Jordan Rhodes is proof that an early setback isn’t always the end

Jordan Rhodes before making his Scotland debut. Picture: SNS
Jordan Rhodes before making his Scotland debut. Picture: SNS
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In promoting Jordan Rhodes as some sort of footballing messiah, those members of the Tartan Army who have already given up on the World Cup campaign might care to consider the wisdom that the 22-year-old dispenses.

He believes that what doesn’t destroy you can provide salvation because his career is proof of that.

Rhodes was jettisoned by Roy Keane at Ipswich Town aged 18 and forced to rebuild his career in the third tier of the English game with Huddersfield Town. Back then, it would have been laughable to suggest that, three years down the line, he would be an £8 million signing for Blackburn Rovers, a full Scotland international with a record of one start and one goal and a national cause celebre.

But Rhodes insists his early rejection was the first step to his success. He says: “It was the best thing that ever happened to me, leaving Ipswich and going up to Huddersfield with [manager] Lee Clark wanting me at the time.

“I got first team experience and it all went from there. I think any time in life people get stronger from bad things happening to them. You wake up every morning and make it your absolute aim – your life, really, to prove people wrong. You want to better yourself, your life – for your family.

“You want to prove certain people wrong and certain people right about you.

“It was difficult at the time. I was young and had to move home and go up to Yorkshire. I found it hard the first year. But I just decided to dedicate my life to football and do what I could, both on and off the field, to benefit it and benefit my life.”

At Portman Road Rhodes was limited to ten brief substitute outings. These yielded only one goal. Loan spells with Brentford and Rochdale in 2008 and 2009 proved productive, however, nine goals coming from 19 appearances. On his arrival in April 2009, Keane found he had strikers Kevin Lisbie, Connor Wickham, Alan Lee and Pablo Counago at his disposal. The Irishman quickly deemed Rhodes, in the youngster’s own words, “surplus to requirements”.

There is some suggestion that Keane’s treatment of the player may have been related to a personality clash with his father, Andy, who was the club’s goalkeeping coach. But the impecably-mannered Rhodes junior won’t be drawn on his opinion of Keane.

“I’ll leave that one to you. I won’t say anything,” he says. “In pre-season [2009] he made the decision, along with his coaching staff and the owners. Huddersfield came in for me. I wasn’t aware of other clubs being interested at the time. It was a fantastic move to go there and learn lots of new things from a new coaching staff.”

He top-scored with 23 goals in his first season, added 22 more in his second and then came last season’s bounty – 40 goals, including six hat-tricks from 45 games. That tally underpinned Hudderfield’s Championship promotion via the play-offs.

The expectation was that Rhodes would be off to a Premier League club. Instead there was what seemed a strange sideways step to fellow Championship side Blackburn. Their relegation from the top flight came against a background of supporter anger towards both manager Steve Kean and the club’s owners.

But Rhodes doesn’t accept he has swapped settled surroundings for chaos and uncertainty.

“Huddersfield is a terrific club, run by great people, and I really do want to wish them all the best for the future,” he says. “But you’ve got to grasp situations in life and I felt the move to Blackburn was the next step, the right step in my development. I hope I can learn from certain players in the team and also the manager Steve Kean. It feels calm. I was like everyone else. You see things from the outside and wonder what is going on. I’m not one to comment on that anyway. I’m new to it and only spent 48 hours there before being away on international duty.

“But from the moment I walked through the door I could see that everything was run properly and professionally. There’s a real family feel about the place, not just with the players but with the staff and non-playing staff as well. No one has given me an inkling about problems and it would be really good to build on what’s been a really good start.”