Life in League 1 – Just how good is Jordan Rhodes?
May 22, 2012 in League 1
The phrase “hottest property outside the Premier League” is not one that is usually associated with a Huddersfield Town player. In my 20 years of watching my home town club, we have had a few very good strikers who have gone from us to play at a higher level; Iwan Roberts, Andy Booth, Marcus Stewart and Jon Stead. This season, however, everything has gone up a notch with Jordan Rhodes, the highest scorer in all the English Leagues. Scorer of five goals in one game. Scorer of four goals in one game. Scorer of numerous hat-tricks. League 1 player of the season. Huddersfield Town player of the season. To put it bluntly, he has had a pretty good season. All of this at just 22 years old.
On Saturday, Huddersfield play Sheffield United in the League 1 play off final, but there has been no genuine talk of this being Rhodes’ “last game for Huddersfield Town”. Last season, when we played Peterborough in the same end-of-season showdown, it was well known that their star striker Craig Mackail-Smith was playing his last game for the club whether they went up or not. The club knew there were interested parties and they didn’t have the finances to hold on to him. He went to Brighton for around £2.5m plus add ons, but hardly set the Championship alight, managing just nine goals in the league. The difference with Rhodes, however, is that 1) Huddersfield do not need to sell, 2) Rhodes has never and will (probably) never force a move, and 3) Rhodes is tied to a long term contract.
A quick browse of Twitter after Rhodes’ excellent performance in the playoff semi-finals against MK Dons showed that fans of pretty much every club in the Premier League bar the top four want him. This week alone, one newspaper claimed that Fulham had secured Rhodes’ signature for £3.5m, a story so ludicrous I promised to give the same amount to Ballsy Banter writer and resident Fulham fan Matty Deller should it be true (it won’t be). Today, rumours amongst Huddersfield fans were that West Ham are poised to offer £7m for Rhodes’ services. Again, it’s most likely a fabricated rumour, but more likely than the Fulham story given that it is widely accepted that West Ham had a bid of £3-5m (depending on which paper you read) turned down for Rhodes in January.
So just how good is Jordan Rhodes?
Rhodes is becoming (and I say ‘becoming’ because he is still developing his game) what I like to think of as a 21st century centre forward. He is not a fox-in-the-box, he is not a big target man and he is not a speed merchant who can dribble past the whole team. He is a very decent mixture of all those attributes. Rhodes’ main strength is his finishing. Anyone who saw his five goal performance against Wycombe in January (goals here) can see that his movement off the ball is excellent. That performance alone shows how good his finishing is. His four goal performance against Sheffield Wednesday is another example of cool, calm, composed, deadly striking. Rhodes is also very capable in the air. Two of his four goals against Wednesday were headers and he holds the record for the fastest ever hat-trick of headers (achieved in eight minutes against Exeter in October 2009).
Rhodes does have weaknesses. His strength (or lack of it) is sometimes a hindrance. Big defenders can often knock him off the ball and Rhodes struggles when playing with his back to goal. He much prefers the ball to be in front of him and due to playing in the lower leagues with (often) a very poor Huddersfield midfield, Rhodes has been prone to looking isolated up front as his teammates fail to give him any semblance of decent service. With his back to goal, he is practically impotent. He is not quick enough or fleet footed enough to dribble through an entire defence, and Rhodes often finds himself tired out by about 70 minutes of the match due to his endless chasing down of defenders and goalkeepers. Great team work, yes, but a good coach may want to try and get him to conserve his energy for scoring goals (like Shearer or Henry used to do).
Despite the weaknesses listed, the footballing world really is Rhodes’ oyster. The only way he’ll be playing in the Championship next season is if it is with Huddersfield Town. He is a genuinely level headed, loyal player who won’t be throwing in transfer requests. If we don’t get promoted, then he won’t be playing in the Championship, simply because no club can afford him in that league. Right now, the general consensus is that a Premier League team will have to stump up around £6-7million for Rhodes. Considering Fabian Delph went from League 1 to Premier League for £8m, Rhodes would be a bargain. Most Huddersfield fans, however, are concerned that the wrong move for him could curtail his vast potential very quickly. Everyone knows how big clubs buy promising players and then they often sit on the bench for a long time (look at Lukaku at Chelsea or Baldock at West Ham). Rhodes will want to be playing regular football. I doubt that the bright lights of a big club will bother him unless they can guarantee him a regular place in the team. Should we not get promoted, no fan will be angry when Rhodes leaves, and if we win on Saturday and he still leaves, well, what a way to go out.