Take Me Home, Jordan Rhodes

Take Me Home, Jordan Rhodes

It’s no exaggeration to say that English football has seen few finishers as natural as Jordan Rhodes.

It is also no exaggeration to say that English football has rarely witnessed a player so one-dimensional.

Rhode’s was the poacher’s poacher. When he wasn’t scoring goals, he was like a ghost on the pitch: rarely seen but with the threat of his apparition in the box always looming large. 

His slight build and lack of any real physicality meant he was definitely not built to be a back-to-goal striker.

He enjoyed the peak years of his career with Blackburn Rovers and many was the time that a groan went up around Ewood Park as he failed to win another header.

But Rovers fans kept their frustration to a minimum, knowing that there was every chance that the scrappy little centre-forward would pop up five minutes later and win the match by himself.

Often, one chance was all it took. His viper-like instincts would allow him to sniff out a chance, create an opening, and ripple the onion bag in what seemed like nanoseconds.

There were plenty of the archetypal penalty box striker goals, tap-ins, front-post headers and whatnot, but there were also countless moments of on-the-ball brilliance. Rhodes would shift the ball from one foot to the other, show deceptive strength to shoulder a defender out of his strike-path or chop inside the opposition before curling one home.

Rovers had to pay £8 million for his services in 2012, the season after they were relegated from the Premier League after ten years at the top. Famously, that was a summer of woeful recruitment. There were almost innumerable flops; Leon Best, Danny Murphy, Dickson Etuhu, Nuno Gomez and half-a-dozen Portuguese youngsters left the club worse than they found it.

Rhodes was the only saving grace. He scored 27 times in the Championship as Rovers only narrowly avoided a second successive relegation. Without his goals, it is genuinely alarming to think how far Rovers tailspin could have gone. 

There were some doubts over the price tag given that Rhodes had signed from League One promotees Huddersfield. But in retrospect, it was no surprise that he was able to continue his goalscoring form. He had netted 85 goals in the previous three seasons for the Terriers, 40 of those coming in the 11-12 promotions campaign. He was born to score goals, at any level. 

In his second season with Rovers, he maintained his hit rate, scoring 25 times as Rovers narrowly missed out on the play-offs under the stabilising management of Gary Bowyer.

Now, Rhodes had a strike partner in the form of Rudy Gestede. They were a classic little-and-large duo, with Gestede knocking down headers for Rhodes at a rate of knots throughout the season. Gestede himself netted 13 times that campaign, meaning the pair had 38 between them. 

The following campaign, they took things to new heights. Rovers themselves slipped a place to 9th in the league, but Gestede and Rhodes netted 42 times in total, finishing as the league’s 2nd and 3rd top scorers respectively.

The partnership was too good to last. Gestede left for promotion-chasing Aston Villa the following season.

It proved to be Rhodes last season too. He left in January having scored 10 times in 25 matches; not his usual form but still a very healthy return for a striker in the Championship. Middlesbrough was his destination, and with them, he finally realised his dream of playing in the Premier League. 

Rhodes himself was not heavily involved in that campaign, however, and was shipped out on loan to Sheffield Wednesday at the midpoint. He never rediscovered his shooting boots and has scored just 24 goals in six seasons since leaving Rovers.

Blackburn replaced him with Danny Graham, an altogether different kind of striker who was happy to hold the ball up and bring others into the game rather than score goal after goal after goal.

But Rhodes was a cult hero at Rovers, his unassuming demeanour and soft Yorkshire burr endearing him to the fans – not to mention his propensity for hitting the back of the net. 

His eye for goal was second to none. The final third was his happy place, his spiritual home. He was a poacher in the Platonic form.