Talent Scout: Jordan Rhodes, Huddersfield Town
Saturday 21 January 2012
As the January transfer window began to reach towards its frivolous, panic-buying climax this week, the gap between the top and bottom of the league systems hit home, as fans desperately scrambled to raise £50,000, the average weekly wage of a Premier League footballer, to save 128 years of history at Conference outfit Darlington FC, who were minutes from extension.
Yet in a week of perspective for English football, fans of clubs up and down the country were shown that, while the gap between the leagues in terms of finances might be huge, it's not the same when it comes to talent. Chris Smalling, Steve Morison and Michael Kightly are all set to start in the Premier League this weekend, having taken the increasingly well-trodden path from the Conference, in a route free-scoring Huddersfield Town striker Jordan Rhodes looks certain to take sooner rather than later.
Rhodes is perhaps in best player in England currently operating outside the top flight, with 27 goals in 24 games for League One promotion chasers Huddersfield, who face a mighty battle to keep the 21-year-old from completing the journey from non-league to Premier League this month. Its easy to see why.
Football is in Rhodes' blood, even dictating his birth in the Lancashire city of Oldham, with father Andy Rhodes a goalkeeper at Oldham Athletic at the time. From a young age, Jordan would become fascinated by goals, following in his fathers footsteps by saving them whilst in Barnsley's academy setup, before deciding to score them as a centre forward following a £5,000 transfer to Ipswich Town aged 15.
Rhodes would immediately settle up front, finding the net 40 times in his first season in the Ipswich ranks, before a brief flutter with the first-team. Ultimately though, he found chances difficult to come by, and spent time on loan with then Conference outfit Oxford, before more successful temporary spells with Rochdale and Brentford.
A return to Ipswich promised more, but the blossoming frontman was sold to Huddersfield at the end of that campaign. Six goals in his first six games in Yorkshire showed what a mistake it could prove to be, before Rhodes almost fired Huddersfield to promotion last season, only to fall short in play-off semi-finals. Yet this year, he has ramped up his already impressive scoring ratio, and could be the difference as to whether The Terriers finally go up.
Key to that happening is fending off the significant interest Premier League sides have shown in the Scotland international this month, with plenty of scouts watching him intensively in the past few weeks, and being notably impressed with the range of qualities Rhodes has to offer.
The most notable of which is his excellent physique, as you would expect for a young forward holding his own in the rugged world that is League One. At six foot two inches tall and with impressive upper body strength, he cuts an imposing figure, and matches that with a warrior-like approach to the game, contesting the play well.
In terms of natural abilities, he has good technique, acceptable pace and impressive power, but Rhodes is really all about goalscoring. At this level, he is almost impossible to pick up, elusive in and around the box, thriving on his predatory instincts, and finishing confidently with his preferred right foot, work-in-progress left, or accurate head.
What is also apparent is that Rhodes seems to be able to slow the game down in the opposition box, sometimes using his aforementioned physical advantage to hold defenders off, and keep composed to do what he wants to do. That shows good intelligence, and a creative spark that could be used in all kinds of systems.
At 21, he is still adding to his game all the time, but would need some rapid improvement to adapt to the Premier League straight away. Rhodes is a determined, hungry striker, and although is prepared to chase and work the channels at times, needs to do this more efficiently, while also improving the consistency of passing, shielding of the ball and general link-up play.
In summary, Rhodes has a lot to offer, but needs a move up soon in order to keep improving. A tall, powerful, physical central striker with great movement, a good range of finishing and a determined, battle-hardened approach, he is still raw in many advanced areas of his game, but has the instincts and quality to score goals at the highest level in England, having learnt the basics, like so many, in the often forgotten world of non-league football.
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