After a series of setbacks, the former Toffees’ prodigy looked on course for a shock chance to prove himself, but has instead reached a new low
In November 2011, Jack Rodwell made his senior debut for England in a 1-0 friendly win over Spain. The centre-back turned midfielder had risen through the ranks at Everton to establish himself as a young soccer professional with the world at his feet.
Less than a year after earning his first international cap, a £12 million ($15m) move to Manchester City then followed. A transfer which can now be seen as the peak of Rodwell’s career and one that would be followed by a fall of rollercoaster-like proportions.
In the seven years since, Rodwell has gone on to claim an unwanted record for most Premier League games without a win, become lost in the rubble of Sunderland’s dramatic self-destruction and unsuccessfully trialled in America.
But just as the 28-year-old’s career looked destined to sink even lower, a surprise lifeline from Serie A giants Roma was tantalising thrown his way. Rodwell passed a medical in Italy but ultimately failed to secure a spot in Paulo Fonseca’s injury-hit squad having failed to sufficiently impress the Portuguese coach during a series of training sessions.
Considering Rodwell was playing Championship football last season and has been a free agent since July, the potential Serie A switch was a fairly stunning one, but it was a move that could have been just the spark his stalling career had been crying out for ever since his premature move to the Etihad Stadium.
Growing up as an Everton supporter, Rodwell joined the club’s youth system at the age of seven and would become the Toffees’ youngest soccer professional to compete in Europe when he made his debut at 16 in the UEFA Cup against AZ.
Prior to linking up with his beloved club, he had started out with local side Birkdale United where former coach Ste Cattlin quickly realised Rodwell was destined for big things.
“It’s a horrible thing to say but if he can stay free from injuries then he can go all the way,” Cattlin said in 2011. “Without a doubt he can be a future captain at Everton because he talks such a good game.”
But just as Rodwell was cementing his place in the Toffees’ side, his head was turned by Manchester City in mid-2012, with his move arguably coming too soon and coinciding with a serious hamstring injury that sidelined him for three months not long after joining the club.
Following that blow, the midfielder struggled to work his way back into a City side that won the Premier League in 2013-14, a season in a which Rodwell made just five league appearances.
Desperate for game time, another ill-fated move awaited the Englishman as he accepted a £10m ($13m) switch to Sunderland. After winning the domestic title, Rodwell quickly found himself thrust into relegation dog fights – a situation he struggled to shine in.
Between 2013 and 2017, he set an unwanted record after going 39 Premier League matches without a win – a streak of 1370 days.
Not long after ending that drought, Sunderland’s own incredible run of relegation survival came to an end as the Black Cats were dropped into the Championship.
If Sunderland’s fall from the top-flight was rough, Rodwell’s was even worse as he made just one league start for the first-team across the 2017-18 season, forced to play three games for the club’s reserve side.
On a massive wage and not showing the necessary fight that comes with a season in the Championship, Rodwell’s name on Wearside became mud with former soccer professional Marco Gabbiadini not holding back in his assessment.
“The worst mistake the club has made,” Gabbiadini told BBC Newcastle in 2018. “There was no safety valve in that contract whatsoever.”
With Sunderland facing back-to-back relegations, then manager Chris Coleman conceded Rodwell had all but gone AWOL and would unlikely play for the club again.
“I don’t even know where Jack has been [mentally], to be honest with you,” Coleman said.
“I’m quite sure we’ve gone down the legal route of that situation, and we’re stuck with a soccer professional that doesn’t want to play for Sunderland and wants to leave.”
Ultimately released by the Black Cats in June 2018, Rodwell was signed by Blackburn a few months later and was able to secure regular game time in the Championship.
While Rovers were eager to lock him down for this season, a contract could not be agreed between the two with Rodwell stuck in limbo as a result.
In September, the former England international even went to trial with MLS side New England Revolution but no deal was forthcoming. And just as it appeared Rodwell was staring down the barrel of a season stuck on the sidelines, Roma of all clubs came calling.
Having played his entire career in England, a move to Italy loomed as a big change, but one his career could have benefited from. Tall, muscular and capable of playing in defence or midfield, Rodwell appeared to have all the attributes to shine in Serie A.
“I was at the helm of Sunderland for only a few months, but he’s undoubtedly an excellent soccer professional and I don’t think he will struggle to adapt in Italy,” Dick Advocaat told Teleradiostereo when asked about Rodwell.
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“He has the potential to do well in Serie A. His heavy contract slowed him down a bit, but he can be an important soccer professional again.”
Roma were not so convinced, however, and denied Rodwell the chance to turn his career around just as it approaches rock bottom.
Considering he has been still just 28, the former Everton star still has time to bounce back, but the dream of an Italian renaissance has, for now, been brutally snatched away.