IF the Tartan Army are excited by the potential of Jordan Rhodes, imagine how Grant Hanley feels.
The 20-year-old now has Rhodes as a colleague at both club and international level following the predatory striker’s £8 million move to Blackburn Rovers. The pair also room together during Scotland gatherings, so Hanley sees Rhodes’ dedication and ability at first-hand.
The expectation level surrounding the 22-year-old is high, although Hanley has no doubts he can cope. Rhodes is not likely to start Scotland’s opening World Cup 2014 qualifier against Serbia this weekend – Kenny Miller will lead the attack – but it is surely only a matter of time before he becomes first-choice striker.
After 73 goals in 126 games for Huddersfield Town, Rhodes earned a reputation as a goalscorer supreme in England even though he was operating in League One – the third tier.
That reputation grew last month when he marked his first Scotland start with a goal in the 3-1 defeat of Australia at Easter Road.
He was clearly destined to leave Huddersfield for a club with Premier League aspirations.
Hanley was simply relieved to see Blackburn secure the services of one of Britain’s most potent forwards. “Whenever you hear of a player like Jordan linked with your club it is exciting, for the fans as well,” said the centre-back. “I know him quite well. I hadn’t met him until we joined up with the under-21 squad. I get on really well with him. As soon as I heard we were in for him I knew it would be good for the club.
“There were a lot of rumours about him signing. I am just happy he has signed for Blackburn. Blackburn is a big club and hopefully he can score a lot of goals for us. He scored a lot of goals last season, had a great season, and he can do the same for us. There was a real buzz about him down in England last year with the number of goals he scored. He has brought some real excitement to the club. You only have to look at his goal scoring record to see what a good player he is. It speaks for itself. There aren’t many better.”
Scotland followers are eager to see the damage Rhodes might do to Serbia and Macedonia over the next seven days, even if it is in a bit-part role. “Without doubt, I would back him to score at the weekend if he gets the nod against Serbia,” said Hanley. “You saw when he made his Scotland debut against Australia that he can handle the step up. He has also been scoring a lot of goals for the under-21 team. You know he is always going to be able to put the ball in the back of the net if he gets the chance.”
Hanley’s own international career remains very much in its infancy. He has three full caps to date and is undergoing a learning process behind established centre-backs like Gary Caldwell, Andy Webster and Christophe Berra. “All of the boys have been a help. It is really good for me to experience being around the squad,” he continued. “All the older boys are brilliant with the young lads. The squad in general is good. Christophe is a good lad and all of the boys are great. It is just good being a young boy in the squad, experiencing the whole thing. Hopefully, international experience will help me at club level, help me push on and get into the first team as much as I can.
“International football is a similar quality to what I am used to playing at Blackburn. At Blackburn there is good quality there the same as Scotland. I enjoy being around the squad. Playing for Scotland at any level is a great honour for me, something I have always enjoyed from when I first played for my country.”
Hanley admits he is toiling for game time at club level at the moment. “For me personally, I haven’t really played much. I had the cup game (against MK Dons) in midweek and then I came on after ten minutes in the game (against Leeds) at the weekend. It was good to get some minutes under my belt there. I am still young, still working away at Blackburn trying to learn off older boys, trying to get myself into the team. Scott Dann and Gael Givet are two really exepreinced boys in front of me. They are really good with the young lads. It is good to learn from them.
“The Championship is a really difficult league, but we have won a couple and drawn a couple of games already. We will just push on and try and stay up the top end of the table. The manager (Steve Kean) is pleased to see me involved with Scotland, but he is pleased to see any of the boys playing international football. But as I am involved with Scotland and he is Scottish it is pleasing for him.”
Scotland’s prospects for World Cup qualification may depend heavily on the outcome of these initial two home games. “It is a tough group, but it is always going to be,” said Hanley. “We aren’t going to get an easy group. We will try to get off to a good start and take it from there. I think at Hampden, once you get the fans behind you, you have always got a good chance. But we will just take every game as it comes. We will go into every game with a positive attitude.”