Sunderland boss Simon Grayson backs Jack Rodwell’s decision to explore a potential centre-back berth, and is confident that time still remains on the former England international’s side.
Rodwell has struggled to force his way into Grayson’s first-team plans this season after missing the bulk of Sunderland’s pre-season schedule through injury.
The 26-year-old has moved into defence for Under-23 games against Doncaster Rovers and Hertha Berlin, something Grayson revealed has been in the pipeline since shortly after his arrival on Wearside.
He said: “It’s a decision we both took. I spoke to Jack early on in my time here and said to him that I needed to get him back to a level of fitness and showing the potential that he did when he made moves previously.
“He told me that, before going into the first team, he had played centre-half for Everton and also through the age groups with England, and he felt that might be his best position because psychologically, and maybe physically as well, his body perhaps can’t take the demands of playing in midfield any more.
“He’s still young, but sometimes these factors happen.
“So, after having a look at it over the last few weeks, we played him there at Doncaster and then again the other night.
“It gives us another option there, and time will tell whether he might play there for the first team.”
Rodwell’s performances have been criticised by fans this season after it was reported that his was one of the only contracts in the squad not to include an automatic pay cut in the event of relegation.
However, his manager is confident that he can turn his career around and says the former Everton man has no problem proving his worth in the less glamorous settings of the Checkatrade Trophy and the Premier League International Cup.
Grayson said: “He wants to be a successful footballer.
“He sampled a lot of success early on in his career – recently, it’s not quite gone his way.
“In any sport, you have a career with peaks and troughs.
“Jack is probably not at the most successful part of his career right now, but he’s still got plenty of time to be successful, whether that be in central midfield or at centre-back.
“Ultimately, these are paid players who need to keep up their match fitness if they’re needed to go into the first team.
“Jack has had no problems playing in these competitions, nor has Brendan Galloway or Donald Love.
“It’s all part of the process and, you’ve seen in the past, some players have played well in these games and I’ve taken them into consideration for the next first-team game.”
Rodwell also received praise from U23s boss Elliott Dickman, who said his presence had helped the club’s young defenders improve their game.
Dickman said: “The two games he’s played in, I think he’s done well.
“He’s helped Thomas Beadling and Denver Hume, he’s an old head in there, he’s helped the lads.
“If that’s where he wants to play, and the manager is comfortable with it, then I am as well.
“I can only speak for what he’s like around us, but he’s really, really good with the lads and the staff.
“He’s got an experienced head, he knows all the situations.
“He’s done great for us.”
Rodwell is unlikely to be in contention for a starting spot against QPR this afternoon, but Simon Grayson will be weighing up recalling Lamine Kone and Marc Wilson.
Kone was dropped for the 2-2 draw with Preston two weeks ago, while Wilson missed out with a groin injury.
On the bench alongside Grayson for the QPR game will be Billy McKinlay. The Sunderland scout, a former assistant to David Moyes at Real Sociedad, is taking up a temporary role in the first-team staff.
Grayson’s long-serving assistant, Glynn Snodin, is recovering from a period of ill health.