WHEN asked whether head coach Aitor Karanka had wanted him in the first place at Middlesbrough, Jordan Rhodes, commendably, did not dodge the question.
It should come as no surprise to those who know him that the answer of Sheffield Wednesday’s new striker was considered and diplomatic.
Although sometimes it is not about what you do say, but what you do not say.
Rhodes commented: “I have heard the reports. I am not sure what the answer is to that question. You would have to ask the manager himself up there.”
Regardless of conjecture on that subject, what is crystal-clear is that the striker is immensely grateful for the sanctuary of South Yorkshire after being frozen out under the Boro head coach for the best part of six months, which left him hurt, frustrated and entitled to feel somewhat bewildered.
It says a lot about the calibre of Rhodes that he remained not just professional, but uber-professional in doing his extras after training in addition to his daily commitments, alongside swimming sessions at night-time – just in case he was called upon by Karanka.
His game time may have amounted to a mere 210 minutes in half a season, incorporating just two starts and six appearances, but Rhodes believes that some aspects of his game have come on a bundle during his time on Teesside: namely his character and mindset.
Lesser individuals would have gone under. Rhodes did not and even when he was wholly out of the picture, he never wavered in his dedication, which was in keeping with someone from respected footballing stock.
So much so that he even utilized extra time to start out on the coaching ladder as he plans for life when he hangs up his boots.
But to say he is aiming to make up for lost time back is his day job is a considerable understatement and what Wednesday are getting is not just a natural-born goal poacher, but a hungry and driven individual who believes that he has become stronger in mentality following some tough times under Karanka.
Rhodes, who turns 27 on Sunday, will find goodwill not just from Wednesdayites willing him to score the goals to help take the Yorkshire club to promotion, but also from many Boro supporters, too, who have shown full empathy with his situation.
On being wholly on the periphery at Boro, Rhodes, included in Wednesday’s plans in tonight’s game at Wigan, said: “These things happen in football, to many players in the world in every month and every year. (But) it is just not nice when it happens to you, is it?
“I have learned a lot about myself in the last six months and hopefully I will be better in the long run and stronger going forward.
“It has made me even more hungry and desperate to make up for lost time and try and make an impact at this club.
“It has been incredibly frustrating. I love playing football. It is all I have ever wanted to do as a kid and when you cannot do that on a Saturday afternoon and, even worse, not be a part of things, it hurts.
“You are watching on a Saturday afternoon and everyone is coming in and you feel quite distant from the game of football.
“It has been tough, but I have tried to keep myself ticking over mentally and physically and have taken up coaching badges and things like that just to keep doing something and keep active and not let myself get into a spiral and bad state.
“As soon as that mental side goes first, people end up putting on weight or losing weight.”
It is fitting for Rhodes that salvation has arrived at a perfect juncture at quite possibly the perfect club that has always tugged upon his heartstrings in Wednesday, with his father Andy, goalkeeping coach at Hillsborough, representing an obvious link.
After striving so hard to stay strong during the most difficult time of his career, his energies are now focused upon trying to get the famous old club back to “where it needs to be”.
Rhodes, seeking to fully consummate a love affair with Hillsborough that has seen him fire seven goals in his last four appearances there, said: “This club needs to get to the Premier League. That is where it belongs.
“It came ever so close last year and I was a fan in the stadium and felt the disappointment with fifty or sixty-thousand Sheffield Wednesday fans.
“Hopefully we can achieve that aim, this year.
“It is a club I have always held dear to my heart. I have always loved Hillsborough and it is great to walk out there and now, with it being my home ground, it will be fantastic to play some minutes there.”
Last six games: Wigan DLWWWL Sheffield Wednesday DDLWLD.
Referee: S Martin (Staffordshire).
Last game: Wigan 0 Sheffield Wednesday 1; December 30, 2014; Championship.