The 25 Best Players in the Championship - as voted for by you: Part 15 of 25
After a rocky start, Burnley have rocketed up the Championship table in recent weeks. If they are to stay in the top half and push for the play-offs, one particular centre-forward’s form will be crucial. Joe Harrison pays tribute to a Turf Moor talent who is terrorising opposition defences this season.
Jay Rodriguez (Burnley)
“Jay is someone who you’d want to build your team around – a fantastic talent. He’s only going to get better. We’ll certainly be fighting tooth and nail to keep him with us” – Eddie Howe, October 2011.
Few players elicit such passionate praise from their manager, fewer still at the age of just 22. But then not many players in the Championship have the ability and potential of Jay Rodriguez. Already a familiar name to many who follow the Football League, Howe’s defiant rebuttal of the idea of a sale was not just a response to idle newspaper gossip – it is believed Burnley rejected a summer bid of around £5million from Championship rivals Southampton for the forward. As a result, Clarets fans were delighted, and more than a little relieved, to see Rodriguez remain at Turf Moor when Big Ben’s chimes marked the end of Jim White’s hyperventilation, at least until January.
Born in Burnley, Rodriguez inherited more than just his somewhat un-Lancastrian name from his father, Enrique – a footballer who spent some time with Deportivo La Coruna as well as appearing for Burnley. After progressing through the youth system of his hometown team (enjoy seeing that sort of sentence while you can – cheers EPPP), he signed professional terms under Steve Cotterill in 2007 before Owen Coyle handed him his debut in December of that year. Rodriguez ended the season on loan at Stirling Albion, scoring his first senior goals, and was expected to return north of the border on loan the following season. Instead, Coyle rejected talk of a move and made the forward part of his first team squad.
Rodriguez made his first impression on a wider audience during Burnley’s improbable run to the Carling Cup semi-finals in 2008/09 – scoring his first goal for the club in the 88th minute to defeat Fulham in the fourth round before another late goal against Tottenham Hotspur took the semi-final second leg to extra time. Though he only made two starts, Rodriguez appeared as a substitute 26 times during Burnley’s promotion season, establishing himself in the squad and earning a reputation as a bright talent. Unfortunately for the youngster, a broken ankle sustained in a reserve game and Burnley’s struggle to avoid relegation greatly limited his opportunities in the Premier League, making just six appearances (including one start) as the Clarets were relegated.
In the following Championship season, Rodriguez was able to break into the first team and hold down a place for the first time, starting 37 league games with a respectable return of 14 goals. He is not merely a finisher though. At 6’1″, Rodriguez has the physical presence to stand up to the challenges presented by some of the Championship’s more robust defenders, while his pace, movement and link-up play mark him out as a class act and one who looks capable of playing at a higher level sooner rather than later. His performances during that season won him both local and international recognition, winning the Northwest Football Awards’ Championship Player of the Year as well as making his debut for the England Under-21 side in February against Italy.
Rodriguez carried his impressive form into the early part of this season, even scoring four times in a League Cup tie at Burton and after a run of six league games without scoring, he has been back among the goals more recently. With his current record of 11 in all competitions, he is easily on course to beat last season’s total of 15. If Jay Rodriguez continues his impressive progress, Eddie Howe will have to stick to his word as there is no doubt other clubs will be making it as difficult as possible for Burnley to keep hold of their prize asset.
Who else did you vote as one of the 25 best players in the Championship? Read about the rest so far here.