When Sydney FC announced the acquisition of Jack Rodwell for the next two A-League Men seasons, eyebrows were raised around the league.
The Everton academy product was coming off a disrupted first campaign in Australian football and was a chance to re-sign at CommBank Stadium.
However the two parties were ultimately not able to reach an agreement, and despite interest from European sides, conversations with Adam Santo and Steve Corica led to Rodwell becoming the Sky Blues’ biggest name signing in years.
“The manager spoke really well, and I’d heard good things about him,” the central midfielder, who’s also comfortable in the heart of defence, tells Kick360.
“Obviously, Sydney FC is a massive club in Australia, and my kids are settled here, so it made sense.”
Rodwell met his partner, a Sydney local, when he came to Australia on Everton’s pre-season tour back in 2010.
Moving the family to the Harbour City was one of the reasons he made the decision to sign with the Wanderers, but after some tumultuous injury-interrupted stints at Blackburn Rovers, Sheffield United and Sunderland, a change of scenery and a new opportunity were also motivating factors.
“I spoke to (then-WSW manager Carl Robinson), and it was always in the back of my mind to come to Australia,” Rodwell explains.
“I wanted change, a fresh challenge somewhere.
“It came up quite early in my time off after Sheffield United. I was heading to Australia anyway, so I thought, ‘Let’s have a look at the club, let’s see how I feel when I get there, speak to everyone and get a feel for the club.'”
After the conclusion of last season, negotiations began between Rodwell’s management and Western Sydney to extend his stay in Parramatta, but ultimately nothing came of the talks. It was an amicable parting.
Now playing in Sky Blue, Rodwell is looking forward to the challenge of returning Sydney to the finals after an underwhelming 2021-22 campaign.
“Last season, the club wasn’t at the standards it has been in previous years.
“That’s our job now to get it back to that – that’s the ambition of the squad.
“For me, that challenge is a good thing. I want to be part of that.
“There’s a good balance here (between youth and experience) and we’ve got some really exciting players coming through.
“I’ve seen (former Nottingham Forest winger) Joe Lolley in training and he’s looking sharp, so is Robert Mak.”
Part of Rodwell’s conversations with Corica have also centred around the position he’s likely to take up in the new season; will it be as the holding midfielder, as the No.8, or could he even be deployed in the centre of defence?
In 2021-22 he spent time in various positions across the park, firstly under Robinson and then the Welshman’s replacement, Mark Rudan.
Over the course of his career Rodwell has proven to be positionally flexible, with his skillset and size proving to be suitable for different assignments.
“If you’d asked me what my best position is at 16, I would’ve definitely said ‘central defender’. Then playing more of a holding midfield role, then I progressed to No.8, which probably isn’t as natural for me – but I can do it.
“So, I would probably say the further back in the pitch I go, the more natural I feel. Not goalkeeper, though,” he says with a chuckle.
We’ll wait and see what Corica’s first teamsheet of 2022-23 looks like when Nani and Melbourne Victory come to town for Sydney FC’s opening game at the resplendent Allianz Stadium, but it’s clear there are multiple options for deploying his new star signing.
Over a 15-year career to date that’s seen Rodwell make 85 appearances for his boyhood club, win a Premier League title with Manchester City and represent his country, it’s undoubtedly an arduous task to pick out one moment that stands above the rest.
“I would say debuting for Everton, if I had to choose one moment in my career,” Rodwell responds.
“Just all the hours I put in as a kid, my family too.
“It was a sigh of relief to finally get on and make my debut (away to AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League). It was a special moment.”