There is always one player who, with just over a year to go until a major tournament, makes a concerted push into the England reckoning.
Sometimes it doesn’t take a year of top flight football to be a surprise addition to a tournament squad (see Walcott, 2006) but Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez is showing all the signs of becoming an England international.
It has taken the £7 million summer signing from Burnley a little while to accustom himself with the demands of the Premier League but after scoring 21 goals in the Championship last season, the England Under-21 striker has nine goals this season.
Not a bad return when it is factored in that he has not always started or played a full 90 minutes and was used by previous manager Nigel Adkins in a wide berth, rather than upfront. His new manager, Mauricio Pochettino thinks the sky is the limit.
"Rodriguez has been really confident since I arrived," he told reporters. "I am really happy with him and all my players because they showed a great capacity to adapt to this new brand of football I want to play.
"He is great technically and mentally. I don’t see a roof to what he can achieve."
Rodriguez showed at Burnley a remarkable level of composure, awareness, and movement in front of goal for someone so young. He made his debut at 18 under Clarets boss Owen Coyle, making regular appearances off the bench and scoring several goals in Burnley’s impressive run to the League Cup semi-finals in 2008/09.
Since his move to the Saints, the boy has become a man, and allied with a killer instinct in front of goal has some impressive pace, physicality, and understanding with strike partner Rickie Lambert. His goal to games ratio might not look too impressive but then again neither was an old Saints player's who goes by the name of Alan Shearer, and we all know what came next. Rodriguez has a long way to go to prove he can reach that level, but his future certainly looks bright.
England are struggling for strikers at the moment. Wayne Rooney showed signs of a return to form for his country when he scored and hit a post in the recent match against Montenegro. Danny Welbeck had an impressive first half but faded in the second, while Jermain Defoe, Andy Carroll and Daniel Sturridge have yet to prove they are truly international class. There are few options after them.
This could present Rodriguez with the chance to stake his claim in front of Roy Hodgson, potentially as soon as the summer internationals against the Republic of Ireland and Brazil. Before that, Rodriguez will be concerned with securing the Saints' survival, but if he can continue his goalscoring exploits of late, there may be an England sized cherry on top of the cake.
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