at 23 is set to soar in a Blue shirt, Barry’s career however is on a downward trajectory having recently turned 33. Gibson’s thinning hairline may have you believe that he has also hit the wrong side of 30, but at 26 there is undoubtedly a long-term future for the Irishman at Goodison.

The acquisition of a fourth player of equal quality should by no means be dismissed, especially with the prospect of a European campaign to juggle next season. But is Rodwell the right man?

He looked set to be propelled into the big time when he made his senior England debut as a sub against Spain in November 2011. A couple of days later he was handed his first start against Sweden. The midfielder came close to scoring on that occasion and his mature performance was lapped up by the national media.

But, another injury halted his progress and any chance he had of making Roy Hodgson’s Euro 2012 squad soon vanished.

I don’t think there’s a single Evertonian who doesn’t like Rodwell. He’s certainly one of the nice-guys of football and his misfortune with injuries that have stuttered an otherwise promising career is beaten only by James Vaughan.

But was that his problem? Was he simply ‘too nice’? Everton have been accused this season, by none other than sections of their own support, of also being ‘too nice’, exemplified by Leighton Baines’ decision to put the ball out of play in Saturday’s FA Cup tie while a disgruntled and far-from-injured Arteta sulked on the floor.

Evertonians will be familiar with the saying that Rodwell was ‘more Birkdale than Kirkdale’ during his time at Everton and it is a convenient way of summing up a talented footballer who has failed to live up to expectation. But with a track-record of injuries as long as Arsene Wenger’s winter coat, is this any surprise?

Young players often take time to find themselves on the football pitch, and initially quiet characters can take time to find their voice. But how can you find such a voice on the training ground or in the treatment room?

As an ex-Blue, the 21 year-old would certainly have the majority of fans on board and there would be no shortage of love from the Goodison faithful should he pull on the royal blue once again.

But Everton can’t afford to spend what is likely to be a restrictive transfer kitty on a player with a proven track record of injuries, and herein would lie the mistake of bringing Rodwell home.

Strengthening the squad is key this summer, but Martinez needs to ensure that the players who do come in are going to be helping the team up the Premier League table, rather than spending time on the treatment table.

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