EXPENSIVE transfer flops have become a familiar source of gallows humour on Wearside.
The big money, little reward, pattern from the last few seasons has been the principal reason for Sunderland’s struggles against the drop, NOT managerial upheaval, questionable home form or a penchant for own goals.
With that background, it’s no wonder that the question marks have begun over whether Jack Rodwell will fall into that category.
Rodwell became the most expensive midfielder in Sunderland’s history when the Black Cats outmanoeuvred the bare-toothed pack of fellow Premier League sides vying to sign the under-utilised Manchester City man during the summer.
However, that £10million investment was reduced to warming-up vigorously during the second half at Leicester City last Saturday, despite those competing in the middle of the park evidently growing fatigued.
Now judging by Gus Poyet’s comments, Rodwell will get a chance in one of the three upcoming outings in the space of seven days against Chelsea, Manchester City and Liverpool.
But he should be more than a player who benefits from the opportunities of squad rotation.
Just because Rodwell hasn’t immediately regained the form which saw him emerge as the stand-out youngster in the country at Everton though, doesn’t mean this is another transfer which will leave Sunderland’s powerbrokers with egg dripping from their faces.
Rodwell has the pedigree. There has to be some faith that he will come good in the fullness of time.
It’s just a question of when.
Admittedly, by now, Rodwell should be making more of an impression.
A lack of match sharpness is no mitigation, as it clearly was in those first few games when the 23-year-old was almost a futile bystander as the ball continuously flew over his head.
No, by this stage of the season, there is plenty of running in those legs. Improved physical conditioning needs to be converted into some dominant midfield performances.
But perhaps it was always going to take Rodwell until Christmas to shake off the rust from the chief cheerleader role he enjoyed at Manchester City.
The hamstring injuries didn’t help during that first season at the Etihad, but Rodwell effectively had his career on pause for two years after his £12million switch from Everton.
In those pivotal years in the early-20s, a meagre seven top-flight starts for City has inflicted the damage of inaction which requires some significant repairing.
Should Rodwell have snubbed City’s advances in the first place and remained at Goodison Park?
Perhaps, but it’s difficult at that age to reject the overtures of the Premier League champions, regardless of the inherent risks which come with trying to oust Yaya Toure et al from the midfield starting spots.
Adam Johnson was similarly attracted and after finally growing pig-sick at City, similarly needed months – if not, a year-and-a-half – to begin to make an impression in a Sunderland shirt.
There is undoubtedly a transition to be made from the respective approaches of fighting for a title and fighting for mid-table obscurity.
How many times in a season will Sunderland utterly monopolise possession and pin an opposition side back in their own territory? Half-a-dozen, if they’re lucky.
There may only be three or four occasions in an average game for Sunderland when an offensive player has an opportunity to influence proceedings.
Rodwell has had to get used to a different remit too.
At both Everton and City, he was the holding player in a midfield double act.
Here, Poyet wants him to be a box-to-box dynamo – bridging the gap with the central striker, while getting back to lend a helping hand to his two fellow midfielders when Sunderland are not in possession.
Rodwell has certainly got the engine for that role. As yet, he hasn’t proved he has the understanding for it.
Crucially though, Rodwell’s attitude is impeccable.
Chatting with the Southport-born England international, he is a grounded, utter contrast to the stereotype which exists of the Premier League footballer.
He wants to learn. He wants desperately to make his Sunderland switch a success and get his career back on track.
If he can do that, a very different Rodwell will emerge in the second half of the season.
Forget January signings, he could be one element of genuine quality who really makes the hefty impact for the 2015 Sunderland.