David Preece: Sunderland's Jack Rodwell, the Confessions of a modern-day footballer
Sounds like a character played by Robin Askwith in one of those dodgy “Confessions” films from the 1970s, doesn’t it? Ask your dad about them. And if he doesn’t know, ask his dad. Not particularly PC and very old fashioned in its themes.
Unfortunately for Jack himself, whatever people think about when they hear his name mentioned these days, it isn’t old fashioned. Far from it.
They see him as the archetypal modern day footballer, whose desire to play football has waned with each wage packet.
Someone whose input on a Saturday afternoon is only matched by the zeros on the end of his salary.
A player whose wages could be put to better use by allowing the manager to bring in three, possibly four players who could make the difference between going up or staying down. And from an outside perspective, they might well be right.
Do I agree with those opinions? Well, I’ll start by saying this.
I’m not a bandwagon jumper. Something in my DNA resists against anything that’s popular (apart from Gangnam Style - I still think that’s the timeless work of a genius!).
I think it’s the goalkeeper in me. The need to be different. All this means I didn’t immediately reach for the outrage button when it was discovered that Rodwell would continue to earn Premier League wedge whilst playing in the underworld of the EFL.
In fact, my ire was directed at the club’s stupidity in not inserting a clause which prevented this whole debacle.
The argument that inserting these kinds of safety nets for the club may mean the difference between signing the player or not, as was the case of Jermain Defoe, is made void by the fact Rodwell’s potential was more of a gamble than the goal return of Defoe.
The blame in us signing Jack lies not with him but but those who sanctioned the move.
Hindsight gives us the advantage of knowing it has turned into the worst deal the club has ever made, but it’s simply horrifically bad business acumen.
Rodwell’s worth, and thereby his perceived ability, was accelerated by the player’s acquisition by Manchester City (to help with their squad’s English player quota), but even so it was a move that was hard to turn down.
If it didn’t work out, he’d still be young enough to rebuild his career. Which, by coming to Sunderland, I assume is what he thought he was doing.
He hasn’t, though, and professionally he stands on the edge of the wilderness in front of him, with a barren wasteland of a career far behind him.
It just hasn’t worked out and that’s something most players can empathise with, and managers too. So that’s why Chris Coleman’s words last week have hung heavy on me.
When subjects like this arise, I try to relate to them by asking myself what I would do. What would I do if I was already very wealthy, had 18 months left on a contract that was worth approximately £5.5million and wasn’t going to earn anywhere near that at another club? Should I move on?
It’s easy to forget you were once a player. Or at least, your memory becomes a distorted version of the way you thought as a player.
I’ll be honest, my first reaction was to sit tight. Then again, I don’t have as much money in the bank as Jack and that probably makes me look at it from a very different perspective.
So let’s say I had the sort of money in the bank that Jack has. How do I feel now? Genuinely? I’d be dying with embarrassment.
I’d be embarrassed that a manager like Coleman who has a reputation for having a very player-friendly way of managing his sides would come out and publicly question my desire and my professionalism.
I’d be embarrassed my manager would do it after my well-orchestrated attempt at damage limitation in a national newspaper interview and say he would rather put kids who perhaps weren’t ready in, ahead of me.
Managers aren’t as damning as this without reason and Coleman’s words need no translation.
There’s no need to attach guilt to players who aren’t good enough and they can find their level again elsewhere. But character assassinations delivered like this put question marks on players that will prove difficult, if not impossible, to remove.
Putting myself back in that “What would I do?” space, it’s made me think that I’m the stupid one in all this. I have been in similar situations. so what did I do?
I turned down two moves to Championship clubs before moving to Aberdeen, for 40% less salary than they both offered. I wrote off £45,000 as part of that deal just so I could secure the move at a time when I didn’t have a bean in the bank. I took a 50% wage cut just to stay at Aberdeen when that contract entered its final year and was captaining the side in the absence of Russell Anderson.
I took a 25% wage cut in my third year at Barnsley because I wanted to stay and have the chance to play at the highest level I could, despite knowing I was competing against a brilliant keeper in Luke Steele.
Stupidly, I made decisions because I just wanted to play football more than anything else. That doesn’t make me some kind of martyr or saint. That’s not my point. I was never good enough to earn the figures that would have a significant difference on me and my family’s lives.
My career is now long over and I would not have had much more in the bank now if I had made different career decisions anyway.
But there isn’t a manager I played under who could say that I didn’t give everything, every day of my football life, and that means a lot to me. Even if it didn’t always pay the bills.