It’s March 4, 2013, and Manchester City have traveled to Villa Park for a crucial match in the Premier League having fallen a massive 15 points behind leaders Manchester United in the run-up to the game. The title, which had taken so much effort to win, was in danger of being given up with a whimper.
In the starting lineup that night was Jack Rodwell, fresh from his Man of the Match performance in the 2-0 win over Chelsea at The Etihad the week before. After an injury-hit start to his City career, the former Everton midfielder looked to be finding his groove.
Rodwell started brilliantly, continuing where he left off against Chelsea, with his surging runs and meticulous passing central to City’s best moments. He was finding himself in an advanced role, influencing the play higher up the pitch than we had come to expect from his time at Everton, and he looked very comfortable doing it.
Suddenly, the £12 million fee City had paid for his services, which many had raised an eyebrow at, looked like a bargain.
After 24 minutes, he hit a left-foot shot from the corner of the area which forced Brad Guzan into a save high to his right-hand side. Rodwell clutched his hamstring but walked toward the six-yard box ready for the incoming corner; however, moments later, he fell to the ground, clearly in distress.
Rodwell had suffered yet another injury—his ninth separate hamstring problem in a 12-month period—ruling him out for another six weeks. As he sat shaking his head on the Villa Park turf, it was difficult not to feel huge disappointment for a young player clearly eager to cement his place in his new side, but who was struggling so much with a recurring injury.
He had made just 11 appearances in a blue shirt, and by the time he had recovered from his latest setback, his season would be almost over. City had tried everything to alleviate the hamstring frailty—from yoga sessions to designing new car seats—but his problems, which blighted his career prior to his move to City, were continuing.
Credit to Rodwell and the club—he managed to get himself fit in time to play a few more games before the season was out.
A hat-trick for City’s EDS in late April sent a message to fans and staff that Rodwell was determined to use what little of the season remained to impress.
He made his first-team return in a brief cameo away at Swansea, before playing 75 minutes in the home win over West Brom. He then made a substitute appearance in City’s disastrous FA Cup final against Wigan, a game which saw Roberto Mancini sacked and City’s hopes of silverware disintegrate. Rodwell was then rested for the match away at Reading.
However, he gave a Man of the Match performance in the last game of the season—a 3-2 defeat at home to Norwich. Rodwell scored two brilliant goals and looked like everything City had missed throughout the season—he was hardworking, tenacious and supremely talented.
It was the one cause for optimism in an otherwise disappointing end to the season. City have a talented box-to-box midfield player in their ranks, and Manuel Pellegrini will be keen to utilise him.
Most people would agree that City’s last-minute trolley dash around Europe during last summer’s transfer window added little to their squad. Matija Nastasic aside, none of the players signed by Mancini were totally successful.
However, the situation with Rodwell is less clear cut than the likes of Scott Sinclair, Maicon and Javi Garcia, all of whom proved total failures. Rodwell impressed when he played; the problem was he simply didn’t play enough. The familiar caveat of "if he can stay fit" needs be consigned to history. A fit Jack Rodwell would be an asset to any side.
Rob Pollard is Bleacher Report's lead Manchester City correspondent and will be following the club from a Manchester base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here @TypicalCity.
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