Jack Rodwell’s star was just starting to rise when he met his future wife, Alana, on a pre-season tour of Australia with Everton. It was 11 years ago; he was 19 and when it turned out to be true love, she eventually had to follow him from Sydney to England.
Now they’re back, with two kids in tow – and probably for good, with the family keen to lay down long-term roots in the Harbour City. But it’s safe to say Rodwell’s career has not turned out like many thought it would back then.
Jack Rodwell is happy to be at the Wanderers.Credit:Louie Douvis
For starters, he’s just signed a one-year deal with the Western Sydney Wanderers. That’s not where a young Rodwell expected he’d be at the age of 30, and the truth is it’s only because things have gone so wrong that he was an attainable signing for an A-League club.
Rodwell is regarded in England as one of the Premier League’s greatest unfulfilled talents. He was proclaimed as the next big thing when he made his senior debut for Everton at 16, before a $22 million transfer to a newly cashed-up Manchester City – sealed just weeks after they’d won their first title in 44 years.
Then things went south. Opportunities at City were limited. A series of injuries didn’t help. Two years later, he joined Sunderland, where despite three seasons of solid service at Premier League level, fans remember him as one of the club’s worst signings of all time.
Most of that is down to the popular Netflix series Sunderland ’Til I Die, which cast him as the villain after the club’s relegation. He was rumoured to be earning $130,000 per week, wages which they could no longer afford – but he was the only player in the squad who did not have a relegation wage reduction clause in his contract, and that wasn’t his fault. The series shows Sunderland’s chief executive trying to convince Rodwell over the phone to “be a man” and walk away. He would play for the club only a handful more times, and it all created the image of a stubborn playboy who valued money over minutes on the pitch.
“That was something that was portrayed in a certain way, which was completely false. The perception is that I was playing for money,” Rodwell told the Herald and The Age.
“If that was the case, I would have just stayed at Manchester City, you know? I actually joined Sunderland, who nearly got relegated the season before, because I wanted to be part of it, to be challenged. It’s a complete misconception. But it’s the opinions of my family and friends who I keep close to, really, is the most important thing for me. I don’t really listen to anything, really, that’s outside of my bubble.”
The Wanderers were wary of such attitude problems when his name was presented to them. On day one of his trial, sources say he turned up to their Rooty Hill base behind the wheel of a Maserati.
But any initial fears were quickly dispelled by Rodwell’s words, actions and candour. The Wanderers have signed him not as a marquee player, but under the salary cap – making his signing something of a free hit. Most think he’ll be either a total bust, or one of the A-League’s very best players.
Rodwell seems to have made peace with how his career has unfolded thus far. “I’ve been halted quite a bit by injury. A lot of times when I got a run of steam, I got set back here and there. It’s been a little bit frustrating,” he said.
Jack Rodwell hasn’t played a professional game since his stint at Sheffield United in January 2020.Credit:Getty
“But I’ve had England caps – I would have loved to have had more, but I’ve still got England caps, which is something I’m really proud of. I’ve played for some of the biggest clubs in the country. I’ve got a Premier League medal. I can look back with a lot of pride. Sometimes things are out of your control, but as long as you keep doing your best, that’s all you can do.”
Rodwell insists he still has more to give. He is surrounded by family in Sydney, having visited many times over the years, although always in the off-season – meaning he’s never had the chance to watch an A-League match.
His fitness remains a big question mark. He’s not played a professional match since a 15-minute cameo for Sheffield United in the Premier League last year, and he’s not trained regularly since leaving them in May. But the A-League has rarely seen a player with such a high ceiling at such a young age – and never two at once. The other, Perth Glory’s Daniel Sturridge, has been down a similar road with injuries. Both were handed their first senior England call-ups at the same time by then-manager Fabio Capello. “Obviously I’ve known Daniel for a long time,” Rodwell said. “It’ll be exciting to play against him.”
He acknowledges he’s playing catch-up, but Rodwell is hopeful of featuring in some capacity in Saturday night’s A-League derby against Sydney FC – one of the teams he played against for Everton on that fateful pre-season tour in 2010.
In his head, he is still that same player who burst on the EPL scene as a teenager.
“If I don’t think that, then it’s time for me to call it a day,” Rodwell said.
“I know my ability, I know what I can do. I’m here because I want to be here. I’m 30 years old – still in the prime of my career. I’ve chosen to play in Australia. I’ve been really, really happy with the group we’ve got here, I feel like I can help a lot. The key for me is staying fit.
“If I can stay fit then for sure – I can play as long as I want, really. I don’t feel like I’ve only got one or two years left in me. If I really want I can play until I’m 36, 37. It’s not like I’ve come here to retire.
“This is a new chapter for me in Australia. I feel like it’s a good one.”
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