The Monday Profile: Jordan Rhodes
You’ve got to feel for Andy Rhodes. Most fathers, having just witnessed their son score four times to single-handedly salvage a point from a pulsating and fiercely contested derby match in front of more than 28,000 spectators, would be bursting at the seams with pride. But not Andy, who, as Sheffield Wednesday’s goalkeeping coach, had just seen his charge Stephen Bywater beaten four times, his own flesh and blood Jordan wresting two points from the Owls’ grasp seven minutes into stoppage time.
In Saturday’s extraordinary game at Hillsborough, visitors Huddersfield made a devastating start, Rhodes fils crashing home two bullet headers inside the first 20 minutes. Wednesday then staged an improbable recovery to fire four past a shellshocked Ian Bennett, two either side of half-time, and leave the Terriers staring down the barrel of a third straight defeat since their record-breaking 43-game unbeaten run was brought to an end. But if Owls players and fans were starting to contemplate the welcome prospect of a three-point winter warmer, they’d reckoned without the 21-year-old striker, whose brace against Notts County had secured that remarkable achievement for Lee Clark’s side. The two finishes which hauled Huddersfield level were exquisitely clinical – and excruciatingly bittersweet for one man on the Wednesday bench.
“He just smiled and said ‘well done’“, Junior revealed afterwards, while also displaying an admirably mature humility and sensitivity in his celebrations, mindful of the circumstances: “I didn’t want to overdo things because I didn’t want to be disrespectful to the people I know at Sheffield Wednesday through my dad“.
Andy Rhodes has already been a huge influence on his son. It was as a result of his move to Dunfermline that young Jordan grew up in Scotland, the country the lad with the Hovis advert accent has adopted as his own, and it was Andy’s recruitment to the Ipswich coaching staff that brought the teenager to Portman Road in 2005. Jordan made only a handful of first-team appearances for the Suffolk side, but the first flash of his prodigious talent was glimpsed during a spell with Brentford. Away to Shrewsbury in January 2009, the loanee plundered a half-hour hat-trick to become the Bees’ youngest-ever treble-scorer.
That feat – and the loan stint in general, prematurely curtailed by a metatarsal injury – was enough to bring him to the attention of another ambitious rookie, Lee Clark, busy remodelling the Huddersfield squad with the substantial financial backing of chairman and Card Factory founder Dean Hoyle. Clark’s delight at getting his man was evident, and soon justified by an early-season scoring streak that included a stunning eight-minute hat-trick of headers at home to Exeter.
And yet even that pales in significance alongside this season’s feats. Rhodes began October with a brace at Brentford, then notched a hat-trick and a double for Scotland U21s against Luxembourg and Austria respectively, before returning to domestic duty with back-to-back trebles against Exeter (who must surely despise the sight of him) and Preston. He still had one more left in the locker, a late strike at Glanford Park. In total, 14 goals in six games over the course of 24 days – Roy of the Rovers stuff.
That magic month earned Rhodes a senior international debut in November as a substitute against Cyprus, but also (inevitably) attracted covetous glances from clubs the length and breadth of the UK. Not that all the attention is likely to go to his head – indeed, his dad’ll make sure of that over the dinner table: “I think the fact he still lives in the family home with us all helps keep him grounded as well. Nobody is allowed to get above themselves in our house!” In interviews Rhodes comes across as level-headed and modest, appreciative of the fact that he still has plenty to learn – in that respect, Clark has described his side’s goal machine as being “like a sponge“. The Terriers gaffer is well aware of the talent he’s got on his hands: “I’ve played with some of the best strikers in the world and I have never seen them have this type of score ratio.” Given that Clark’s team-mates have included Alan Shearer, this is high praise indeed.
With the transfer window close to creaking open and countless Premier League and Championship clubs craving the prolific goalscorer who will guarantee safety or aid a promotion push, Rhodes’ four-goal salvo arguably couldn’t have come at a worse time for Huddersfield, themselves in need of firepower as they seek to escape up into the second tier. Clark is wisely steeling himself for a deluge of phone calls but has claimed to be “comfortable” in the knowledge that neither Hoyle nor the player are keen to see a deal struck. Even still, Saturday’s post-match reluctance to refer to Rhodes by name suggests he doesn’t want him to be bandied about any more than is strictly necessary.
If Rhodes does hit the road out of Huddersfield in January, then it’ll cost whoever wins his signature a hefty sum; “£2m wouldn’t even buy his socks“, Clark has declared. But then his knack for finding the net and his exemplary attitude are precious commodities, especially for a struggling goalshy club whose senior “professionals” have recently been embroiled in unsavoury off-pitch misdemeanours – little wonder, then, that Sunderland fans are already indulging in a spot of wishful thinking on Wikipedia…