Connect in the back of the net

After next Friday’s World Cup qualifier with Scotland, England will move on to the mid-week friendly against Spain.

November marked the last time England hosted La Roja at Wembley back in 2011, with Frank Lampard scoring the only goal in a 1-0 win.

Insignificantly Jack Rodwell came on for Phil Jones as a 56th minute substitute.

Fabio Capello, the manager who handed Rodwell his international debut that evening, predicted he would be “very important for many years to come. I knew him but I never thought a player so young, on his first exhibition, could be so ready, so good to play at this level.”

He would start the friendly against Sweden 3 days later before earning his 3rd cap as a substitute for Theo Walcott in the 2-2 draw with Brazil in the Maracanã two years later. But that has been it for the midfielder since.

 

Forgotten man

Five years on since his debut against Spain and Rodwell, who the following August moved to Manchester City for £12 million, has become England’s forgotten man, nose-diving into further irrelevance while becoming the poster-boy for those warning against young players making ill-advised decisions too early in their careers.

Rodwell managed just 25 appearances for City across two injury-blighted seasons before being sold to Sunderland for £10 million in August 2014.

23 years old when he made the move north, there was still a feeling that if the then-manager Gus Poyet could keep the midfielder fit, he could return to the powerful, driving midfield presence that was regarded as one of the brightest talents in the country whilst he was at Everton.

Injuries have again hampered the midfielder’s progress on Wearside, with the total of nine in 2015 causing Sam Allardyce to enlist the aid of a psychologist last season.

Allardyce felt that saw Rodwell turn a corner but his career has yet to get up and running at the Stadium of Light.

He started 31 games over his first two years with the Black Cats while this season he has remained injury-free enough to start 7 of their opening 10 league games.

 

Terminal malaise

He, along with the club that appears to be rooted in a terminal malaise, has not benefitted from the instability that has arisen from passing through four managers since Poyet took the midfielder north two years ago.

David Moyes now has the reigns but even though he has managed to keep Rodwell, who he of course brought through the academy system whilst at Goodison Park, injury free, he has yet to settle on a midfield system to get the best out of the 25-year-old.

Moyes has flittered between 5 systems in the opening 10 games as he searches desperately for a winning combination and Rodwell has played alongside 6 different partners in central-midfield at the expense of team cohesion.

The Black Cats are rock bottom after the 1-4 reversal at home to Arsenal last Saturday. Rodwell completed the 90 minutes of that game, the seventh occasion he has managed it for Sunderland this term, but the winning feeling again painfully evaded him.

 

Winless streak

At the time of writing, it had been 33 Premier League games since Rodwell started and finished on a winning side, a remarkable run that stretches back to Manchester City’s 1-0 defeat of West Brom in May 2013.

He had not tasted victory at all since he came on as a late substitute in the 2-1 win over Manchester United in February and he may have to wait a while longer to experience it again as Sunderland look drastically short of the quality required to compete at top-flight level.

There was an air of resignation when Rodwell admitted Sunderland had gone backwards since the departure of Allardyce, but so too came an admirable acceptance, giving an indication of the midfielder’s conscientiousness, that the players had to take responsibility and that they were ones to turn it around with hard-work.

It will take more than hard-work for Sunderland to break out of the relegation zone.

The lack of quality is illustrated by the fact that Duncan Watmore and Rodwell, against Manchester City on the opening day with the type of forward run and intricate pass he used to display at Everton, are the only players to record assists for the Black Cats so far this season.

It is a stat hit by the over-reliance on Jermain Defoe for goals and his tendency to score them from the penalty spot.

 

Let down

Moyes has been let down by the lack of quality in Papy Djilobodji and Didier Ndong, while the likes of Jan Kirchoff and Wahbi Khazri have struggled to replicate the form that was instrumental in helping Allardyce steer them clear of relegation last spring.

The sight of Lamine Kone lurching around in disinterest as Arsenal overwhelmed them on Saturday will infuriate Moyes, but he will be encouraged by Rodwell’s slow-burning revival.

 

Prolific passer

One of Sunderland’s most prolific passers of the ball with 255 (he is bettered only by Patrick van Aaholt) there have been flashes of the elegant yet robust midfielder that could influence games so significantly for Everton.

The injuries have disappeared, for now, but the confidence that is provided by winning games must not be too far off.

A fourth England cap will remain a distant dream, but having finally made his first steps down the right path after his move to Man City turned into the disaster Roy Hodgson foretold it would be, it is no longer an impossible fantasy for England’s forgotten man to play his way back into the public consciousness.

 

Written by Adam Gray

Follow Adam on Twitter @AdamGray1250

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