Charting the Evolution of England New Boy Jay Rodriguez

Samuel Marsden@@samuelmarsdenFeatured ColumnistNovember 12, 2013

VIGO, SPAIN - AUGUST 03:  Jay Rodriguez of Southampton duels for the ball with Hugo Mallo of RC Celta de Vigo during a friendly match between RC Celta de Vigo and Southampton at Balaidos stadium on August 3, 2013 in Vigo, Spain.  (Photo by David Ramos/Getty Images)

Jay Rodriguez was in good spirits after Southampton beat Hull City 4-1 at the weekend.

“There are no limits for us, really,” he told the press after the victory. “We’ve just got to keep impressing and working hard,” as per The Mirror.

Rodriguez should know, given it is that exact philosophy which has gotten him to where he is today: in the England squad and, according to The Mirror, about to become the centre of a transfer scrap between Arsenal and Liverpool:

The Southampton forward’s rise to the top hasn’t necessarily been born from the sort of talent that has people drooling over many 16- and 17-year-old footballers these days, but by a desire to work hard and improve year on year.

“He never takes anything for granted,” his Spanish-born father Enrique—who once had a trial with Deportivo la Coruna before setting up home in Lancashire—told BBC Sport:

He is honest and gives 100 percent. He did that at Burnley, and does that for Southampton. He will take (his England call-up) well and try his best. That’s what he’s done so far.

Five years ago he was on loan in Scotland with Stirling Albion, where three goals in 11 appearances didn’t exactly accelerate him into Burnley’s starting lineup, let alone put him on the verge of an England cap.

When he returned, Owen Coyle incorporated him into a Burnley squad which would go onto win promotion to the Premier League at the end of the 2008/09 season.

Rodriguez was largely restricted to substitute appearances though, scoring five goals throughout the campaign.

At 6’1” he was a good height, but he didn’t have the physique to make a great impact in the Championship, and found himself behind Martin Paterson, Stephen Thompson and Ade Akinbiyi in the pecking order.

Semifinal Carling Cup goal vs. Tottenham
Semifinal Carling Cup goal vs. Tottenham

He managed to display glimpses of potential that season though—he scored the club’s goal of the season against Nottingham Forest, and scored important goals in Burnley’s run to the Carling Cup semifinal against Fulham and Tottenham.

Rodriguez turned 20 that summer, but any hopes of making his mark in the Premier League were soon to be dealt critical blows.

First of all Coyle made moves in the transfer market to sign strikers Steven Fletcher and David Nugent, before an injury against Hull in a reserve team match ruled the Burnley-born striker out for several months.

When he returned to fitness he was sent on loan to Barnsley.

And despite a debut goal against Preston North End, it felt like a throwback to his time with Stirling Albion—the Yorkshire club’s fans weren’t impressed, and Rodriguez returned to Lancashire to play for Brian Laws’ Burnley, now in the Championship again.

It is from here the hard work his father Kiko talks of really became evident.

Varying his role as a central striker and a wide forward, Rodriguez developed into not just one of Burnley’s best players, but one of the Championship’s finest too.

He was an aerial threat, packed a super shot, had pace to get in behind defences and the ability to run at them too—he was pretty much an all-round forward.

He scored 15 goals that season, which was recognised by a call-up to the England U-21 squad with whom he earned one cap.

Next season he was to get even better.

With Laws sacked, Eddie Howe had taken over at Turf Moor and instigated a more attacking style which gave Rodriguez the platform to really express himself.

After 21 goals and being named in the Championship’s Team of the Year he was set to get his chance in the Premier League again—not with Burnley though, with Southampton.

Nigel Adkins took him to St. Mary’s for a fee in the region of £7 million in the summer of 2012. 

“He found the Premier League faster and quicker,” Kiko continued to BBC Sport.

“But he adapted and has gained a lot of confidence. Some of that has come because he has matured and grown physically and really knows his role now.”

Kiko’s not wrong.

The evolution of Rodriguez
The evolution of Rodriguezvia Getty

The most notable distinction between the Rodriguez of now and the Rodriguez of 2010 is his physical appearance.

Now 24, he looks every bit like the lean, physical athlete suited to excel in England’s top flight, as opposed to the skinny teenager who Burnley fans were watching in his early years.

And it all comes down to the same story: every day, every month, every year Rodriguez continues to work hard, to improve and to become a better player.

“He’s got so much potential and he’s improved on last year,” said Rickie Lambert, who plays as the central striker with Jay Rod as a wide forward under Mauricio Pochettino, as told to Southampton's official website:

“It’s frightening when you think of what he can become.”

Jay Rodriguez's career
2007/08Stirling Albion (loan)113
2009/10Barnsley (loan)61

But as each career goal gets ticked off, Rodriguez’s feet remain firmly on the ground.

“You look at the players (in England’s squad) and it’s an unbelievable experience playing against them,” Rodriguez told the Daily Echo.

“So actually playing with them will be excellent for me—I can’t wait.”

As a forward the next step of his progress has to be to incorporate the goals which came so easily at Burnley into his game with the Saints.

“I was dying for a goal so it was little bit disappointing,” he remarked after failing to get on the score sheet against Hull, but you’re inclined to believe that part of his game is waiting to burst out.

And the sooner it happens the less likely his England call-up is to be a fleeting one, the more likely it is he’ll be on the plane to Brazil next summer.


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