Fresh from his four-goal haul at Hillsborough, Jordan Rhodes capped a marvellous week by coming third in the YP Sports Performer 2011 awards. Richard Sutcliffe reports.
TO the manager whose side he stopped almost single-handedly last weekend, Jordan Rhodes is “the best striker outside the Premier League”. To his own manager, however, the 21-year-old is known simply as “The sponge”.
Rhodes is, following his four-goal salvo against Gary Megson’s Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough, the man of the moment in Yorkshire football right now.
Twenty five goals, four hat-tricks and a first senior appearance at international level represent a truly stunning first half of the season. They have also turned Rhodes into one of the most talked-about players around, not least among supporters of clubs from a higher level than Huddersfield who need a proven striker to kick-start their own season.
Such is the buzz surrounding the striker, in fact, that the Huddersfield Town hierarchy are bracing themselves for a busy January fending off would-be suitors.
Chairman Dean Hoyle has already stated he is not for sale, quipping last month: “My money is safer in Jordan Rhodes than it is in the bank at the moment.”
The Town chief, though, is realistic enough to know that his hands-off message will not stop clubs circling such an undoubted talent throughout the first month of the New Year.
One man who will not be fazed by all the attention is Rhodes himself, his amiable and down-to-earth character being the very antithesis to the worst excesses of the modern day footballer.
Coming from a football background will, no doubt, have played its part in making sure Rhodes’s head was never likely to be turned by the vagaries of the game.
Not only is father Andy a former goalkeeper and now on the coaching staff at Wednesday, but brother Lewis is the head of Prozone at Stoke City’s Academy. Delving into the wider family, former Barnsley midfielder Steve Agnew is Rhodes’s uncle.
Being able to seek advice from family members who are also former professionals may also explain why Huddersfield manager Clark has felt able to christen Rhodes ‘the sponge’ because of the way he takes on board everything that is said to him by the coaching staff.
This ability to soak up information is what, along with his talent and temperament, must make the striker a manager’s dream.
Many players, for instance, would have been hammering on the door of their boss’s office if they had been left out as many times as Rhodes was during the final two months of last season.
Clark’s desire to play a different formation away from home meant there was only room for one striker and Arsenal loanee Benik Afobe usually got the nod, a situation that led to Rhodes starting all six of Town’s final home games but none of the last half dozen on the road.
Rhodes’s response was, unlike many of his peers, not to throw his footballing toys out of the pram but to instead just get on with things, making sure that if a chance did come along to shoot Huddersfield into the Championship then he would be ready to take it.
His time on the sidelines during last season’s run-in inevitably led to speculation that there may be a parting of the ways in the summer. It was, though, something that was never on the agenda with Clark making it clear to Rhodes that he was a big part of his plans this term.
By the end of August, Rhodes had responded with four goals in six appearances. September was then quiet before a scoring run that brought 14 goals in just six appearances saw Rhodes’s public profile soar.
Included in that stunning October haul was a hat-trick for Scotland Under-21s as Luxembourg were thrashed 5-1 on October 6 and another two goals in a 2-2 draw with Austria four days later.
A month on, Rhodes was again on the scoresheet for the Under-21s as Holland were beaten 2-1 to take his goal tally to six from as many outings.
By then, his scoring exploits for club and country had earned a first appearance at senior level for Scotland against Cyprus in Larnaca – a notable achievement for any striker in League One, as underlined by Rhodes being the only player in Craig Levein’s side from outside either the Scottish Premier League or the top two divisions in England.
Further appearances seem likely, not least if his current rich vein of scoring form in Huddersfield colours continues through the festive season and into the new year.
It is not just on the field where Rhodes shows intelligence either, as he proved when cornered by the waiting press after Saturday’s 4-4 thriller against Wednesday at Hillsborough.
Following his starring role in one of the games of the season, Rhodes knew the inevitable questions about where his future might lie would crop up and dismissed them in clever fashion.
Knowing exactly what his inquisitors wanted, the Barnsley-born striker instead turned the question round by feeding the press an excellent line about his father, Wednesday’s goalkeeping coach, and what he might think of his four-goal salvo.
He then added: “We have been too busy sorting out what is on dad’s Christmas list.
“Dads are awful to buy for, aren’t they?”
Sure enough, the tabloids picked up on the sound bite and that was what filled Monday’s newspapers and not further unwanted speculation over his future.
It will not, of course, do anything to ease the regularity with which Rhodes’s name will be linked with other clubs during January, only the closing of the transfer window will do that.
But the skilful manner in which Rhodes is keeping not only opposition defenders but also the nation’s media at bay suggests he is maturing into someone with a very bright future.