Tom English: ‘There’s no fear Rhodes will jump ship, not even if Capello was to flutter his eye-lashes’

IT would be no great surprise had Craig Levein’s heart skipped a beat on Friday night as the news came through from Wycombe of Jordan Rhodes’s latest goal-scoring exploits for Huddersfield Town in League One.

It’s believed that representatives of upwards of eight Premiership clubs witnessed Rhodes score five times, a collection of strikes for which he has earned quite a reputation at this stage. Spurs were present. So, too, were Everton, Aston Villa and Newcastle and others. Manchester United and Liverpool have watched him earlier in the season, a season that has brought a gulp-inducing 12 goals in his last five games and 27 in 19 starts in total.

He is, currently, one of the hottest tickets ever in this division, a fact that must have Levein purring. Rhodes is not yet officially tied to Scotland, having only made one appearance off the bench in a friendly with Cyprus, but there’s no fear that he will jump ship at this stage, not even if Fabio Capello was to flutter his eye-lashes at him on behalf of England. Rhodes has scored prolifically – six goals in five games – for the Scotland under-21 side and all his public utterances have been wholeheartedly looking forward to playing for his adopted land.

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Just the same, it might be as well for Levein to start putting Capello and his cronies under 24-hour surveillance just in case they have any thoughts of messing with Rhodes’s head.

No wonder that Stewart Regan retweeted a Tartan Army fan on Friday night, something about Rhodes and the certainty of him firing Scotland all the way to Brazil for the World Cup in 2014.

No wonder, also, that another serial Tweeter, Joey Barton, busied himself with praise of Rhodes post-Wycombe. He expressed an astonishment at the five-goal haul and a hope that his manager at QPR, Neil Warnock, had the striker on his radar. If he does, he’s in a pretty lengthy queue. So many goals and so many clubs sniffing around him. It all makes for wishful thinking on Huddersfield’s part when they say they have no intention of selling him in this transfer window, Rhodes being under contract for three more seasons beyond this one. Lee Clark, who purchased Rhodes from Roy Keane’s Ipswich for a small fee, was rather quaint when expressing his insistence that his star turn was going nowhere. For Keane’s part, the fact that he offloaded him in the first place won’t play well when he starts looking for another job in management. “You sold Jordan Rhodes for buttons, Roy? Er, why?”

Clark, clearly, has been good for Rhodes. “I want the Premiership clubs to come every week because Jordan is buzzing off it. He is absolutely flying – so the more the merrier,” he said on Friday evening. “I am 100 per cent confident that he won’t be going anywhere. I trust the owner. He has told me and he has spoken to Jordan and he has looked the chairman in his eye and said that he wants to finish off the season with Huddersfield Town, irrespective of what happens.

“He is destined to play at the very top level and reap the rewards that come with that. In terms of his finishing he is up there with Alan Shearer and Andrew Cole. Obviously he hasn’t done it at the level they have but he has started playing international football. When the ball is in the area he finishes as well as any striker that I have ever played with. As well as his finishing, Jordan’s general play is superb. No one can handle him at the moment. Even when he doesn’t score he creates goals for other players. He is very rarely caught offside because his movement is that of a very high standard.”

Clark knows all about Shearer and Cole, having played with the pair of them for Newcastle, but the comparison is, understandably, well off beam. Rhodes is doing it in League One and doing it brilliantly, but you only have to look through the list of previous hot-shots in this division to realise that few of them ever kick on to the highest level. In the last ten years only two strikers have gone from League One to Premiership level and maintained some kind of goal-scoring form. A decade ago, Bobby Zamora was League One’s top scorer with 28 for Brighton, in all competitions. He has excelled at the top flight. Grant Holt is another. He scored 24 times for Norwich in 2009-10 in League One and is still putting the ball in the net now that he has made it to the elite division.

But, for every Zamora and Holt, you have many others who flatter to deceive. Robert Earnshaw, Leon Knight, Stuart Elliott, Billy Sharp, Jermaine Beckford, Simon Cox, Rickie Lambert and more have all grabbed the headlines in League One over the years and either never made it to the next level or made it and then never lasted the pace. Even Craig Mackail-Smith, so lethal for Peterborough, has found his new life in the Championship with Brighton infinitely more challenging. He scored 35 times for Peterborough last season. He’s only managed eight for Brighton this season. It’s a significant leap in quality from League One to Championship, never mind from League One to Premiership.

It’s true, League One has never known a guy who has posted the kind of numbers Rhodes is posting. His haul includes four doubles, two hat-tricks, a four-goal demolition of Sheffield Wednesday last month and now five against Wycombe. West Ham have, or are intending to, bid £4m for him in this transfer window. They might have to dig a little deeper than that now. Which begs the question, what is the best move for Rhodes? West Ham in the Championship or straight into the deep end with one of the big boys a level above? You’d have to say that history points to West Ham, or their kind, being the best next step, but then we haven’t seen a scorer like this before, not in this league at any rate. Thank heavens he is Scottish, then. Or Scottish-enough.