An overcast afternoon in April 2014. The Etihad Stadium. Jay Rodriguez’s dream of World Cup football were going up in flames. England’s most upcoming talent was in excruciating pain. It will be a day that the Rodriguez family will never forget.
An injury to a professional footballer is not all about the physical pain; people tend to forget the mental pain it causes as well. Questions about if they will play again. Questions about if they will be as good on their return. Questions that Rodriguez faced.
Despite his return to professional football coming nearly a year ago now, Rodriguez had still not found the back of the net in the Premier League.
That was until Saturday when he scored a late goal at St Mary’s to earn Claude Puel’s men a vital point against David Moyes’ Sunderland.
SHOOT takes a look at the Burnley-born England forward and what he faces in the coming months if he wishes to revitalise his England career…
Where did it all start for Rodriguez?
With a name like Rodriguez, you may think he was born in some exotic European city. You’d be right – if you called Burnley that!
Born on July 29, 1989, football ran through the Rodriguez family. His father Enrique (or known as “Kiko”) had trials at Real Deportivo as a teenager when his parent’s returned home (hence the surname). On his return back to Lancashire, he even appeared on a few occasions for the Claret’s reserve team under the late Arthur Bellamy.
Despite him never making it to the professional game (he says down to a lack of character and determination) Rodriguez. Jr was inspired by his father’s footballing ability with Kiko featuring for local amateur teams when the future England international was young.
By the age of seven, it was clear Rodriguez had inherited his father’s genes when it came to the beautiful game. His first coach was actually his dad – who managed a local football team.
Despite it being the age above, Rodriguez fell in love with the game of football playing under his father – he only started appearing after scoring two late goals as a substitute. After appearing on local parks for Sunday teams, Rodriguez was eventually picked up by the Clarets at the age of 11.
Was the dream of professional football eventually going to come true?
What happened next?
After progressing through the ranks at the Lancashire academy, the dream every kid craves about as a child became a reality for Rodriguez as he was offered a professional contract in 2007, following a successful spell as a scholar at Turf Moor in the two years before.
He had made it. His next task: to make an appearance for the Burnley first-team. It came in rather un-fairtyale like surroundings; a cold December Saturday afternoon and Steve Cotterill’s men were 1-0 down against a Bristol City side flying under Gary Johnson.
Could the youthful nature of Rodriguez make a difference? The answer was no. While fans flocked out of Turf Moor in discontent, Rodriguez was ecstatic; he could now say – no matter what happened in the future – that he played for his hometown club.
His next objective: to build on his first league appearance for the Clarets; now he needed to cement himself as a regular. But the world of professional football can be a gruelling place.
It was clear; by January, that his place in the starting XI was not guaranteed. Rodriguez did the thing that many people tend to ignore: he made the trip from the glamour of England second division, to the second-tier of Scottish football when Stirling Albion came calling.
It was not ideal conditions; he even didn’t train with his teammates from the Forthbank Stadium. But it did give him the chance to progress in men’s football. After scoring three goals in his 11 league appearances on loan in central Scotland, he made the move out on loan again.
This time it was to more illustrious and well-known surroundings; it was a trip to Oakwell in 2010, following an impressive time within the Claret’s first-team, whom assured themselves a place in England’s top-flight for the first time in 33 years with victory on Wembley Way in the Championship play-off final.
Despite his spell in Yorkshire only lasting a month, he did make an impressive start to his campaign in and around the Pennines when he earnt the Tykes a victory over Preston; the Lancashire boy had helped the Red Rose be defeated by the White.
After making six appearances in his spell in Yorkshire, his next task was to ensure that he became a regular within his hometown club. Would it go to plan?
How did he perform in the Claret and Blue of Burnley?
When you have waited for 33 years to see your team perform on the world’s greatest stage, you may expect it to be one of the finest ever seen. Not for Burnley supporters. Relegation back to the Championship hit the small market town hard.
While Rodriguez suffered the heartbreak with the rest of the town, it did allow the young striker with an opportunity to prove himself in his own backyard. And prove himself is exactly what he did. Despite going – at a stage – eight games without a goal and having a poor start to the 2010-11 season, Rodriguez became the Clarets star performer in the Championship, scoring 14 goals to help Eddie Howe’s men to an impressive eighth place finish.
After being named the club’s Player of the Year, Rodriguez came into the 2011-12 season brimming with confidence. He started where he left off; four goals in only his second appearance of the season guided Burnley to the second round of the League Cup (now EFL Cup.)
Meanwhile it was this season where he appeared to find his mojo against Championship opposition; four goals against a Nottingham Forest side who, only the season before, reached the play-offs shown that he could cope playing second-tier football.
A healthy striking partnership with Charlie Austin, clocking up 31 league goals for the Clarets (some 50% of all Burnley goals).
How has he performed since his move away from Turf Moor?
After being named in the 2011-12 Championship PFA Team of the Year, inevitably Rodriguez was in high demand come the summer of 2012. Despite his hometown club giving him everything, maybe for the best of his footballing career, it was time to make the move away. But it had to be a place where first-team football was assured.
Eventually, he made the move to Southampton – a club who had just been promoted to the Premier League for the first time since 2005 after finishing second in the Championship. First-team football was certainly on the cards on the South Coast.
But how would he cope with the step up? Would he sink? Would he swim?
Despite scoring a brace in the League Cup early in his career at St Mary’s, the goals didn’t flow in England’s top-flight initially. Maybe it was one step too far. That was until late October.
Tottenham were the visitors to the South Coast, and it was a memorable day for Rodriguez. Despite Gareth Bale and Clint Dempsey (how things have changed) getting on the scoresheet for Spurs to ensure they took the three points back to North London with them, Rodriguez fired home his first Premier League goal; a day that Rodriguez will never forget.
It was at this point he hit form, and even scored in three successive fixtures towards the end of the campaign for the Saints, who finished 14th following the dismissal of Nigel Adkins in January.
Here he continued to improve himself, as he steadily adapted to Premier League football. In the 2013-14 season he netted 15 times in the Premier League, including a brace against Newcastle United at St Mary’s just a week before rupturing anterior cruciate ligaments to end his dream of representing England at a World Cup.
Does he deserve his England place back?
When Rodriguez made his one and only cap for England against Chile in November 2013, he was in his prime as a Premier League player. When he made his return in August of last year, inevitably it took him time to reach his full potential and therefore has lacked sharpness since that overcast afternoon in North West England.
If he continues where he left off before his injury and continues to pose good goal scoring statistic, nobody can dispute Sam Allardyce’s choice if he wishes to take him back with the Three Lions.
But with quality up front in the form of Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy, it may be sometime before he finds himself wearing the famous white jersey once again.