Manchester City made a number of moves at the conclusion of the recent summer transfer window.
Douglas Maicon and Matija Nastasic were brought on to shore up the back line. Javi Garcia was probably the "best" player City acquired, and he projects to slot right into the City midfield particularly as Champions League play begins at Real Madrid.
Rodwell came to the Etihad with a reputation as a sound positional defensive midfielder with strong tackling skills and a bit of toughness as well. All of these qualities were exactly what City needed from a new midfielder, as too many opposing counterattackers last season seemed to be running unimpeded (downhill almost) toward the City end.
And so, having spent the reported 15 million pounds on him, there is only one way for Manchester City to maximize its investment on 21-year-old Rodwell.
He has to play.
And "play" certainly cannot mean shielding Rodwell from the hot lights and brisk pace of the Champions League opener at Bernabeu on September 18.
Roberto Mancini could be forgiven for being hesitant here.
Yes, his side won the Premier League last season in thrilling fashion. But it was perhaps the least convincing League win in memory. That the Sky Blues needed two goals in stoppage time, at home, to relegation-threatened QPR to save its season could not have been good for Mancini's blood pressure.
It was poor play at the back that put City down in that game, and City's desultory defensive play has leached into this season. Their 2-0-1 record masks what has been questionable marking in the penalty area and plainly insufficient defense of set pieces.
Certainly, Rodwell has figured in some of that. His giveaway in his own half against Southampton was followed quickly by a Steven Davis tally that put the visiting Saints ahead.
Then, against Liverpool at Anfield, Rodwell was whistled—harshly it should be noted—for handball just outside Liverpool's attack zone. Moments later, Luis Suarez converted the resulting free kick.
Two games, two goals at least partially attributable to Rodwell's play.
Even last week, when Rodwell was largely unremarkable, he overhit a back pass to Joe Hart that nearly slipped under the crossbar.
The safe, predictable reaction to all of this would be to pull Rodwell off the pitch and place trust in veteran players who will (hopefully) not shrink from the significance of the coming fixtures.
But that would be the wrong move.
Spending the sort of money City parted with to sign Rodwell in the first place demands a commitment to the young player's development. Further, the signing was intended to address a midfield that had been exposed as lacking toward the conclusion of last season.
Yaya Toure is spectacular, but it could easily be seen in April and May of 2012 that a nearly-full slate of Premier League games plus the African Cup of Nations plus the Champions League (not to mention FA Cup and Carling Cup play) had the Ivorian's tank on "E."
Sliding Rodwell back into a reserve role, or even being overly judicious with his time on the pitch when he starts, will stunt his progress and deprive City of what they thought they were buying—a player who, by season's end, should be an anchor in the midfield.
If City has any realistic hope of defending its Premiership crown—or advancing past the group stage in the Champions League—Rodwell must make the transition from "promising" to "established."
And he can only do that if he plays.
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