Jay Rodriguez and Southampton: The end of the road

After five years wearing red and white, it’s now been confirmed that Jay Rodriguez will be making the switch to West Bromwich Albion, in a deal worth £12M.

The transfer itself comes as a surprise to very few Southampton fans, who over the past 24 months have watched Rodriguez fight to rediscover his 2013-14 season form.

But despite failing to do so, this is a departure that’s been been left on wonderful terms, with each and every Southampton fan wishing nothing but the best for Jay, and rightly so too…

Rodriguez signed for the Saints in the summer of 2012 for a fee of £7M, as Nigel Adkins’ Southampton prepared for their return to the top flight.

With the pressure of fighting for survival, Rodriguez managed to show glimpses of his physical edge and positive movement, only for his unrefined technique and nerves in front of goal to let him down. The talent was there for all to see, but this diamond desperately needed polishing, having recorded just six League goals from 35 appearances.

But with the departure of Adkins – the man who placed his faith in Jay – there came the arrival of a certain Mauricio Pochettino, and this was the moment that we began to see the very best of Jay Rodriguez.

With a full pre-season under the Argentinian, Rodriguez had been endlessly drilled, physically pushed and given a vital responsibility in the way that Pochettino wanted his side to play.

The skinny forward that only 12 months ago would be bullied to the ground in aerial duels, was now leaping high-above 6ft 4in centre-halves as he sinks the ball into the back of the net. And that same player who would once crumble as he bares down on goal with just the keeper to beat, was now cooly slotting the ball home without a moment’s hesitation.

Operating as an inside forward from the left, Rodriguez was wreaking havoc upon the Premier League’s strongest defences, linking up effortlessly with Rickie Lambert through the middle, and showing the intelligence to stretch defences in wide areas.

With 15 League goals in just 33 appearances, Rodriguez was showing no sign of slowing down as the end of the season edged nearer. Having already made his England debut in mid November of that season, there was huge talk of Rodriguez being the wildcard selection in Roy Hodgson’s World Cup squad.

He was in the finest form of his career so far, but then it all came crashing down…

On the 5th of April 2014 against Manchester City, Rodriguez leapt to control a high ball in the air, only to writhe in pain as his feet touched back down on the ground.

The Etihad filled with a painful silence, as the Southampton players rushed to surround Rodriguez in shock of what they had just witnessed. They knew it was bad news from the moment he touched the ground, and the stretcher on the field just moments later only confirmed that.

News broke instantly amongst us Southampton fans, who were feeling every bit of Rodriguez’s pain. Our club had only been back in the top flight for a single season, and here we had a player who was helping to put us back on the football map, all whilst dreaming of representing his country on the biggest stage that football can offer.

I’d be lying if I said that it wasn’t emotional watching his childhood dream be crushed before our very eyes.

Rodriguez had suffered a rupture to his anterior cruciate ligament, and was told that he would face the next 11 months on the sidelines. His World Cup dreams were well and truly over.

Rodriguez was about to endure the biggest challenge of his career to date, both physically and mentally. He would go on to face setback after setback, scare after scare, and even for a short time, have doubts over whether he would ever play the game again.

But after sixteen brutal, agonising months, having missed the entirety of the 2014/15 campaign, Rodriguez was once again ready to step back out onto St Mary’s.

It was chilling to watch him re-enter the field as a Saint, knowing full well just how deep and cruelly his strength had been tested over the last 16 months.

And whilst over the past two years Rodriguez has been a shadow of his 2013/14 self, it’s made me realise that there is far more to football than just results and goals. For all the players that come and go from St Mary’s, here we have a player who was giving his all just to one day wear those red and white stripes again.

Even after all that time on the sidelines waiting, Rodriguez still maintained a focused and determined attitude when both Ronald Koeman and Claude Puel starved him of game time; no running to the press, no moaning and certainly no drama. Jay’s only focus was getting back out onto that pitch, to repay the Southampton fans for their endless support through his recovery.

Over the past 24 months, Rodriguez has tried time and time again to once again make an attacking role his own, but sadly, his efforts came to no avail. Without the physicality to play as a lone number nine, the pace to play as a winger, or the technical ability to play just off the forward, Rodriguez has often been consigned to the bench.

But by no means am I suggesting that he’s no longer capable of being an effective Premier League footballer. For a while now, he’s been missing a number of vital components that help to aid development; a manager that trusts him, a single role in the side and a consistent run of games. At West Bromwich Albion it appears that Tony Pulis has promised him exactly that.

For the wonderful memories, professionalism throughout, and his pride in being a Saint, I would love nothing more than to see Rodriguez back amongst the goals; just not against us, alright Jay?

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